The Domestic Relations Office Administration is comprised of the Executive Director, Clint Dupew, and Executive Secretary, Virginia Garcia. The Executive Director, with the assistance and support of the Executive Secretary, develops, facilitates, oversees and coordinates programs, resources, goals, objectives, policies, procedures and budgets to be executed by the four divisions of the DRO, that result in a broad range of services critical to the needs of the Tarrant County Family District Courts and the children, parties, witnesses and attorneys participating in the Tarrant County family court system.
Executive Director: Clint Dupew
Executive Secretary: Virginia Garcia
200 E. Weatherford
Fort Worth, Texas 76196-0290
The histories of the four departments of the Domestic Relations Office predate the establishment of the Domestic Relations Office.
Family Court Services
In 1908, Tarrant County established a Probation Department, which handled adults and juveniles. The Probation Department was located in the old Tarrant County Courthouse, where the County Courts were also located. The County Courts rotated hearing juvenile cases.
Juveniles were divided into two types: delinquents and dependent and neglected children, simply called D & N. There was only one staff person who handled the D & N caseload. There just weren’t many government resources available at the time for these children and there was no such thing as foster care, but private entities such as Women's Cooperative Home (est. 1915 and later became All Church Home, now known as ACH) and Lena Pope Home (est. 1920) helped fill the gaps in service. There was also a Tarrant County Children’s Home that took in many of the children; it is no longer in existence.
In 1943, courts began accepting legal guardianship of children and receiving child support in order to house the children. Many of these funds came from the Veteran’s Administration to support children of veterans in the court’s care.
In 1945, the one D & N caseworker was Maureen Williford. In an interview with Ms. Williford, conducted in the 1980’s, she said that space was always a problem: space for the children and space for the probation officers. There were still no foster homes and only a few institutions, as listed above. Most of the children went to the Tarrant County Children’s Home, but they only took in white, school-aged children. There were no options for preschool-aged white children or for black children at all.
In 1947, Lynn Ross was appointed Chief Probation Officer over the Juvenile Probation Department. At that time, social work was a new field. Mr. Ross earned his Master’s in Social Work from the University of Chicago. He had a staff of five caseworkers, but still only one working the D & N cases. Mr. Ross was also interviewed in the 1980’s and reported that there were no County resources made available for poor black children and that, “The reasoning was that they all had an auntie to take care of them.” These were not Mr. Ross’s sentiments, but only his understanding of the reasons why money wasn’t made available for these children.
In 1948, Mr. Ross pushed through the hiring of a black social worker, Hortense Chapman. One of the judges at the time objected to a black worker having a desk in the main office with the other probation officers, so space was offered to her by the historic Baker’s Funeral Home.
Ms. Williford described Ms. Chatman as the only person in the department who was fully qualified by education and that she was energetic and highly competent. She handled the black, female delinquent cases and all the black D & N cases. She busily recruited foster homes for her young clients and built innovative programs for them. She ultimately became the assistant supervisor over Family Court Services.
In 1949, the Commissioners allotted funds for foster care for white children, paying $30 per month for their care. By this time, the D & N caseload had become larger than the delinquent caseload, not only because it handled more children, but because it handled them longer, often through to adulthood. Mr. Ross said, “I picked up children personally and placed them in whichever home would take them. We kept lots of children until they were 18 or older.”
At some point, the D & N component of Juvenile Probation became known as Special Services, because the department was also being called upon to conduct custody evaluations in divorce cases. By 1958, the new Civil Courts Building was completed (and has since been demolished). The Probation Department was moved there and Ms. Chapman finally had a desk located in the same office as the other caseworkers. Because the Special Services caseload continued to grow, the Tarrant County Commissioners approved funds that year to hire five more caseworkers, so the space allotted to the Probation Department was, all at once, already inadequate.
In 1962, a specialty court was created in Tarrant County specifically to hear family law cases and non- delinquent juvenile matters. The first judge appointed to the family law court was Eva Barnes. Ms. Barnes had the distinction of being the first female assistant district attorney and the first female judge in Tarrant County. There are attorneys practicing today who still remember her. She used Special Services in many of the cases appearing before her. By 1970, four specialty family law courts had been established in Tarrant County, all enlisting the help of Special Services to conduct custody evaluations. They also continued to handle the D & N cases.
In 1971, Child Welfare, a state agency we now know as the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (commonly referred to as CPS) took over all Tarrant County Special Services’ D & N cases. We were the last county in Texas to have our D & N cases removed to a state agency, because Mr. Ross fought vigorously to keep the cases under local care in his department. He was convinced the children would be better served by his local, county agency and that they would get lost and underserved in a state-run agency.
Even with the loss of the D & N cases, Special Services continued to expand their caseload. The family law courts were ordering more custody and adoption investigations and the probate court had also started ordering investigations in guardianship cases. Special Services was allowed an additional caseworker, for a total of eight. A foster home was established just for the children in Special Services caseload and a married couple was hired to provide foster services in the home. Special Services also expanded their duties to include acting as a temporary managing conservator when needed, supervising parental visits, and supervising child exchanges.
In 1977, after 30 years of services, Mr. Ross retired. After his departure, a new Juvenile Services Center was built in his name and Juvenile Probation was moved to the new center. Special Services was renamed Family Court Services and remained in the Civil Courts Building where the family law courts were located.
Also in 1977, the County Courts were re-designated as state level specialty District Courts and two additional family District Courts were added. In 1980, two associate judge positions were added to hear temporary matters and relieve some of the congestion of the family District Courts. In 1984, a sixth family District Court was added and by 1987, there were also six associate courts. Family Court Services was kept extremely busy by a total of twelve judges.
In 1983, through the urging of Family District Judge Robert L. Wright, the Domestic Relations Office (DRO) was established, pursuant to Chapter 151 of the Texas Human Resources Code (now contained in Chapter 203 of the Texas Family Code). Approved by the Commissioners Court, the Domestic Relations Office was placed under the administration of the Tarrant County Juvenile Board. Family Court Services was removed from the Juvenile Probation Department's supervision and placed under supervision of the Domestic Relations Office. In 2019, the DRO was removed from administration by the Juvenile Board and placed under the Commissioner's Court.
Today, Family Court Services has a staff of thirteen full time caseworkers (all licensed social workers), two-part-time caseworkers, a Director, an Assistant Director, a Visitation Services Coordinator, and four support staff. There is no longer a foster home, but the visitation center has grown and oversees visits and exchanges for hundreds of families a year. They still provide custody evaluations and other services the courts require and were the first to develop the concept of access coordination, wherein parents meet at the beginning of litigation with a caseworker to try and work out their own agreement regarding time with the children, rather than relying on the court to do so. The program has been immensely successful, eventually adopted by other Family Court Services in the State and, also, eventually becoming codified in the Texas Family Code.
Child Support Services
Child Support Services was established by the Tarrant County District Clerk in the 1940’s (we have child support payment records back to 1948) and originally had only two employees. Child Support Services was under the supervision of the Juvenile Probation Department and was located in the Civil Courts Building (now demolished) where the family law courts were located. When the Domestic Relations Office was established in 1983, Child Support Services, along with Family Court Services, was removed from Juvenile Probation and placed under the administration of the Domestic Relations Office. At that time, the primary function of the Child Support Services and its 15 employees was to collect court ordered child support payments, disburse payments to the persons entitled to receive them for the benefit of the child, and to make and keep records of payments and disbursements. This remained the primary function of Child Support Services through 1999.
In 2000, the Domestic Relations Office entered into a contract with the Office of the Attorney General to provide monitoring and enforcement of child support payments on all divorces finalized after October 16, 2000. It was named the Monitoring Program and became one of the primary functions of Child Support Services, requiring a reorganization of that division. At the time the program started, our average percentage of paying cases was 65%. Between that time and now, the paying case rate has continued to rise year after year and we now boast an average 89% paying case rate, one of the highest in the United States. Due to our success, as other Domestic Relations Office have established a contractual relationship with the Office of the Attorney General for monitoring child support, those agencies have looked to the Tarrant County Domestic Relations Office for guidance and mentoring.
Today, Child Support Services consists of an administrative team of six, a customer service team of ten, a new accounts and financial accounting team of nine, and a collections and enforcement team of nine.
Legal Support Services and the Domestic Relations Office
In the early 1970’s the Tarrant County District Attorney’s Office received a grant to start enforcing child support through civil contempt in cases where the custodial parent was on state aid. They continued to serve in this role until the early 1980’s, when the Office of the Attorney General took over enforcement of these cases. For cases where the custodial parent was not on state aid, there was no government entity that provided services and the only option was to hire a private attorney to file for contempt when child support was not paid. When the Domestic Relations Office was established, one of the primary goals was to include a Legal Support Services division that would address non-welfare child support cases.
In 1983, when the Domestic Relations Office (DRO) was established, Child Support Services and Family Court Services were removed from Juvenile Probation and placed with the Domestic Relations Office and a Legal Support Services division was initiated. At that time, now Texas Supreme Court Justice Debra H. Lehrmann served as Assistant Director/Attorney for the new Legal Support Services division. Her boss at the time, Norris Branham, would later become Executive Director of the Domestic Relations office and would serve for over twenty years and oversee some of the most dramatic changes to the Domestic Relations Office.
In 1983, the Legal Support Services staff consisted of a Director/Attorney, an Assistant Director/Attorney, three legal support officers, three clerks and a receptionist. The primary function was to enforce court orders for child support and visitation, representing the best interest of the child and not representing either parent involved in the matter. People needing our services applied for services and had to meet some eligibility requirements. Enforcing child support orders continues to be a primary focus of Legal Enforcement.
In 2000, the Domestic Relations Office entered into a contract with the Office of the Attorney General to provide monitoring of child support payments. An integral part of that contract was to provide enforcement services for those contract cases in which child support and/or medical support was not being paid. Because the contract cases were being monitored by the Child Support Office, those that fell behind were automatically referred to Legal Support Services, as opposed to cases that came in through application, thus the caseload expanded rapidly and additional staff was necessary.
Today, Legal Support Services consists of a Director/Attorney, Assistant Director/Attorney, two staff attorneys, six legal support officers, one administrative assistant and one clerk.
In 1981, Tarrant County Adult Probation initiated a special child support probation program to oversee probation of people who were found in contempt of court for failure to pay child support. The program was named Restitution Enforcement and staffed with one probation officer and one clerical position.
In 1986, Restitution Enforcement was removed from the Adult Probation Department and placed with the Domestic Relations Office. At the time, they had a staff of three officers and one support staff. With Restitution Enforcement joining the Domestic Relations Office, we had the final core components of the Domestic Relations Office as we know it today.
Restitution Enforcement was eventually renamed as the Community Supervision Unit and they now have a staff of seven officers, a director, assistant director and four support staff. They provide supervision for those found in contempt of court for their failure to pay child support pursuant to section 157 Subchapter E of the Texas Family Code. The unit also provides supervision for persons in contempt for failure to allow possession of and access to a child for the purpose of visitation. During community supervision, obstacles are addressed that have prevented probationers from meeting their court ordered requirements. The primary goal of this unit is to see that these probationers remain in compliance with the orders of the court and, when they are not, to refer the case to Legal Enforcement for appropriate action. The Community Supervision Unit provides the Family District Courts with an effective method of both monitoring/enforcing the court orders that is also a cost saving alternative to incarceration.
There have been only three Executive Directors of the Tarrant County Domestic Relations Office. Lawrence Blais was appointed as the first Executive Director in 1983 and served two years. Norris Branham was appointed in 1986 and served through 2008. Christina (Christie) S. Glenn was appointed in 2009.
There have only been four Executive Secretaries. Marjorie Wherry was hired in 1983 and served for one year. Pam Phipps was hired in 1984 and served until 2006. Leslie Sulzener was hired in 2006 and served until early 2020, taking an early retirement due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Virginia Garcia was hired in 2020 and is the current Executive Secretary.