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’
A regrettable truth in family law often finds one parent unilaterally removing a child from the other parent while dissolving a marriage without any grounds or evidence of wrongdoing. Not surprisingly, disturbing numbers of children are routinely separated from loving, responsible parents for reasons that have nothing to do with their wishes, safety, health, or welfare and many times have to do with a lack of proper legal counsel.
In 50% of the marriages that end in divorce, 80% of these are over the objection of one spouse (close to 100% when children are involved). I am sure you have heard about “custody battles,” but you probably do not know that many start out with one parent taking a child from the other and refusing visitation until a court orders possession sometimes months down the line. You have heard about the witch hunt for “deadbeat dads,” but did you know that many of these fathers are well educated men who have lost their jobs due to a downtrodden economy and still love their children and want to play a leading role in their lives and upbringing. You have heard the hysteria over “child abuse,” but did you know that many accusations against fathers are shown to be false and used by one parent as a weapon to alienate the children from the other parent.
David Popenoe in his book “Life Without Father” tells us that negative consequences of fatherlessness are all around us. Evidence indicating damage to children growing up in fatherless homes has accumulated in near tidal-wave proportions. Fatherless children experience significantly more physical, emotional, and behavioral problems than do children growing up in intact families.
Children from fatherless homes are:
- 5 times more likely to commit suicide
- 32 times more likely to run away
- 20 times more likely to have behavioral disorders
- 14 times more likely to commit rape
- 9 times more likely to drop out of high school
- 10 times more likely to abuse chemical substances
- 9 times more likely to end up in a state-operated institution
- 20 times more likely to end up in prison.
(Information from Mark Hall, Father’s Manifesto).
In “My Rewar, My Punishment…My Son, Sons of Divorce,” Steven Manchester describes the situation many dads are dealing with when exercising visitation:
“I’d take my son for our court-ordered visits, only to drop him off two hours later, so another man could bounce him off his lap. Ironically, each new boyfriend was given all the time he wanted with my son. At first, it killed me, but I decided, “Whatever’s best for my boy. His happiness must come first!” Though it stung terribly, that attitude sustained me all the way to Christmas.
I waited in my old driveway for 4 excruciating hours, while three inches of snow muffled the screams from the cab of my truck. When they finally pulled in, my ex-wife snickered, “I must have lost track of time?” and handed over my son. I was livid! My boy was dead tired and half-asleep. And the EX…well…she just grinned, confident that there was nothing I could do about it. It took everything I had left to conceal my tears. I didn’t plan to give her anything for Christmas and was doing my best to stick to the plan.”
It is a sad scenario.
In divorce court, many fathers are left feeling that everything they have done, years of hard work, years of tender love, years of unstinting devotion to their family and children count as nothing.
In the 1960’s women fought hard to get laws passed to protect them against family violence, stalking and sexual harassment. The shame is that women of the 1990’s now use these same needed and appropriate laws wrongfully to their advantage and feel justified in punishing their spouse for wrongs they feel have been done to them by misusing the legal system; and in the process erase fathers from the lives of their children!
The facts are that many times the courtroom becomes a legal battleground. Inadequate counsel or absence of counsel can result in decisions that negatively affect children and the family for years to come.
Thirty seven percent of families in the United States are blended families. Sixty percent of second marriages end in divorce. A biological parent has his hands full, but as most step-parents will tell you, their job is even more complicated.
Following a divorce, it is not uncommon for a new step-parent to become the target of unprovoked spite or anger. In many cases, the previous-spouse harbors unfounded fears that their child will look to a new step-parent as a mother or father replacement figure. This can engender resentment to what may already be an uncomfortable situation between parties. Regretfully, these issues often escalate very quickly. Such resentments place the children squarely in the middle of a bitter fight between the people they love the most and are not healthy for anyone involved. The pain of conflicting loyalties to each parent and a child’s feeling of being “caught in the middle” of such disputes exacts an enormous emotional toll on a child. When a parent is in a rage, it is not uncommon for a child to withdraw. The child’s behavior towards the non-primary parent may abruptly change. This change in behavior may have more to do with keeping the primary parent happy than it does with how they really feel about the non-primary parent or step-parent. It is essential that you make it clear to your child that you love them and will always be there for them, regardless of the emotional or less than rosy current circumstances.
It is crucial to a child’s self-esteem and emotional growth that parents avoid putting children in the middle of such disputes. This can be incredibly difficult, however, when a selfish or manipulative parent does not think twice about wrongfully placing his or her child in the middle of conflict. Children are very perceptive and as they grow older they will ultimately realize when a parent has lied to them and used them for their own emotional or financial gain. Though they may temporarily identify with the aggressors, in time they will deeply resent the parent who has manipulated them.
Regardless of the circumstances, it is critical that biological parents avoid arguments or conflicts in the presence of the children. Such conduct is conducive to parental alienation goals of the misguided previous spouse. If the child sees that you maintain a calm and collected demeanor, it gives them reason to pause and feel safe.
If a previous spouse is making statements to the child regarding issues that should only be discussed between adults, tell the child that such discussions are inappropriate and you will take them up with the other parent at another time.
It is ok to tell your child “I am sorry,” if they are upset, even if you are not the parent upsetting them. This validates that they are hurting and relieves any false guilt they may have over things that are being said and done when you are not present. It is sometimes helpful to use everyday situations to explain conflict to your child. As an example, when dealing with conflict explain that “brothers and sisters fight, but they still love each other. Families have to work through conflict in order to stay together. I would not leave you if you made a mistake, I would not want you to leave me.” Such statements reinforces that reasonable conflict is ok and assures the child that you will remain a constant force in their life regardless of the situation.
If you feel that the conflict has escalated to a point of becoming emotionally abusive and/or destructive to the child, consult a Family Law / divorce attorney. It may be in the best interest of the child that he or she be removed from the primary parent and placed with the non-primary parent so that he or she is allowed to love all parental figures, parents and step-parents alike, unconditionally.
Parental Alienation Syndrome is the systematic denigration by one parent with the intent of alienating the child against the rejected parent. In most cases, the purpose of the alienation is to gain custody of the child and exclude involvement by the rejected parent. In other cases the alienator wants the rejected parent out of the way to start a new life, or the aligned parent wants more of the marital money and assets than he/she is entitled to and uses the child as a pawn. The aligned parent hates the rejected parent and the children become false weapons. These are just a few reasons Parental Alienation occurs in domestic disputes.
Parental Alienation Syndrome is common because it is an effective though devious device for gaining custody of a child. Through systematic alienation, one parent may slowly brainwash a child against the other parent. The parent involved in such alienation behavior then may gain the misplaced loyalty of the child.
In a recent survey, one in five parents stated that their primary objective during the divorce was to make the experience as unpleasant as possible for the former spouse; despite the effects such attitudes and behavior have on the children.
Parental Alienation Syndrome is a form of emotional child abuse. Parents in hostile separations may suffer depression, anger and anxiety or aggression. The expression of these feelings results in withdrawing of love and communication which may extend to the children through the alienating parent. When the mother is the alienator, it is a mechanism employed to stop the father from having contact with his children; and can be described as the mother holding the children “hostages.” The children usually are afraid of the mother, frequently identify with the aggressor, and obey her as a means of survival. The child may also be instilled with false memories of the father, coached and/or brainwashed.
Studies show that Parental Alienation is experienced equally by both sexes. Adolescents (ages 9-15) are usually more affect than younger children. Children most affected tend to be those subjected to parents’ highly conflicted divorces or custody battles. A study by Fidler and Bala (2010) show increasing incidences and increased judicial findings of parent alienation in the US. 11-15% of all divorces involving children include parental alienation issues.
If the parental alienation has been successful and has influenced the child against the target parent, the observer will see symptoms of parental alienation syndrome. Many children appear healthy until asked about the target parent.
Warning signs of a Parental Alienation Syndrome Child:
- The child is a “parrot” of the aligned parent with the same delusional, irrational beliefs and consistently sides with this parent. Denys suggestions that their hatred for rejected parent is based on views and behavior of aligned parent.
- Idealization of aligned parent and wants to constantly be in the aligned parent presence.
- The child develops serious hatred for the rejected parent and rejects a relationship with the rejected parent without any legitimate justification. The child sees nothing “good” about the rejected parent and only wants to destroy the relationship.
- The child refuses to visit or spend time with the rejected parent, frequently faking fear.
- The child’s reasons for not wanting a relationship with the rejected parent are primarily based on what the aligned parent tells the child. Accusation against rejected parent too adult-like for the child’s age.
- The child feels no guilt about his/her behavior toward the rejected parent and will not forgive past indiscretions.
- The child’s hatred extends to the rejected parent’s extended family, friends, partner, or Idealization of aligned parent aligned parent without any guilt or remorse.
- Ignores/rejects the rejected parent in the presence of the aligned parent.
- Children who live in alienated family situations are usually unable to form healthy relationship with either parent. Some of the areas of concern for children impacted by parental alienation are:
- Emotion Distress, Anxiety, Depression, and Self Hate
- Poor reality testing and unreasonable cognitive operations
- Low self-esteem or inflated self-esteem, Pseudo-maturity
- Aggression and conduct disorder
- Disregard for social norms and authority, adjustment difficulties
- Lack of remorse or guilt
Parental Alienation Syndrome is recognized by the courts but is very difficult to define and in most cases requires bringing in County Social Services, Child Protective Services, and/or other professionals. Anyone claiming Parental Alienation Syndrome should look for family therapy as a constructive way forward. Other forms of abuse are physical, sexual, and neglect which are much easier to identify.
Children having some of these symptoms need help. Please contact an attorney and discuss your options on how to help this child. Formulate a plan to move forward. Do not give up your parental rights! Your child desperately needs and is entitled to your help!
Texas spousal maintenance can be a useful and effective tool in a divorce. A spouse lacking sufficient property or the means to provide for his/her minimum reasonable needs, may have awarded additional funds from the other spouse during the divorce and after to help rebuild his/her life following their divorce.
In September of 2011, the Texas Legislature revised and modified the requirements for spousal maintenance including the limits on amounts and duration of time allowed.
The eligibility requirements of the Texas spousal maintenance law is still considered one of the more restrictive spousal maintenance laws in the U.S.
To be able to be awarded Spousal Maintenance (statutory term for spousal support or alimony) you must be married and the spouse seeking support must lack sufficient property to provide for the spouse’s “minimum reasonable needs”. Also one of the following is required:
The recipient must be unable to earn sufficient income to provide for his or her minimum reasonable needs because of an incapacitating mental or physical disability.
The marriage lasted for 10 years or longer and the recipient lacks the ability to earn sufficient income to provide for his or her minimum reasonable needs.
The recipient is the custodian of a child of the marriage of any age who requires substantial care and personal supervision because of a physical or mental disability that prevents the spouse from earning sufficient income to provide for the spouse’s minimum reasonable needs.
The person ordered to pay support was convicted of or received deferred jurisdiction for an act of family violence during the pendency of the suit or within two years of the date the suit was filed.
The Maximum Amount of spousal maintenance the courts may award is $5,000 per month, although it is still limited to 20 percent of the Payer’s average Gross Monthly Income.
The Maximum Duration of Time for spousal maintenance is:
Five years if the marriage is 10 years or less and the eligibility for spousal maintenance is established by an act that constitutes family violence.
Five years if the length of marriage is at least 10 years but no more than 20 years.
Seven years if the marriage length was at least 20 years but no more than 30 years.
Ten years if the marriage length lasted 30 years or longer.
In cases where the spousal maintenance is awarded due to the mental or physical disability of the spouse or a child of the marriage, the court may order the maintenance continue as long as the disability continues.
The spousal maintenance awarded by the court is discretionary and may not always eliminate the shortfall of the requesting spouse’s monthly expenses.
What about Termination of Spousal Maintenance? The obligation to pay future maintenance terminates on the death of either party or on the remarriage of the spouse receiving the maintenance.
If the court finds that the receiving spouse cohabits with another person and is in a dating or romantic relationship in a permanent place of abode on a continuing basis, the court shall order the termination of the maintenance obligation.
Termination of the maintenance obligation does not terminate the obligation to pay any maintenance that accrued before the date of termination and this amount will have to be paid or a judgment will be enforced by the court.
If you are thinking about a divorce in Texas and have questions concerning your eligibility for spousal maintenance contact a legal professional to help you through this process.