One of the presumptions that the Texas family code makes is that it is in the best interests of your child to have a relationship and close contact both with you and your Co-parent. This is based on the traditional view that a child stands to succeed more readily when he or she has two parents at home to help raise him or her versus one. After having worked with many families with The Law Office of Bryan Fagan, you may be of two minds when it comes to this subject.
On the one hand, you may feel like you need to have assistance when it comes to raising your children. The fact of the matter is that it is difficult enough raising a child. Additionally, it can be downright expensive at times, and its certain situations. Therefore, it never hurts to have a helping hand, or additional resources, when it comes to raising a child. Coparenting allows for your child to gain a better understanding of both of his or her parents and develop strengths-based on that contact.
On the other hand, you may also be reasonably looking at the situation from the perspective of a parent who has had a lot of trouble raising a child with a Co-parent who either does not see eye to eye with you on any issues or is downright hostile in many regards. With The Law Office of Bryan Fagan, we see this with representing clients whose spouses or Co-parents are completely out of the picture or are involved in a child’s life but tend to make things more difficult at every opportunity. In this regard, if the situation has gotten bad enough you may that’s why not have any contact between your Co-parent and your child. After all: if your child has no relationship with that parent then it is just as well that he or she is not negatively influenced by a parent whose values you do not share.
This is some of the more complex subject matter from an emotional and relational perspective when it comes to a family law case. Do not be mistaken. Family law cases have a great deal to do with subjects like the Texas family code, case law from appellate court judges in Texas, and other more objective factors. However, when it comes to issues related to family law you need to understand how intensely personal these subjects can be. There is nothing wrong with that and it is to be expected. Do not disregard the personal factors relevant to your family’s life when it comes to caring for your children.
When attempting to create a possession and access schedule that works well for your family you should not only take into consideration what a family court judge would likely rule if you all are not able to negotiate a settlement, but you should also consider the specific circumstances facing your family. Again, it would be a huge mistake to only consider those circumstances which are considered by family court judges in every single case they hear. Rather, you need to consider what circumstances are facing your family currently and what is in the best interest of your child. Only then can you and your Co-parent begin to negotiate with an ideal amount of information when it comes to the negotiation of important child custody orders.
What it means to not have possession or access to your child after a family law case
To be sure, the expectation of a family after a child custody or divorce case is for both parents to be able to take part in meaningful and extended contact with their children. Many parents in your position are worried that they will lose out on being able to build a strong relationship with their children because of the family law case. For most everyone reading this blog post that concern comes out of a fear-based scenario rather than an objective fact-based one period the reality is that for most families there will be no concerns with being able to have a relationship with their children after the family law case.
That’s not to say that the relationship that you build with your children won’t be different from what it was before your case. For example, you may see your children more than you were used to before your family while case. You may have been denied visitation with your children on of regular basis by your Co-parent period now that you have a possession and access order in place you will more regularly be able to see your children. This is a great thing for you but also offers challenges in terms of your ability to interact with your children and develop a report with them. It is not as if you can just walk into their life after being denied visitation for so long and immediately find a rhythm with them in terms of the parent-child relationship. That is something that needs to be nurtured and grown through hard work and perseverance through bumps in the road and building that relationship.
On the other hand, you may also be in a position where you will be able to see your children less than you were before the divorce or child custody case. An example of this would be if you are a stay-at-home parent who raised your children while your spouse went into the workplace to earn an income for your family. Now that your family law case has ended you very likely will not only have to find a job to support yourself and your children but also see that you have less time with the kids because they begin to share time with your ex-spouse at their new home. All of this is to say that your expectations need to be curbed to an extent as far as how often you can spend time with your children under the realities of your new possession and access order.
Finally, it does happen every so often that there are parents who lose a significant or even all the time that they would otherwise have with their children. This is seen in extreme circumstances where appearance behavior or history of issues prevents a family court judge from feeling comfortable placing a child in his or her home. If you have a history of abuse or neglect findings against you by child services, for a drug or alcohol addiction then you may be in a position where you may not have much in the way of custody time with your children at this moment. Or, in extreme cases, your parental rights may even be terminated regarding your kids.
Unfortunately, I have experienced situations with clients and their families where a Co-parent has displayed bad judgment and bad behavior that has resulted in their losing a great deal of time with their children when it comes to custody, possession, and access. An example of this occurred in a case where immediately before the child custody case began our client’s ex-boyfriend took it again their daughter to a restaurant, drink to the point of excess, and drove home intoxicated with the child in the vehicle. This is a worrisome situation, to say the least. The opposing party in the case was well over the legal limit in terms of their blood alcohol level and our client had to be called out to the scene where the arrests took place after the opposing party was arrested for erratic driving and driving under the influence.
In this situation, we attended mediation relatively soon after filing the child custody case. Our client wanted to address the situation head-on but also understood that if her Co-parent was able to rehabilitate himself that it was in the child’s best interest to have a relationship with her father. What followed was a great deal of negotiation between us, her Co-parent, and their lawyer. What ended up being negotiated was what we referred to in the family law world as a stairstep visitation order. Let’s walk through what a stairstep visitation order could look like in your case and how this type of possession and access schedule may end up impacting you and your family should you be in a similar situation.
Stairstep possession and access orders
Stairstep possession and access orders reflect an acknowledgment by both parties to a family law case that a full-fledged possession and access schedule may not be in the child’s best interest when it comes to one parent or the other. There is a wide range of reasons why this may be the case. For example, you may be an active-duty member of the military and therefore not able to see your child with any degree of regularity for the time being. As a result, you and your Co-parent may agree to a stairstep possession and access order where you have relatively sporadic visitation with your child now but once you leave active duty or are discharged from your realtor duties you may be able to have a more regular and consistent possession order with your child like under a standard possession order.
Or you may be in a situation where your Co-parent has displayed poor judgment and behavior such as the type that we saw in the above example regarding a former client of The Law Office of Bryan Fagan. In that situation, stairstep possession and access orders reflect a reality that your child may need to have limited contact with you now so that you can make changes to your life that allow you to both be a better example for your child, keep your child safe and generally be able to act in the best interest of your child.
As we saw in our earlier example, clearly driving intoxicated is not a display of good judgment. Driving under the influence of alcohol with your child in the same vehicle as you are especially not a good look for you if you are trying to show that you can put the best interests of your child first and foremost. As a result, that father had extremely limited visitation with their child for the time immediately after their family law case. Here is what our client and her Co-parent agreed to in mediation as far as the ends and outs of their possession and access schedule. This may be something that you and your family choose to utilize if you are facing something similar with behavior issues on your part or that of your Co-parent.
First, supervised visitation became a major part of the stairstep possession and access orders. Supervised visitation is exactly what it sounds like. Our client’s parent would not be able to spend time with his daughter unless an approved adult or present for the duration of that visit. The approved visitation could be with a neutral third party, grandparent, another family member, or even the other parent. It all depends on what your family is comfortable with and what people are available and willing to intercede in this way until the events of your family.
Another option would be to schedule supervised visitation to occur at a supervised visitation facility. These are places located around our community whose sole purpose is to help families like yours have comfortable and safe environments for supervised visitation. These can be especially helpful if you do not have a support system in place where your child would be able to have a relative or other neutral party involved who can supervise visitation. These supervised visitation facilities charge a fee to have someone else supervise here periods of visitation or those of your spouse or Co-parent. In many ways, this is not the ideal situation even for supervised visitation but when it comes to lack of options this is a better option than not having visitation at all.
Next, it was negotiated that for the first year after the family law case, our client’s Co-parent would undergo regular alcohol testing. Certain tests would occur at regular intervals while other tests could be requested at random by our client. The Co-parent would have limited notice for having to submit to these tests. The way that the costs word associated with the tests would be the regularly scheduled tests would be paid for by the Co-parent. The costs of the random tests will be paid first by the Co-parent but if he tested negative then our client agreed to pay for those tests.
Next, the Co-parent was not allowed to leave the house with his daughter once the period of supervised visitation went away. He would need to have everything ready in the home for the short periods of possession that he did have with his daughter. Under no circumstances was he to get into a vehicle with her. This gave our clients a great deal of Peace of Mind in terms of their not being able to leave the home except in the case of an emergency.
Eventually, if the Co-parent were able to work his way through his issues with alcohol addiction, he could gain unsupervised visitation under a standard possession order. This is the classic possession schedule for families in Texas. The father would have time with his daughter on the first, 3rd, and 5th weekends of each month. Those weekend visitation periods would begin at 6:00 PM on Friday and would end at 6:00 PM on Sunday. Holidays will be split between the parents based on whether it was an odd-numbered or even-numbered year. The father could even gain extended periods of possession during the summer.
However, all of this was contingent upon his remaining sober and making much better decisions for the safety of his child. In cases like this and attorneys can only hope that their client and their family stay safe through issues involving drugs and alcohol. However, this is a good lesson for you who may be considering or even going through a family law case currently.
Do not assume that a cookie-cutter, standard possession type order will work best for you and your family. You may need the perspective and experience of an attorney to help you create possession orders that function well for your family both now and in the future. By contacting the attorneys with The Law Office of Bryan Fagan today you can begin to build a relationship with an attorney who is helping people in your position and can serve you and your family moving forward.
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