Negotiating the terms of a settlement related to the visitation of your child after a child custody or divorce case can be an essential part of your case. It is not only what is agreed to that is essential but also how those agreements are put into writing within the final order. Remember- you and your child's other parent could have one set of circumstances in mind when agreeing to settle in mediation, but if your order does not spell out the expectations for both parties, then your case was all for naught.
This is where having an experienced family law attorney representing you comes in handy and will pay off for you in the long run. Your attorney will be able to educate you on the pros and cons of a particular position that you are taking and ensure that the language included in the final order is as fair as possible as far as representing what was agreed to in mediation. The bottom line is that just because your case has settled does not mean the work is done. You and your attorney need to be mindful of this as the language for your final order is debated between you and the other party.
Today's blog post from the attorneys with the Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC, will detail some tips and tricks that you can utilize in the final stages of your case to ensure the best possible result for you and your family. From my experience, the most frustrating part of a case is to arrive at its conclusion only to find that an order left out an important detail or was not what one client or the other had in mind. While this does not frequently happen, when it does happen, the reasons need to be examined as to why it did. Let's go piece by piece and examine individual portions of final orders.
Pick-up/Drop off requirements
There should be language included in your final orders that mandates that you and your child's other parent must return any items (clothing, toys, medicine) with them to the other parent after a visitation period. Any parent can tell you there is nothing more frustrating than spending an extended period without an essential item like a winter jacket, bathing suit, or another seasonal clothing item. It's bad enough when your child forgets the item somewhere but is worse when an adult does. Ensure there is something in the order that requires both parties to return items that came with your child for visitation.
Picking up and dropping up your child for visitation with either parent can get tricky with our busy schedules these days. As a result, most orders take this reality into account and allow any competent adult you or the other parent designates to pick up or drop off your child. Many parents take issue with this for no other reason than not having a stepmother/father or boyfriend/girlfriend be involved in the transportation. To ensure that this is allowed for nothing more than convenience's sake, include language, which allows this set-up.
This next tip comes straight from a case that I had last year. A man we represented in a family law case had possession of his son for a weekend during the school year. Unfortunately, his son had gotten sick throughout the weekend and had to stay home from school. His orders stated that he drops his son off at school on Monday mornings after the weekends he has possession of his son. The child's mother was very concerned when she received an email stating that her son was not in class when attendance was taken for the day.
Cut to her attorney giving me a phone call to see what was happening. My client had phoned the school after attendance had been taken to notify them that his son would not be in school that day. He says that he sent a text message to the child's mother telling her the same. It is crucial that your order state that both parents must phone the school and the other parent if the school is missed due to an illness or any other reason. These folks' orders did not state this, and it almost caused a pretty contentious situation when everything could have been avoided if the order had been more specific in this regard.
Concerns with drug use should be reflected in the order.
Many parents find themselves in a position where there are legitimate concerns about their child's other parent using drugs or alcohol to the detriment of the safety and well-being of their child. If you are in this same position, you may have had drug or alcohol tests administered upon the other parent during your case. Depending on the results, your final orders may restrict the other parent's visitation rights as a result.
Suppose it is determined that drug or alcohol abuse is a long-standing issue. In that case, you should be sure to negotiate for and have included in your final orders language that details that ongoing drug tests are to be ordered. These tests can stop with enough negative test results over time but could continue if the other parent does not stay sober. The orders should state who will pay for the tests, how often they will occur, and what will happen to the parent in terms of punishments should a positive test occur.
Another widespread restriction is to have both parents be restricted from consuming alcohol at all in front of your child or simply limiting you all to a drink or two at a maximum.
What to do about traveling on an airplane?
For many families who have a parent in the military or live a great distance from Texas, air travel is necessary when exercising visitation rights. While there are usually no hiccups for air travel for visitation purposes, a child younger than 7 or 8 should not be traveling alone on an airplane.
Before signing an order regarding airplane visitation, you and the other party should determine how travel costs should be allocated and what restrictions should be included in the order. Sometimes even if you want to take your child on a trip via the friendly skies, your order could include language that requires you to notify your child's other parent of the dates on which you will be gone as well as contact information necessary in the event of an emergency.
Along with specific language for air travel, you should speak to your attorney about passport provisions for your final orders. I have seen a handful of cases where parents have attempted to secret their child to another country or state by holding onto a passport beyond what is allowed in the court orders. Many orders state that parents agree that a neutral party should hold on to a passport while no travel occurs to avoid situations like this. If your ex-spouse is from another country and you have no ties there, you may want to push for you to be the party to hold the passport to ensure that unauthorized travel does not occur.
More details on visitation orders and how they can impact your case- tomorrow's blog post topic
We will continue to discuss this subject in tomorrow's blog post as we discuss how blended families, religion, and electronic communication can be successfully dealt with in a visitation order.
In the meantime, if you have any questions about what you've read today, please do not hesitate to contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC. We offer free of charge consultations with a licensed family law attorney where your questions can be answered, and information can be provided about the services that our office can provide you with.