Family First – National Child Abuse Protection Month

Board Certified family attorney Sonya Coffman answers the questions of Southeast Texas KFDM News viewers. These questions include:

  • Who is required to report child abuse?
  • Will you be required to testify if you report suspected abuse?
  • How do you report suspected abuse?
  • If a parent relinquishes their parental rights, can they ever get them back?
  • When can a child decide which parent they want to spend time with?
  • Is it still contempt if a parent is not paying the full amount of child support ordered?
  • Is it illegal for younger children to be allowed to walk around a city by themselves?
  • What does, “Possession is 9/10ths of the law,” really mean?


Well, April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month and there is the common misconception, that only certain professionals have legal duty to report suspected abuse. Here to separate the facts from the fiction as well as answers to your questions is Live at Five's family attorney Sonya Coffman. So, child abuse, everyone should report child abuse? Not just should, everyone has a legal duty to report. There some people who think that just certain professionals such as doctors, nurses, teachers have a duty to report. But not so. The Family Code says that anyone who reasonably believes that abuse or neglect is occurring, has the duty to report that. Okay, and with that being Child Abuse Prevention Month, I know we're trying to bring more awareness to child abuse.

But what are some of the signs that people can look for? Well be common signs of the physical markings, it's very common thing, but also emotional and mental abuse is something that is frequently reported and the law does not say that you have to be able to prove abuse, you don't have to investigate it, you just have to have a reasonable belief that it's occurring and then let the experts investigate and sort that out. Now will you be the one that is called to the court actually testify? I know that's probably one of the reasons some people don't want to report the abuse. Right, that's a long way down in the process because usually the reporter is anonymous. Sometimes the cases are closed administratively even without an investigation. But if the case proceeds to court, then that person may be called to testify.

And what's the best of number to call. There's an eight hundred number, eight hundred two five two ninety four hundred or someone can report suspected abuse online. Okay, and we've got lots of questions so let's get right to those. If a biological parent signs their rights away, can they come back years later to get their rights back? Not if they're properly terminated. If there's some legal impediment to the proper termination of those rights, maybe. But generally no. Okay.

My children are six and eight. They've said to me, "Mommy I don't want to with daddy or grandmother," at what age can they make that choice? I know we get this question over and over again but it's a popular choice. Families struggle with that.
The misconception is that a child gets to decide at age twelve where they want to live. And as we talked about, at age twelve a child has the right to be heard by the judge, but the child never gets to decide that. It's always in the best interest of the child, according to the court's decision. So it's always the court's decision?

Yes. Never the child's decision. Never entirely the child's decision but obviously the child's preference or opinion has a lot of weight with the court but we don't let children decide those things those are in the best interests determined by the court. Okay. Another question. My kid's their father is ordered to pay five hundred twenty seven dollars and child support. Of course with all the back child support it's supposed to be nine hundred dollars. Can he still be held in contempt since he's only paying seventeen to seventy five dollars every two weeks.
Yes, not following the court's order could be at contempt finding.

I would say work with the Attorney General's Office and try to get that set for hearing and sort that out. Okay, another question. Is It against the law to let your seven-year-old children roam the streets of Nederland and Port Neches? I don't know that it's against the law but it sure maybe evidence of neglect to let seven-year-olds roam unsupervised and the parents could be held liable for any property damage that the children cause.
Something to think about. Okay what does the possession of the nine to ten of the law really mean? Nine-tenths of the law really mean?

I'm going to guess that's an old saying we've always heard that possession is nine-tenths of the law, meaning if someone has it, then the duty is on someone else to take it away. Right. But it certainly not a legal principal per say. Okay Sonya, as always we appreciate you stopping by.