Holiday Violations of Visitation During Covid 19
The holidays are frustrating times for both spouses when undergoing divorce proceedings that involve custody issues with children. If a spouse violates a temporary custody order, he or she may not face consequences at the time but must explain their actions to a district judge in the future.
If a temporary custody order describes in detail the periods of possession during the Christmas holiday, this order will be binding on both spouses. The temporary custody order is binding civilly and NOT criminally. This is an important distinction to make before you decide to call the police. All of family law, with few exceptions such as domestic violence and protective orders, are governed within civil jurisdiction and not criminal jurisdiction. Because temporary custody orders involving children are governed within civil jurisdiction, a police officer has no grounds to enforce the order.
Now if your spouse refuses to release the child into your custody at the prescribed time mandated within the temporary custody order then there are certain things that you should do to ensure it is properly documented for future civil contempt proceedings.
- Call the police!!! Many police departments will not respond because temporary custody orders are not criminally enforceable, but if the police department decides to respond then you may request a police report to be filed, noting that your spouse deliberately violated the temporary custody order. This may be used in Court to persuade the judge to hold your spouse in civil contempt.
- Save any text messages, emails, or recorded phone calls that demonstrate your spouse’s refusal to deliver the children into your custody during Christmas.
- Call your attorney and notify him of your spouse’s refusal to deliver the children into your custody.
- Do not get into a physical confrontation with your spouse!!!
By completing these four simple tasks you will be gathering evidence to hold your spouse in civil contempt of Court. After the Christmas Holiday season is over your lawyer, with your consent, will fill a motion to hold your spouse in contempt of Court for violation of the temporary custody order. If your spouse is found in civil contempt of Court, he or she may be fined, ordered to jail until the fine is paid with certain limitations, and the violation may be a basis to modify the previous temporary custody orders. This will be at the judge’s discretion.
Though you may feel helpless at the time, justice will be done through the district Courts in the form of civil contempt. Judges usually look down on a spouse that blatantly violates a temporary custody order, especially during Christmas. Just relax and have patience if your spouse refuses to deliver the children to you, justice may take time but in the end it will be served.
With the Covid19 virus pandemic, many changes in Texas have happened with visitation issues. On March 13, 2020, the Texas Supreme Court issued an Covid19- Virus Emergency Order: divorced /single parents should go by the originally published school and visitation schedule in their current decree. This includes Holiday Visitation Schedules. The Counties of Dallas, Collin, and Denton also came out with standing orders re; exchanges relating to possession and access to children considered “an essential activity”.
Now is the time to contact the other parent to ensure that your visitation time with your child will be insured without any problems. If not, contact an attorney to make sure that the Holiday Season visitation with your child will happen happily.
Nacol Law Firm P. C.
Standard Possession Orders in Texas
The possession order for both mother and father in any divorce must be in the Best Interest of the child and the Court has specific guidelines it must follow if both parents refuse to agree to custody arrangements. The Managing Conservator has primary custody of the child and the Possessory Conservator has visitation but is not the primary custodian of the child. The guidelines set forth by the Court regarding custody for parents living 100 miles or less of each other and parents that reside over 100 miles from each other are listed in the Family Code § 153.312 and § 153.313.
Family Code § 153.312 Standard Possession Order, regarding parents who reside 100 miles or less of each other, states the Possessory Conservator will have the following rights:
- Have custody of the child throughout the beginning of the year at 6 p.m. on the first, third, and fifth Friday of each month and ending at 6 p.m. on the following Sunday.
- On Thursdays of each week during the regular school term beginning at 6 p.m. and ending at 8 p.m. unless the Court finds this is not in the best interest of the child.
- Custody of the Child for 30 consecutive days during the summer but the Possessory Conservator will be required to give written notice to the Managing Conservator by April 1st of each year specifying the extended period of possession for the summer. If Possessory Conservator does not give written notice on April 1st, then the Possessory Conservator shall have access to the child from 6 p.m. July 1st to 6 p.m. July 31st of each year.
Family Code § 153.313 Standard Possession Order, regarding parents who reside over 100 miles from each other, states the Possessory Conservator will have the following rights:
- Have custody of child throughout the beginning of the year at 6 p.m. on Friday of the first, third, and fifth weekend of each month and ending at 6 p.m. that Sunday. The Possessory Conservator may also elect an alternate weekend if he/she gives a 14-day notice either written or telephonic to the Managing Conservator.
- The visitations on Thursdays nights are not mandated under this section due to the distance between the two parents.
- Custody of Child for 42 consecutive days during the summer but the Possessory Conservator will be required to give written notice to the Managing Conservator by April 1st of each year specifying the extended period of possession for the summer. If the written notice is not given then the Possessory Conservator shall have access to the child from 6 p.m. on June 15th to 6 p.m. July 27th.
The Court shall follow these guidelines unless it is NOT in the Best Interest of the child. These guidelines are needed because of the contention between both parents and the common inability to find a middle ground when it comes to custody of a child. The Court may deviate from these standard Guidelines but only if a parent can prove by clear and convincing evidence that it is in the Best Interest of the Child. If these guidelines are unworkable because of the child’s schedule then the Court will make exceptions but attempt to keep the custody arrangements as close to the guidelines as possible. Custody issues can be vexing and straining on both parents. To ensure you receive a fair outcome to see your child, it is wise to seek an experienced attorney to ensure that the sacred right to see your child is not infringed.
She Says I’m the Father : Now What?
Recently the news covering the custody battle between Bode Miller and his child’s biological mother Sarah McKenna became a 24-hour news cycle. According to court filings, Ms. McKenna while still pregnant moved to New York from California to attend school. Approximately a month prior to Ms. McKenna’s departure from California, Mr. Miller filed a paternity and custody suit in California State Court. Two days after the child was born, Ms. McKenna filed a custody case in New York State Court. The New York family court decided that the Ms. McKenna had “fled” California with the child in utero; and, while this was not child abduction under the UCCJEA, the Court decided the move was simply to avoid the California Court’s jurisdiction. Further, the Court decided that the prior paternity/custody suit filed in California by Mr. Miller, “trumped” the New York filing as well, giving California statutory authority to decide the custody issue. In On November 14, 2013, the New York Family Court’s decision was overturned on appeal and was remanded back to New York family court for further decision on all issues.
This case has ignited a debate over whether a mother may move an unborn child to a different jurisdiction prior to the birth of the child.
Even if you have not been proven to be the biological father of the child, in Texas, you still have legal rights that may be enforced.
Prior to the birth of the child, you may request a DNA test from the court. If the mother agrees paternity can be determined even before the baby is born. In addition, now there are non-evasive and less risky options for prenatal testing for paternity.
A purported father does have the right to establish paternity. Establishing paternity in Texas can be a process that occurs prior to the birth of the child. There are several forms of pre-natal testing available. Some methods are costly and some methods more invasive than others. In Texas, a man can establish paternity prior to the birth of a child by filing a request for adjudication of parentage and voluntary litigation. If the mother agrees to prenatal testing the Court will accept the DNA test results and make a determination on the record. However, if the mother does not agree, a Court may not force her to have invasive testing on the fetus.
A purported father has a right to a custody determination although this right cannot be determined prior to the birth of the child. In Texas, a court has jurisdiction to decide custody issues if Texas is the “home state” of the child. In the case of a child less than six months of age, “home state” means “the state in which the child lived from birth with a parent. . . .” Tex. Fam. Code Ann §152.102(7); see also Waltenburg v. Waltenburg, 270 S.W.3d 308, 315 (Tex. App.—Dallas 2008, no pet.).
Child Custody across State Lines: Interstate Jurisdiction
During the Holiday season many Texas parents become very concerned over sending their child to the non-primary conservator parent’s home for a visit. Many Children will cross state lines to see their non-primary conservator parent and there is always a fear that the child may not be returned to his/her home state. What can you do if this does happen?
The State of Texas follows a uniform law regarding determination of appropriate state jurisdiction in custody matters known as the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA), and related statutes which enforce or set procedures regarding proper jurisdiction such as the Parental Kidnapping Prevention Act. Texas has adopted these statutes. The Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Enforcement Act defines which state has or may maintain jurisdiction in a particular case and often mandates that other states recognize decisions handed down by the state determined to have jurisdiction.
The Act states, among other things, that a court may rule on custody issues if the Child:
• Has continually lived in a home state for 6 months or longer
• Was living in the state before being wrongfully taken elsewhere by a parent seeking custody in another state
• Has an established relationship with people (family, relatives or teachers), ties, and attachments in the state
• Has been abandoned: or is safe in current state, but could be in danger of neglect or abuse in the home state
How can Continuing Exclusive Jurisdiction be lost?
1. When A Texas Court determines that neither the child, or a child and one parent have a significant contact with Texas, and substantial evidence is no longer available in Texas concerning the child’s care, protection, and personal relationships
2. Texas or another state determines that the child and the child parents do not presently reside in Texas.
What about Jurisdiction to Modify an Existing Order?
In the absence of temporary emergency jurisdiction, Texas cannot modify a child custody decision made by another state’s court unless or until a court of this state has jurisdiction to make an initial custody determination and one of the following occurs:
1. Another State determines it no longer has continuing jurisdiction or finds that Texas would be a more convenient forum.
2. A court determines that the child and the child’s parents do not presently reside in the other state.
What about Temporary Emergency Jurisdiction?
Temporary emergency jurisdiction is reserved for very extraordinary circumstances. The court has and may assert jurisdiction only when a child is present in the state and has been abandoned or is in need of protection because of a threat or subjected the child to mistreatment or abuse.
When involved in an international child custody case where the child has been abducted or is wrongfully retained, the issue may be determined if the International Child Abduction Remedies Act, 12 USC Section 11.601-11610, of the Hague Convention, is applicable. If so, The US State Department Office of Citizen & Counselor Services should be contacted or any attorney may file suit for return of the child.
These interstate jurisdiction cases are very intensive. Get to a knowledgeable attorney and assert your rights quickly. Protect you and your child’s rights to have a normal child/parent relationship without the fear of abduction!