Texas family law states that a court may modify a child custody order if the change is in the best interest of the child and one of the following applies:
1. The circumstances of the child or parent have materially or substantially changed since the date of the original child custody order or order to be modified.
2. The child is at least 12 years of age and will tell the court in private chambers with the judge that he/she would like a change.
3. The custodial parent has voluntarily given the child’s care and custody to another person for at least 6 months.
Material or Substantial Change
What could be acceptable as a change for the Texas family courts? Some examples could be a parent’s remarriage, a medical condition the affects a parent’s ability take care of the child, a parent’s criminal acts or convictions, a parent’s change in residence that makes visitation a hardship for the other parent, family violence, drug or alcohol related issues, absence of supervision, and other material changes concerning adequate care and supervision of the child.
Child Wants Change
The child must be at least 12years of age and maybe interviewed in the judge’s chambers. The court will consider the child’s desire but only make a change if it is in the child’s best interest.
This happens when the custodial parent has voluntarily given up custody of the child to another person for at least six months. This does not apply to a period of military deployment or duty.
After finding one of the three prerequisites, the court must still consider whether the change will be in the child’s best interest. The court will consider factors affecting the child’s physical, emotional, mental, education, social, moral or disciplinary welfare and development. The factors considered for this evaluation are:
1. Child’s emotional and physical needs.
2. Parenting ability of the conservators or potential conservators
3. Plans and outside resources available to persons seeking the modification
4. Value to the child of having a relationship with both parents
5. Visitation schedule that requires excessive traveling or prevents the child from engaging in school or social activities
6. Stability of the person’s home seeking the modification
7. The child’s desires
8. Child’s need for stability and need to limit additional litigation in child custody cases.
Modification within one year of prior court order
A parent who files a motion to modify a child custody order within one year after a prior order was entered must also submit an affidavit to the court. The affidavit must contain, along with supporting facts, at least one of the following allegations:
1. The child’s present environment may be endanger the child’s physical health or significantly impair the child’s emotional development.
2. The person who has the exclusive right to designate the child’s primacy residence is the person seeking or consenting to the modification and the modification is in the child’s best interest.
3. The person who has the exclusive right to designate the child’s primary residence has voluntarily relinquished the primacy care and possession of the child for at least six months and the modification is in the child’
Many professions create impositions on conservators making a standard possession order inapplicable and unworkable. The Court may deviate from a standard possession order if the order is inappropriate or unworkable in reference to the schedules of both the conservators and the child. Unique professions and irregular school schedules for children allow the Court to have flexibility to deviate from a standard possession order that is in the Best Interest of the Child. There are multiple ways in which the Court may depart from a standard possession order to fulfill the needs of all parties involved with the custody of the child.
First, the Family Code § 153.254 states that the Court will be allowed deference to modify the standard possession order if work schedules of either conservators or the school schedule of the child is irregular. The Court must attempt to narrowly tailor the modifications to keep the new possession order as similar to the standard possession order as possible. This instance most commonly occurs when the Managing Conservator and the Possessory Conservator cannot reach an agreement and one of the two Conservators has a unique profession such as a firefighter, police officer, or airline pilot. The working hours of these jobs allow the Court to modify the standard possession order even if both of the parties do not comply with the changes. The modifications must be made only if it is in the Best Interest of the Child.
Secondly, the standard possession order may always be modified if it is by the mutual agreement of both the Managing Conservator and Possessory Conservator. Family Code § 153.007 is the Agreed Parenting Plan Statute and allows for both parties to agree on a standard possession order for the child. This statute was passed to promote amicability in settlement for child custody issues and to give flexibility to the parents if they are willing to agree on custody terms. The Agreed Parenting Plan must be in the Best Interest of the Child for the Court to approve. If the Court grants the Agreed Parenting Plan then the Managing or Possessory Conservator will have a remedy as a matter of law for any violation of the agreement committed by either party.
Finally, both Conservators may enter into a Mediated Settlement Agreement under Family Code § 153.0071. A Mediated Settlement Agreement is the only time in which the Court will NOT look at the Best Interest of the Child when granting the custody agreement.
The Mediated Settlement Agreement § 153.0071 must be:
- In bold, underlined, and capital letters that the agreement is NOT REVOCABLE
- Signed by Both Parties to the agreement
- Signed by the lawyers (if represented) of each party
The Mediated Settlement Agreement is binding and not revocable so if the Conservators wish to go this route they must understand that what is in the agreement will be held as binding. This method can be used to modify or change a standard possession order and the Court will not look at the Best Interest of the Child regarding the agreement, unless there exists a credible threat of domestic violence.
These are the methods in which a unique possession order may be obtained to accommodate irregular schedules or working hours of both the conservators. Any possession order must be correctly drafted and all future contingencies must be accounted for. An experienced lawyer must be contacted to safeguard an individual’s custody rights of their children and to make sure that a fair custody arrangement is obtained.
This question causes many divorced or single parents much stress concerning meaningful contact with their children. “What do I need to do to legally secure my specific summer visitation periods with my kids?”. Here is a general breakdown of Texas law on summer visitation:
Family code: 153.312: Notification of Summer Visitation: Parents who reside 100 miles or less apart.
A possessory conservator gives the managing conservator written notice by April 1 of each year specifying an extended period or periods of summer possession, the possessory conservator shall have possession of the child for 30 days beginning not earlier than the day after the child’s school is dismissed for the summer vacation and ending not later than seven days before school resumes at the end of the summer vacation, to be exercised in not more than two separate periods of at least seven consecutive days each, with each period of possession beginning and ending at 6 p.m. on each applicable day; or does not give the managing conservator written notice by April 1 of each year specifying an extended period or periods of summer possession, the possessory conservator shall have possession of the child for 30 consecutive days beginning at 6 p.m. on July 1 and ending at 6 p.m. on July 31;
If the managing conservator gives the possessory conservator written notice by April 15 of each year, the managing conservator shall have possession of the child on any one weekend beginning Friday at 6 p.m. and ending at 6 p.m. on the following Sunday during one period of possession by the possessory conservator under Subdivision (2), provided that the managing conservator picks up the child from the possessory conservator and returns the child to that same place;
If the managing conservator gives the possessory conservator written notice by April 15 of each year or gives the possessory conservator 14 days’ written notice on or after April 16 of each year, the managing conservator may designate one weekend beginning not earlier than the day after the child’s school is dismissed for the summer vacation and ending not later than seven days before school resumes at the end of the summer vacation, during which an otherwise scheduled weekend period of possession by the possessory conservator will not take place, provided that the weekend designated does not interfere with the possessory conservator’s period or periods of extended summer possession or with Father’s Day if the possessory conservator is the father of the child.
Divorce, paternity or other orders setting out access/possession rights should specifically set out this information. Such orders are usually custom and specific on times and dates for summer and other holiday visitations.
In today’s world, a statutory preset structured visitation schedule does not always work in a blended family environment. Many fathers are now either sole managing conservator or co-managing conservators with the mother. The current standard visitation schedule is used more as a basic presumed schedule to which extended time may be added for cause good for more equal shared time with the children.
With an enlightened public awareness and presumption under law that children need quality time with both parents, many parents are looking for modifications to child visitation orders that agrees with their lifestyles to share their children equally and fairly.
Summer Visitation and Divorce? Your Sharing Attitude Will Be the Happy Force for your Children and Family!
We are approaching the end of the school year and the beginning of the long Summer Visitation! You have probably received the letter/ email from your EX requesting the setup for the Summer Visitation with the children.
Usually this is not a happy time for the primary care giving parent, but from personal experience, you need a break and letting the children spend some extended time with the other parent will give them a chance to share time and experiences with this parent and make them happy. Remember your children love you and nothing will change that fact!
From practicing family law for a long time now, I believe there are elements in divorce that will never change:
- You cannot make someone love you and stay with you if they choose not to.
- The only person that you can be completely responsible for in behavior is YOURSELF!
- If you choose to have a bad attitude and try to hurt your EX by alienating your children, then not only are you not winning the divorce game, but you are causing serious damage to your Children. Even if you win, you are a loser. The Kids didn’t ask for this Divorce, they are often stuck because Mom and Dad couldn’t be happy together!
After considering these ideas and deciding no, your children were not the case of the divorce, try giving some effort to help make your children happy during Summer Visitation with their other parent and not worry about you.
Here are my “New Divorce No No Rules” that will make the Summer Visitation happier for the entire family including your EX:
- No talking bad about the other spouse! This is your battle, not the kids! The kids are still related to their other parent and love that parent.
- Make this Summer Visitation an adventure for the kids. Mommy and Daddy are not together anymore, but the children should feel that they are going to spend this special time with their other parent without you acting mad or hurt. Never let the kids know that you are unhappy about the Summer separation and may not love them if they are happy! Let the kids look forward to a wonderful summer adventure with their dad or mom and don’t look back!
- Get with your ex-spouse and determine the Summer visitation schedule. Share this schedule with the kids so they will know what is going on and what time will be shared with both parents. Meanness will not be tolerated, be nice!
- Talk with the children on their ideas for the Summer Visitation. Maybe share these ideas with your EX. Remember: this is not about your feelings, it is about the love and needs of your family.
“The more you give in to the love of your family, the better you will feel in your heart.”
You, my friend, will eventually get over this hurt of the Summer separation with the kids and maybe get a little rest yourself. Before you know it, the kids will be back, school will start and your family’s live will go on, but it is always the decisions you make to help your children cope with this family split that will determine your true character as a parent and a person.
Hoping you and your family will have a wonderful Summer and this blog has help to put a smile on your face! —-Mark A. Nacol
The Holiday Season is usually an exciting time for both parents and children alike, but for families split by divorce or separation, the emotion issues from the result of the break-up on the affected family can cause the joy of the season to be overshadowed by much unhappiness and despair!
Unfortunately, most parents wait too long to confirm visitation planning for the upcoming holiday season and a very sad and unhappy family situation occurs. Now is the time to contact Legal Counsel if you cannot work out or are otherwise being deprived of a holiday visitation by your Ex.
Children need to have structure in scheduling the Holiday Visitations to ensure that they will be able to see both parents and share the joy of the season with their entire family. When this goes awry, the children are usually the ones who suffer.
The best gift of the holiday a child can experience is an early proactive arrangement of all holiday plans so everyone knows dates and times for visitation with both Mom and Dad. This Holiday Season vow to keep your child out of the middle of any family conflict and start to develop new holiday traditions with your child and family. Many parents have new relationships/marriages and other children in the family group. The new holiday traditions should include everyone and be a bonding experience for years to come.
Tips on Dealing with Holiday Visitation Issues
Make sure your children have positive holiday memories. Shield them from conflicts between warring ex-spouses.
Plan ahead now on scheduling the upcoming holiday visitations. Longer the wait, more stress involved!
If there is a deviation in holiday schedule this year, make sure it is in writing. Make sure the document shows what times are being exchanged and both parents sign it for future confirmation.
Stay flexible and compromise: If you have to work, consider having the kids spend more time with the other parent so they have time with friends. This is a time for new family traditions and changes from old habits. Put aside your differences with your EX and make the children’s time happy with good memories.
If age appropriate, ask your children what is important to them during the holidays. There may be a special place or event that is very important to them and try to accommodate this.
Sit back and enjoy the Holidays with your children. This is a special time for wonderful bonding and beautiful memories. Do not undermine their holiday by hateful confrontations and fighting.
If a potential problem could arise on holiday visitation schedules, make sure you take action legally in plenty of time to consult a legal expert and get the conflict resolved before the holidays commence!