Can CPS Terminate Parental Rights Based on Old Events?

As always, I can give advice only about cases pending under Texas law, since I am licensed within only that state. CPS in other states may be similar or dissimilar to Texas CPS

The Department of Family and Protective Services (of which CPS is a part) states in their publications that:

“(w)e promote safe and healthy families and protect children and vulnerable adults from abuse, neglect, and exploitation.


Accountable: We act with a sense of urgency to deliver results in an accountable, ethical, and transparent manner.

Respectful: We recognize the value of each person and act timely, value privacy, and treat all with respect.”[1]

In light of those express commitments to act “urgently,” and “timely,” we might expect that if CPS had concern(S) about the safety and welfare of children, then they would focus on recent events involving those children. In our experience, however, that is not always the case.[2]

Our courts have held that allegations of abuse or neglect against a parent must not be too remote in time, if termination of parental rights is sought because of that behavior. And, if you think about it, that makes sense: something that a parent did or did not do years ago does not bear strongly on a child’s current living circumstances. Put another way, “termination proceedings should be based on facts that are fresh enough to apply to the children at the time of the trial.”[3]

Texas CPS has to show not only some act of abuse or neglect by the parent, but also, that the termination is in the current “best interest” of the child. So, something that happened long ago does not provide solid evidence of what is currently in a child’s best interest. Things change over time; kids mature, and their needs change.

So, what are some examples of time periods that our courts have found to be too long past (remote) to support a current termination of parental rights? Well, in our research we have learned that our (Texas) courts have, so far, not defined that time period precisely. They have, however, determined in one case that that five (5) years between the act of abuse or neglect, and the termination trial, was too long. Another Texas court has held that three (3) years was too remote to support a termination finding.

Consistent with those cases, the Texas legislature has enacted legislation in Texas which requires generally (as with most things dictated by a law, there are exceptions to the general rule) that termination cases end within one year of when they are begun. But, of course, even if they meet that standard, the acts of abuse or neglect may still be found by a court to be too remote if the case was not started until a long time after the incident(s) occurred.

So, CPS should investigate a case soon enough after alleged abuse or neglect occurs; and, begin and complete their legal case timely. The burden of accomplishing those things fall on CPS, and not on the parents.

As with most legal matters, it is important to consult with an attorney for legal advice as soon as possible. Once a case has been filed, you may be entitled to have legal counsel appointed for you.

As always, we wish you the best, and hope that all kids are treated with love and respect.

Until next time, please take care of yourself and your loved ones!


Best regards,




[1][1] Texas Child Protective Services Handbook,” Section 1110


[2] Granted that some things, such as our government’s response to a pandemic, is out of the control of CPS

[3] This language is from a brief that we prepared and filed



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Important Factors in Cases Requesting Protective Orders


A protective order is a court order that can be entered by the court to protect a victim of domestic violence, assault (sexual or otherwise), abuse, stalking, and/or threats by a family member, household member, or (current or former) dating partner. We have written more about these cases here: Legal Protections for Family Violence (Part 1) and here Legal Protections Available for Family Violence. A review of those posts provides context for this one. Today, we will discuss some of the considerations that are pertinent to these types of cases.


Cases in which Family Violence has been alleged by one partner against another raise issues that are not usually present in other types of cases; issues such as (often) a lack of witnesses who might corroborate or dispute the allegations; sometimes, either a lack of physical evidence, or evidence which is ambiguous, such as whether physical marks, bruises, scratches, and so on are “defensive,” i.e. were inflicted by a person trying to protect themselves, or were caused by an event unrelated to an encounter between the parties; or, even whether they were self-inflicted. So, it is important for the person requesting the Protective Order, as well as the person who is alleged to have committed Family Violence, to focus on the details of the case. These cases are not ones “to wing,” or to do “off the cuff.”

As discussed in the first article linked above [“Legal Protections for Family Violence (Part 1)], Texas has provisions for Emergency Protective Orders, which are typically granted upon the arrest of a person for a Family Violence crime (such as Domestic Assault), and usually last for sixty-one (61) days. Those are granted without a hearing, based solely on the arrest documentation provided by the police department. Those relatively short-lived cases are not what this post is addressing. Instead, it’s the potentially much longer Protective Orders that can be granted by a District Court, after application and hearing, that we are focusing on today (these cases are discussed within the second article linked above, (“Legal Protections Available for Family Violence”).

The investigation of the legal case (for both parties) typically begins with the police report (“Incident Report”). In Texas, the Application for Protective Order will almost certainly contain a report from one or more law enforcement officer who investigated the incident. The details of this report are important, and if they don’t align with other case materials, such as medical reports, witness statements, photographs, audio/visual recordings (and so on), then those details are suspect, and can be questioned. A skilled lawyer, defending the person against whom the allegations are made, will point-out those discrepancies to the court, so as to cast doubt on the reported incident of Family Violence. And, a skilled lawyer prosecuting the case will address and explain those discrepancies (to the extent that can be done) before the defense lawyer has the opportunity to exploit them.  Details, and explanations of variances within those details, are important.

Next, any witnesses who might either support or refute the case allegations should be approached, and, if possible, interviewed. If a witness refuses to speak with either lawyer, then that lawyer should be sure to provide evidence that the witness seemed to be favoring one party’s ability to investigate the case, instead of providing truthful information to everyone who sought it. This raises the issue of the impartiality of the witness.

How do the witness statements compare to the statement given by the person claiming to be the victim? If there are more than one witness, do they agree with one another on all important details? Do the witness statements conform with the officer’s report, and with the physical evidence, visual/audio recordings, photographs, etc.? Are there reasonable explanations for the variances? Is there evidence that witnesses discussed the events in question with one another, to arrive at a consensus narrative?

I next want to know whether the person making the claims in the case sought medical treatment. If so, was there a diagnosis made? Is there a medical report confirming that the wounds, marks, etc. are consistent (or inconsistent) with the patient history (what the patient told the health care provider)? When this information exists, it is often helpful to one side or the other. Consequently, both sides need to be aware of its existence.

Finally, I want to see how the parties communicated with one another running up to their important encounters, and whether they communicated afterwards. I expect to find a text string between the parties when I get one of these cases. What did they say to one another before, during, and after the event(s) in question? This is often quite helpful in determining what likely did, or did not, occur between them.

Protective Order cases can have a significant impact on both parties. And so, I encourage everyone involved in one to take it seriously. The court wants to grant a Protective Order when appropriate, but not grant one when not proper. Our job is to help the court see what is right in this particular case.

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Legal Protections Available for Family Violence

Last month, we started this conversation by discussing the Court Orders that are immediately available to victims of Family Violence; some, even before the Protective Order case has been filed. Those orders are designed to offer legal protection to victims right away, before there is time for proper notice and a hearing to occur. This is, obviously, very important, so all of that information is available here. With those immediate protections in place, we can now look to what happens next.

Starting the Protective Order Case

The case is initiated by the filing of an Application for Protective Order (by or for “the applicant’). Upon that filing, a Temporary Ex Parte Protective Order can be requested to offer immediate protection to the applicant; and, the Court is required to schedule an evidentiary hearing. In most Texas counties, that hearing must be set to occur within fourteen (14) days of the filing of the Application for Protective Order. In very large, or very rural counties, however, that hearing can be scheduled to occur as many as twenty (20) days after the Application is filed. Importantly, if obtained, the Temporary Ex Parte Protective Order should be in effect up to the date of the hearing.

The Protective Order Hearing

The Protective Order hearing is a trial. As such, the parties, and any other witnesses, can be called to provide testimony. That testimony will be about the allegations made within the Application for Protective Order filed by the applicant. Importantly, any witness called to testify at the hearing may be cross-examined by any other party to the case. And, usually, the witnesses will not be allowed to hear the testimony of the other witnesses, nor to discuss testimony with other witnesses, so that their respective testimonies will not be influenced by what they would hear other witnesses testify to at the hearing (at least, that will be the case if your lawyer makes a proper request to the court for sequestration of the witnesses).

Other Evidence Considered by the Court

In addition to witness testimony, relevant photographs, recordings, documents (such as medical, or police, reports), and other relevant evidence can be introduced as evidence (caution: each of these types of demonstrative evidence requires sufficient evidentiary predicate in order to be admissible over the objection of another party to the case, so it will be necessary to coordinate those foundations with your lawyer ahead of time). In addition to the evidence introduced by the parties, the Presiding Judge may ask questions to clarify what happened between the parties to the case.

 The Court’s Judgment

After all of the evidence and argument has been presented, and any questions posed by the Judge have ben answered, the court will make findings about: the nature of the relationship that exists between the parties to the case; whether the Respondent committed “Family Violence;” and, if Family Violence did occur, is it likely to occur in the future? Based on all of those findings, the court will either grant the requested Protective Order, or deny the request for that Order.


Family Violence is a serious matter, and our courts treat allegations of Family Violence quite seriously. Whether you are a victim of such violence, or one who stands accused of committing Family Violence, it is important that you take the case seriously, since its outcome will have serious effects.


When Family Violence occurs in a marriage, divorce often follows, or is threatened. If you feel that may be the case with you, then you should learn how to get prepared for a divorce case.

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Legal Protections for Family Violence (Part 1)

Sadly, Family Violence occurs far too often in Texas (as well as worldwide). According to the Texas Council on Family Violence, 158 women were killed by a male intimate partner in 2015; and, shockingly, 1 in 3 Texans will experience domestic violence in their lifetimes. If you are one of these victims, then please contact a helping organization such as Denton County Friends of the Family or the Department of Texas Health and Human Services’ Family Violence Program for 24-hour help, including emergency shelter services.

Temporary Emergency (Magistrate’s) Order

The purpose of the magistrate’s order is to prevent the defendant from inflicting further harm on the victim after an arrested person is released from confinement, but before a higher court has considered an application for a Protective Order. Under Texas law, a Magistrate can issue one of these emergency orders after a perpetrator has been arrested for certain crimes involving Family Violence, stalking, or sexual assault. The order can issue on the magistrate’s own motion or upon the request of the: • victim; • victim’s guardian; • a peace officer; or • the state’s attorney. If issued by the Magistrate, the order will last from 31-61 days, unless a weapon was used, in which case it can be in effect for 91 days. While those periods of time are short, they should be long enough to allow the victim to seek a longer-lasting Protective Order from a higher court.

These emergency Protective Orders have some advantages over the other available Protective Orders: for instance, a hearing is not required before this emergency order can issue; it does not require the defendant and the victim to have any specific kind of relationship with one another (and so, can be issued to protect the victim from a stranger); and, it is issued before the defendant is released from jail. With this type of Protective Order issued, the victim then has an opportunity to seek additional Protective Orders, one of which is discussed below, while the Magistrate’s Order is in effect; thus, providing the victim with some immediate protection.

Temporary Ex Parte Protective Order (issued by District Courts & some County Courts)

A victim may file an application seeking this type of order. This is usually done by an attorney retained by the victim, or by the local District Attorney’s Office. Unlike the emergency order discussed above, this order does not require that an arrest has been made.

The Application for Temporary Ex Parte Protective Order is sworn to (like an affidavit of fact), filed with the appropriate clerk, and then presented in person or by attorney to the Judge presiding over the court in which the application pends. Then, “If the court finds from the information contained in an application for a protective order that there is a clear and present danger of family violence, the court, without further notice to the individual alleged to have committed family violence and without a hearing, may enter a Temporary Ex Parte order for the protection of the applicant or any other member of the family or household of the applicant.” TFC sec. 83.001. That order “may direct a respondent to do or refrain from doing specified acts.” Ibid.

This type of order may, in certain circumstances, provide for the removal of the target from a residence. This order is good for only twenty (20) days, although it might be extended once for a period of time not to exceed twenty additional days. It is intended to offer protection to the applicant until an adversarial hearing can be had by the court during that twenty-day period of time. The adversarial hearing is one in which the target of the Temporary Ex Parte Protective Order is given proper notice of the hearing, and is allowed to oppose the entry of a longer Protective Order, by testifying, calling witnesses, and entering other evidence and argument. This hearing will be discussed in Part 2 of this subject, in a later blog post.

For too long, the plague of Family Violence has not been properly addressed by society. It is now treated by law enforcement and our judicial system as the criminal behavior that it truly is. As more victims come forward for protection and justice, this trend should continue. The days of remaining silent to this scourge are gone.

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How to Get Your Kids Back From CPS

So, CPS has removed your children from your home: is there any chance that you can get them back? The short answer to that question is “yes.” To start with, CPS is only authorized by law (Chapter 262 of the Texas Family Code) to remove children from their home when facts exist that would “satisfy a person of ordinary prudence and caution to believe that there is an immediate danger to the physical health or safety of the child, or the child has been a victim of neglect or sexual abuse, and that continuation in the home would be contrary to the child’s welfare.

If CPS makes that removal, and you disagree with their decision to do so, then you have the right to have a hearing in court (called an “Adversary Hearing”), no later than fourteen (14) days after that removal of your children occurred. And, during that proceeding, you or your lawyer has the right to cross-examine the witnesses called to testify by CPS, testify yourself, and present your own witnesses and other evidence to a Judge. At the end of that hearing, you will get your kids back unless CPS can convince the court that your children were in danger when the removal occurred; and, that they should not be immediately returned to your home. For a more detailed discussion of these topics, see “When can Texas CPS remove a child from your home?

If you find yourself in the position of having your kids removed by CPS, then I truly hope the court finds that your kids should be returned to you after the hearing discussed above takes place. But, all is not lost even if your kids are not returned at that time. The court can Order their return at any time during the case.

When do courts Order that children who were removed from their home by CPS be returned to their parents? They do so when the parents of those children have demonstrated that they are able and willing to provide their children with a safe home. That means different things in different cases. For some parents, it means their staying clean and sober so that they can properly attend to their children. For others, it means eliminating the threat of domestic violence by attending and meaningfully participating in appropriate counseling. For some folks, it means becoming able to provide their children with the basic necessities of life, such as food, water, safe shelter, clothing, and so on. In each case where the initial removal is upheld by the court (as discussed above), the court will Order specific things that the parents will need to do in order to have their children returned to them.

Those things that parents must do are spelled-out clearly, but they are not usually easy for parents to do, since it involves their making one or more serious changes in how they live their lives. But, since the reward for doing those things is having their children returned to them, what reasonable parent would not try his or her hardest to do them?

Do you wonder what you should do if CPS is investigating you? Check-out this article for tips and suggestions.

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CPS Is Investigating Me: What Do I Need to Do?

According to the most recent statistics available, approximately 3,200,000 children are investigated each year by the various Child Protective Services agencies operating within the United States of America. Of course, not all of those investigations result in findings of abuse or neglect. And, while no one who has been through that experience would call it “enjoyable,” we, unfortunately, have no system of investigating child abuse or neglect which is perfect at avoiding putting innocent parents through such investigations.

The purpose of this writing is to lay-out some ideas on what you can do if you find yourself being investigated by CPS.

The first thing to do is to remain calm. This lets you converse intelligently with the CPS case investigator with whom you are dealing.

If at all possible, record the exchange with the CPS investigator, perhaps on your phone. That recording will allow everyone who may become involved in your case (such as any attorney appointed to represent your child, your attorney, the CASA representative assigned to your child, and the Judge or Jury) to see how the exchange took place. The goal is for you to look reasonable and appropriate.

If you are told that an abuse or neglect complaint has been filed regarding your child, politely ask for the details of the complaint—something beyond just a general statement that there has been an allegation of abuse or neglect—what conduct, specifically, was alleged? Who was alleged to have engaged in that conduct? When did the conduct in question allegedly occur? You may not be provided all of that information, but you are entitled to request it. And, if CPS appears on your recording to not be cooperating with you, then that may be used as evidence at any trial that may result from the investigation.

You do not have to speak with CPS before consulting with a lawyer. You can politely tell the investigator that you wish to speak with your lawyer before you speak with CPS. That is often a good idea, depending on the allegations that are being made against you.

If the investigator requests to see your child, then allow that to happen. But, stay present and (hopefully) record the interaction between your child and the investigator.

In Texas, CPS will typically interview a child who is alleged to have been abused or neglected, and who is old enough to communicate intelligibly. That interview will be recorded. It is best to not coach your child about what to say, prior to that interview. The child’s statements should be natural and genuine.

It is important that you have legal representation if the process continues beyond this point. If CPS asks you to agree to allow your child to live somewhere else for a while, or if CPS tries to have your child removed from you without your agreement, then it is imperative that you speak with a lawyer in handling CPS cases right away, before you speak with CPS again, if possible.

CPS investigations are serious matters. I hope that this information has been helpful to you.
For more information regarding CPS cases, checkout “When can CPS Remove Your Child?

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When can Texas CPS remove a child from your home?

Texas law (the Texas Family Code) provides that CPS shall investigate reports that a child has been abused or neglected. Those reports are typically made through either a phone call, or online ( ph. 1-800-252-5400 or

The law goes on to state that the investigation shall be “prompt and thorough,” and may require the assistance of local law enforcement. And when that investigation reveals an “immediate danger” to the welfare of the child, then CPS may remove the child from his or her home, either with or without first obtaining a court order, depending on whether “there is …time” “consistent with the health and safety of (the) child” to first obtain a court order (such as a temporary restraining order).

The law provides that CPS could first file a lawsuit, serve the parents with those lawsuit papers, and set a hearing, all prior to removing a child. But, in my experience, that rarely happens. Instead, CPS does not typically initiate a case until and unless they determine that the situation is, in their opinion, so bad at the child’s home, that CPS needs to remove the child from that home. And, by that time, the CPS personnel involved in making that determination usually will decide that the need for removal is imminent.

In whichever way CPS removes a child from his or her parent, the court must have an “Adversary Hearing” within fourteen (14) days of when the child was taken into custody by CPS, unless the child has already been returned to his or her home by then. At that hearing, the child’s parents will be allowed the opportunity to dispute the charges being made by CPS, to cross-examine the witnesses called to testify by CPS, and to present their own testimony and any other relevant evidence that they may have.

At the conclusion of that hearing, the court shall order the return of the child “…unless the court finds that: 1. the child was in danger; 2. the child’s remaining in the home is contrary to the welfare of the child; 3. the urgent need for protection required the immediate removal of the child; 4. reasonable efforts…were made to eliminate or prevent the child’s removal; and, 5. reasonable efforts have been made to enable the child to return home, but there is a substantial risk of a continuing danger if the child is returned home.” (see Texas Family Code section 262.201). In other words, the court is not going to return children to parents whom the court finds were not parenting them safely.

If the continued removal of the child is approved by the court, then the court will make further orders at that time regarding the parents and child. If, however, the continued removal is not approved of by the court, then the case terminates.

When CPS gets involved in a case, it can be quite serious, and that involvement can dominate a family’s life for a year or more. These situations should be taken as the important events that they are.

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