Most people and the courts agree that spending time with your children is crucial. Even phone calls to your child can impact child custody case in Texas. Section 153.001 of the Texas Family Code reflects this sentiment:
“The public policy of this state is to ensure that children will have frequent and continuing contact with parents who have shown the ability to act in the best interest of the child.”
Regrettably, during Texas divorces or separations, parents sometimes fail to cooperate in facilitating such contact. In such situations, court intervention is often necessary.
Child Custody and Phone Calls Texas: Electronic Access to Children
A parent can request physical visitation and electronic access to their child through the court. Electronic access enables parents to interact with their children more frequently, complementing physical visitations. Phone calls to your child can also strengthen your child custody case in Texas. Electronic communication can include various forms, such as:
- Phone calls
In an ideal world parents will cooperate with each other in co-parenting and facilitating communication with their children. Unfortunately, that is not always the case.
Make sure your court order includes a provision that aligns with Section 153.015 of the Texas Family Code.
Virtual Parenting Statute
The electronics provision of the Texas family code has been called the virtual parenting statute. I have heard some parents talk about how they use electronic communication to:
- Read their children a bedtime story
- Help with homework
Electronic communication has not been important to all the parents I have represented. However, for others it has been very important. One father I know was very happy to have this provision and talked with his children daily via Facetime on the iPads he purchased them. Remember that even short phone calls to your child can impact child custody case in Texas.
Texas Family Code Section 153.015
The legislature passed Section 153.015 of the Texas Family Code titled “Electronic Communication with Child by Conservator” in 2007. Under this section:
1. Electronic Communication Meaning
- In this section, “electronic communication” means any communication facilitated by the use of any wired or wireless technology via the Internet or any other electronic media. The term includes communication facilitated by the use of a telephone, electronic mail, instant messaging, videoconferencing, or webcam.
2. Electronic Communication Requested by Child Conservator
- If a child’s conservator asks the court for electronic communication periods under this section, the court can grant reasonable electronic communication periods to supplement the conservator’s possession periods. The court will consider the following when deciding on electronic communication:
- whether electronic communication is in the best interest of the child;
- whether equipment necessary to facilitate the electronic communication is reasonably available to all parties subject to the order; and
- any other factor the court considers appropriate.
3. Court-awarded Electronic Communication
- If a court awards a conservator periods of electronic communication with a child under this section, each conservator subject to the court’s order shall:
- provide the other conservator with the e-mail address and other electronic communication access information of the child;
- notify the other conservator of any change in the e-mail address or other electronic communication access information not later than 24 hours after the date the change takes effect; and
- if necessary equipment is reasonably available, accommodate electronic communication with the child, with the same privacy, respect, and dignity accorded all other forms of access, at a reasonable time and for a reasonable duration subject to any limitation provided by the court in the court’s order.
- The court may not consider the availability of electronic communication as a factor in determining child support. This section does not intend for electronic communication availability to substitute physical possession of or access to the child when it is otherwise appropriate.
- In a suit in which the court’s order contains provisions related to a finding of family violence in the suit, including supervised visitation, the court may award periods of electronic communication under this section only if:
- parties mutually agreed to the award and terms of the award; and
- the terms of the award:
- are printed in the court’s order in boldfaced, capitalized type; and
- include any specific restrictions relating to family violence or supervised visitation, as applicable, required by other law to be included in a possession or access order.
Example #1 – Order Granting Electronic Communication with Child
The Court finds that electronic access between Petitioner and the children is in the best
interest of the children.
It is ORDERED that Respondent shall provide Petitioner with the email address of the child
on or before __________________.
If no computer is available in the home for the child’s use, then Petitioner/Respondent shall
supply such computer to the home equipped with internet access (and equipped with a webcam) to be installed and functioning on or before ____________. Both parties are ORDERED to cooperate in this purchase and installation of such computer and internet access.
Petitioner shall notify Respondent of any change in the email address not later than 24 hours
after the date the change takes effect.
Respondent shall treat the communications between Petitioner and the child with the same
privacy, respect and dignity accorded all other means of access and visitation. The child shall be
permitted to read and compose email communications or participate in webcam broadcasts between the hours of _____ and _____ on Saturdays and Wednesdays of each week.
Example #2 – Electronic Communication with Children by Parent
- Definition. Electronic communication includes any communication facilitated by the use of any wired or wireless technology via the internet or any other electronic media. The term includes, but is not limited to, communication facilitated by the use of a telephone, electronic mail, instant messaging, videoconferencing, or webcam. Each parent is entitled to reasonable periods of electronic communication with the child to supplement the conservator’s periods of possession with the child. However, this communication is not a substitute for physical visitation. The parent desiring such electronic communication is responsible for purchasing all required equipment. The other parent is responsible to make sure the equipment is installed and is working. If the equipment breaks or the child is being punished and not allowed to use the electronic equipment, the parent must communicate with the other parent regarding the reason the scheduled electronic communication is not being used. The parents shall cooperate regarding sharing their email addresses and/or other necessary information to make contact work.
- It is ORDERED that each party shall have the right to electronic communication with the child once daily between the hours of 6:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. when the children are in the possession of the other parent. It is ORDERED that both parents shall keep the other parent informed as to their current cell phone and home phone numbers and/or any number where the children will be between the hours of 6:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m.
- The child can call the parent not in possession once a day if the child desires. It is FURTHER ORDERED that the parent in possession of the child shall facilitate this phone call to the parent not in possession of the child. If the parent does not answer the phone, the child may leave a voice mail message.
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