Going through a divorce can be a difficult time for all family members, including the children. The stress of dealing with a child that has a serious illness or difficulty prior to the initiation of a divorce may accelerate during the divorce process. We call such a child the “Special Needs Child”. This child has apparent or diagnosed emotional/medical problems.
Special Needs children are seriously impacted by the decisions made during a divorce. Many times the child becomes more vulnerable not knowing with is happening but very afraid of losing mom or dad forever and causing additional emotional and behavioral problems at home. It is important for parties to determine how meaningful regular visitation will be accomplished and which parent will have the right to make major decisions on how to address the child’s emotional and medical needs. During a divorce, most parents have difficulty agreeing on issues, especially issues related to the problems associated with a “special needs” child.
I. Child with Emotional Issues:
Children will always experience some level of negative emotions during the divorce process, even in the best circumstances. When a child has a mental illness or emotional problem, how visitation periods are managed, who has the authority to make a decision on medical treatment and therapy and how such decisions will be followed and enforced in each parent’s household will greatly affect the success or failure of the final decree as it pertains to the child. It is very important to have an order that is flexible and meets the child’s changing needs, yet remains enforceable should action need to be taken due to a parent’s failure to meet the needs or comply with the court’s order.
Three of the most reported emotional and behavioral issues involving children are Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) Behavioral or Conduct Disorders, Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD), and chemical addictions.
2. Special Medical Needs
When a child has significant medical health problems or disabilities parents may have very different opinions on who should be the decision maker regarding doctors, medications and regimens for a particular situation. This may be compounded by the emotions and breakdown in the marital relationship often caused by the stress and differing opinions of the parents on the care of the child. The Court must help to balance the needs and rights of the parents so that each has a voice in their child’s treatment decisions. It is also important that the parties along with the Court work for a consistent treatment protocol to meet the child’s medical needs and best interests.
The real battleground in custody cases becomes the allocation of rights and duties between the parties. This is exacerbated when the child involved has emotional or medical needs. Other factors that may compound issues are 1) other children involved and 2) whether they also have special needs. Major problems occur when there are differing views between the parents on how to best treat the problem or a lack of consensus among medical and mental health professionals as to the appropriate protocol for treatment and uncertainty among family courts as to which protocol
to “impose” upon the family.
Texas Courts vary greatly on how each allocates rights and duties, even in joint managing conservatorship situations. In the event the parties cannot agree on the allocation of rights pertaining to educational and medical decisions the courts must award custody based on the principle of what is the best interest of the child. The Court will consider many factors in developing a parenting plan including the development status of the child, the child’s temperament, and each child’s specific needs.
To make a meaningful decision on the care of the child, the court will need evidence of the following:
• Which parent is the most involved in the decision making as pertains to the relevant issue?
• What are the competing theories of how to best treat the child?
• Current opinions from the child’s physician and /or therapist.
• What is the generally accepted treatment for the specific condition?
• What is the likelihood of each parent following the protocol selected by the court?
• How successful has the treatment been in the past?
• What are the attitudes of the parents in relation to considering alternative methods if the current situation doesn’t work?
• Which parent has shown a proven effort at recognizing the child’s needs and working to address them?
The selection of a reputable expert in the particular field in which the child is affected is paramount to a true evaluation of the situation. Not all doctors and therapists are created equal and the expert must be a specialist in working with the child’s specific problem.
After the divorce is concluded, raising a special needs child requires a high degree of collaboration between both parents. This child feels very afraid and doesn’t have to be put in the middle of a parental alienation feud which could cause long term mental and physical scarring for both the child and the parents. Parents, think about your child! Your child didn’t ask for a divorce but they will have to live with the consequences, good or bad, that your decisions leave them!
Now it is time for “fathers” or men who have been paying child support for children who are not their biological children to assert their rights.
Texas new law, Texas SB785, permits men who have been ordered to pay child support, without genetic testing, to request genetic testing in order to determine whether they are the genetic parent of the child.
But the clock is ticking. If you suspect that you are paying child support for a child who is not your biological child, you must file the petition before September 1, 2012.
After September 1, 2012, a man must file a petition to determine genetic parentage no later than the first anniversary of the date on which he becomes aware of facts indicating that he is not the child’s genetic father.
In order to file for relief under this new law, the man must have signed an acknowledgement of paternity or failed to contest paternity in the previous proceeding because of a mistaken belief that he was the child’s father based on misrepresentations that led him to that conclusion.
If the man knew he was not the father at the time he signed the acknowledgement of paternity or the previous court order, the new law does not apply.
If the genetic testing concludes that the man is not the child’s genetic father, the court shall render an order terminating the parent-child relationship and terminating the man’s obligation for future child support.
The new order, however, does not affect the man’s obligations for child support or child support arrearages accrued before the date of the order. However, the accrued obligations are not enforceable by contempt proceedings.
If the court order states that the father listed on the birth certificate is not the biological father and the information can be removed from the birth record, then the birth certificate can be revised as well.
Even if the parent-child relationship is terminated, the man may request the court to order periods of possession or access to the child following the termination. The court may order periods of possession or access to the child only if the court determines that denial of possession or access would significantly impair the child’s physical health or emotional well-being. The law directs the court to focus on the child’s well-being, not on the man’s desire to continue seeing the child.
If you have been paying child support due to a mistaken belief that you were the father, the time to act is now. Remember the clock is ticking! If you suspect that you are paying child support for a child who is not your biological child, you must file the petition before September 1, 2012. If you wait to file for relief, you will be barred! Contact an attorney now!
Under the Texas Family Code, a spouses separate property consists of 1) the property owned or claimed by the spouse before marriage; 2) the property acquired by the spouse during marriage by gift, devise, or descent, and 3) the recovery for personal injuries sustained by the spouse during marriage, except any recovery for loss of earning capacity during marriage.
The terms “owned and claimed” as used in the Texas Family Code mean that where the right to the property accrued before marriage, the property would be separate. Inception of title occurs when a party first has a right of claim to the property by virtue of which title is finally vested. The existence or nonexistence of the marriage at the time of incipiency of the right of which title finally vests determines whether property is community or separate. Inception of title occurs when a party first has a right of claim to the property.
Under Texas Constitution, Art. XVI, Section 15, separate property is defined as all property, both real and personal, of a spouse owned or claimed before marriage, and that acquired afterward by gift, devise or descent, shall be the separate property of that spouse; and laws shall be passed more clearly defining the rights of the spouses, in relation to separate and community property; provided that persons about to marry and spouses, without the intention to defraud pre-existing creditors, may by written instrument from time to time partition between themselves all or part of their property, then existing or to be acquired, or exchange between themselves the community interest of one spouse or future spouse in any property for the community interest of the other spouse or future spouse in other community property then existing or to be acquired, whereupon the portion or interest set aside to each spouse shall be and constitute a part of the separate property and estate of such spouse or future spouse; spouses may also from time to time, by written instrument, agree between themselves that the income or property from all or part of the separate property then owned or which thereafter might be acquired by only one of them, shall be the separate property of that spouse; if one spouse makes a gift of property to the other that gift is presumed to include all income or property which might arise from that gift of property; and spouses may agree in writing that all or part of the separate property owned by either or both of them shall be the spouses’ community property.
In 1917 the Legislature defined and income from separate property to be the separate property of the owner spouse. In Arnold v. Leonard, 114 Tex. 535,273 S.W. 799 (1925), the Supreme Court held that the Legislature did not have the constitutional authority to characterize the income from separate property as the owner’s separate property. The court explained that the Legislature’s authority was limited to enacting laws regulating the management and liability of marital property, not its separate or community character. This decision strengthened the constitutional principal that the Legislature may not define what is community and separate property in a manner inconsistent with Article 16, Section 15 of the Texas Constitution.
There are numerous means by which separate property may be acquired in defiance of Article 16, Section 15, a partial list includes mutations of separate property, increases in value of separate land and personality, recovery for personal injury not measured by loss of earning power, improvements of separate land with an unascertainable amount of community funds, and United States Securities purchased with community funds.
Although such property may undergo changes or mutations, as long as it is traced and properly identified it will remain separate property.
The Texas Family Code defines community property as follows: “community property consists of the property, other than separate property, acquired by either spouse during marriage.”
Texas Family Code, Section 3.003 states that all property possessed by either spouse during or at the dissolution of the marriage is presumed to be community property and that the degree of proof necessary to establish that property is separate property, rather than community property, is clear and convincing evidence. Clear and convincing evidence is defined as that measure or degree of proof that will produce in the mind of the trier of fact a firm belief or conviction as to the truth of the allegations sought to be established. If property cannot be proved to be separate property, then it is deemed to be community property.
The Texas Family Code, Section 7.002, deals with quasi-community property and requires a court divide property wherever the property is situated, if 1) the property was acquired by either spouse while domiciled in another state and the property would have been community property if the spouse who acquired the property had been domiciled in Texas at the time of acquisition; or 2) property was acquired by either spouse in exchange for real or personal property and that property would have been community property if the spouse who acquired the property so exchanged had been domiciled in Texas at the time of the acquisition.
The Holiday season is now upon us and hopefully all parents have worked out the upcoming visitation schedules for the 2011 Holiday Season. But if not….. Here is a reminder of the current Texas Family Law Code’s Standard Possession Order for Holidays.
§ 153.314. Holiday Possession Unaffected by Distance Parents Reside Apart.
The following provisions govern possession of the child for certain specific holidays and supersede conflicting weekend or Thursday periods of possession without regard to the distance the parents reside apart. The possessory conservator and the managing conservator shall have rights of possession of the child as follows:
(1) the possessory conservator shall have possession of the child in even-numbered years beginning at 6 p.m. on the day the child is dismissed from school for the Christmas school vacation and ending at noon on December 28, and the managing conservator shall have possession for the same period in odd-numbered years;
(2) the possessory conservator shall have possession of the child in odd-numbered years beginning at noon on December 28 and ending at 6 p.m. on the day before school resumes after that vacation, and the managing conservator shall have possession for the same period in even-numbered years;
(3) the possessory conservator shall have possession of the child in odd-numbered years, beginning at 6 p.m. on the day the child is dismissed from school before Thanksgiving and ending at 6 p.m. on the following Sunday, and the managing conservator shall have possession for the same period in even-numbered years;
(4) the parent not otherwise entitled under this standard order to present possession of a child on the child’s birthday shall have possession of the child beginning at 6 p.m. and ending at 8 p.m. on that day, provided that the parent picks up the child from the residence of the conservator entitled to possession and returns the child to that same place;
(5) if a conservator, the father shall have possession of the child beginning at 6 p.m. on the Friday preceding Father’s Day and ending on Father’s Day at 6 p.m., provided that, if he is not otherwise entitled under this standard order to present possession of the child, he picks up the child from the residence of the conservator entitled to possession and returns the child to that same place;
(6) if a conservator, the mother shall have possession of the child beginning at 6 p.m. on the Friday preceding Mother’s Day and ending on Mother’s Day at 6 p.m., provided that, if she is not otherwise entitled under this standard order to present possession of the child, she picks up the child from the residence of the conservator entitled to possession and returns the child to that same place.
Texas child visitation orders may differ from the norm to accommodate family situations so you should always check your decree first! If in doubt about your holiday visitation time’s contact someone who can help you to make sure nothing happens to affect this special season with your children. ‘Tis the Season!
Despite the difficulties faced in a divorce, the children should not be placed in the center of the crossfire. During the divorce process, and sometimes following the divorce process, it is not uncommon for a parent to become so wrapped up in anger, vengeance or simply being “right” that they forget the effect the whole process is having on the children. Below are some behaviors to avoid and some suggestions to assist you with improving your communications during the divorce process:
- Do not use children as messengers between “mom” and “dad.”
- Do not criticize your former spouse in the presence of your children because children realize they are part “mom” and part “dad.”
- Resist any temptation to allow your children to act as your caretaker. Children need to be allowed the freedom to be “children.” Taking on such responsibility at an early age degrades their self-esteem, feeds anger and hinders a child’s ability to relate to their peers.
- Encourage your children to see your former spouse frequently. Promote a good relationship for the benefit of the child.
- Do not argue with your former spouse in the presence of the children. No matter what the situation, the child will feel torn between taking “mommy’s” side and “daddy’s” side.
- At every step during the divorce process, remind yourself that your children’s interests are paramount, even over your own.
- If you are the non-primary parent, pay your child support.
- If you are the primary parent and are not receiving child support, do not tell your children. This feeds a child’s sense of abandonment and erodes their stability.
- Remember that the Court’s view child support and child custody as two separate and distinct issues. Children do not understand whether “mommy” and/or “daddy” paid child support, but they do understand that “mommy” and/or “daddy” wants to see me.
- If at all possible, do not uproot your children. When a family is falling apart, a child needs a stable home and school life to buffer the trauma.
- If you have an addiction problem, whether it be drugs, alcohol or any other affliction, seek help immediately. Such impairments inhibit your ability to reassure your children and give them the attention they need.
- If you are having difficulty dealing with issues relating to your former spouse, discuss such issues with mental health professionals and counselors.
- Reassure your children that they are loved and that they have no fault in the divorce.
Though these steps are not all-inclusive, they will assist you in dealing with the complex issues of a divorce and hopefully minimize the impact of the divorce process on the children.