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2023 Guide to Parenting Agreements & Access in Family Law

When it comes to figuring out how to make the most of a family law case related to child custody, it helps to know what your options are. Certainly, the options are good. When we feel like we have no options we tend to get desperate. I don’t know about any of you but when I start to feel desperate, I am liable to then do something not so smart. However, if I have options then I can assess the situation and then decide based on what is in my best interests or the best interests of my family. 

Where does that put you as a parent who wants to maintain a good relationship with your child even though you are going through a divorce? This blog post from the Law Office of Bryan Fagan is going to focus on that subject. It is a challenge to get it right the first time in a divorce. You have probably never gone through a divorce before or at least gone through a divorce with children. Figuring out the parenting agreements and access provisions for your divorce with no experience is going to be tough. However, there is one major advantage that you can give yourself as you head into a divorce.

That advantage would be to work with an experienced attorney with the Law Office of Bryan Fagan. Our licensed family law attorneys can work with you to build a strategy that is designed to accomplish the goals that you have for your case. When you have minor children the most important goal you have is likely to be winning as much time with the kids as possible. There are other parts of your relationship with your children that you need to focus on and cannot lose sight of. Fortunately, the attorneys with the Law Office of Bryan Fagan are here to help you focus on your goals and prioritize them throughout your case. 

What is a parenting plan?

A parenting plan is an overall structure that you and your co-parent are going to need to build your lives around when it comes to parenting your child together. The actual component pieces of a parenting agreement are not going to be something that has never existed before and is being created in the family law case. Rather, the confirms of the agreement are going to be put into writing but the nuts and bolts of the agreement are something that you and your spouse or co-parent have probably operated under for years. However, the family law case allows you all to put that understanding into writing. However, the monetary support, decision-making, and everything else that goes into parenting will still result in a world of shared rights and duties for you and your co-parent like it has always been. 

Right and duties. These are concepts that many people do not immediately consider when starting a family law case. True, rights and duties are important to your daily life as a parent. There is not a day that goes by that you do not exercise the rights and duties that you have concerning your child. However, you probably don’t think to yourself: “I am exercising my rights and/or duties as a parent” when you take your child to the doctor or choose some sort of program for your child to become involved with at school. Rather, when you go through your daily routine as a parent you are just doing mom or dad stuff. However, the rights and duties that you have under the law allow you to have the authority to perform these actions. 

Go through a day in your life as a parent and think about all the things you do for your child. A place to live, clothes to wear, food to eat, emotional support, physical support, etc. These are duties. The duties that you have concerning your child are to provide for him, protect him, get him to school, and get him to the doctor or dentist when necessary. The final orders in your family law case will list out the duties that you have concerning your child. Both you and your co-parent will continue to share in the duties for your child. The only difference now is that your duties are going to be listed in writing for you all to see. This way there is no question about what duties you have and what duties your co-parent has. Most likely, you all will share in many if not most of the same duties. Any exceptions to this general rule will be discussed here in a moment. 

The other side of the coin when it comes to rights and duties is the rights that you must make decisions for your child. Educational, psychological, religious, and medical decision-making are all critical to a child’s development. You will be assigned certain rights because of your family law case concerning your child. Some of those rights will be held jointly between you and your co-parent. This means that you two must agree to allow something to happen to your child. Surgery may be a situation where you both have to agree that Junior should have the surgery for the doctor to proceed. Some rights that you have may be independent of your co-parent. This means that you can decide for your child without consulting first with your co-parent. You can always get their opinion, but you can make decisions on certain things independently- usually when the child is in your possession. Finally, other rights can be held exclusively either by you or your co-parent. This means that only one of you can decide for your child regarding any number of issues that may be relevant in your child’s life. Usually, this is done in somewhat extreme circumstances where a parent has displayed an inability to make good decisions for the child and is therefore not given the ability to weigh in on that subject.

These rights and duties are known as conservatorship rights and duties. You and your co-parent are conservators of your child. This means that you can make decisions for that person and have certain duties to care for your child. The family law case will likely establish you both as joint managing conservators. Both of you will share largely in the rights and duties that relate to your child’s upbringing. The alternative to a joint managing conservatorship is a sole managing conservatorship. This happens in rare situations where one parent is given most of the rights and duties relating to a child and the other parent will have relatively few of the same rights and duties for many possible reasons. However, you and your co-parent should plan on sharing most of the rights and duties relating to your child.

Visitation, possession, and access

What we just finished discussing concerning conservatorship issues has mostly to do with your rights and duties on a legal level. This could also be known as legal possession of a child. Now we are going to shift gears to talk some about the physical possession of your children. This is probably the subject that you are most interested in as you begin to consider a family law case. What you miss about your children when you are not with them is, most likely, their physical not being with you. While this was always something that you could be sure would not last for too long, you now find yourself in a position where you do not know what your possession and visitation schedules are going to look like concerning your kids. 

Parents share time with their kids just like they share rights and duties. There is only so much time in a day so the two of you will need to figure out who is going to have the kids throughout the year. In a well-thought-out parenting plan, every hour of every day of the year will be accounted for. This may seem overbearing, but I can tell you that it is not. You want to be in a position where you can turn to your court order and feel justified in knowing where your children are supposed to be at that moment. You can run into issues when there is a grey area in possession scheduling or if there simply isn’t any language listed telling you who should have your children. This puts you and your co-parent in a position where you need to figure that out either on the fly or in advance. Ideally, you all should be able to turn to your court orders for instruction and let the orders be “the bad guy/good guy.” Now you two are having to make those decisions and you may not be happy with how the outcome goes. 

Under a joint managing conservatorship, parents share in possession rights. However, there are some major differences in the rights that you may have. For one, you or your co-parent will have the right to determine the primary residence of your children. What does this mean? The primary residence of your children is also known as the place where your children live. When you hear people say that they want “full custody” of the child, what he or she is saying is that he or she wants to be the primary conservator of the child. If you are your child’s primary conservator, then you can choose where your child lives. 

The primary conservator of a child is usually able to spend more time with the child throughout the year. The primary conservator of a child is also able to receive child support payments from the possessory conservator. This is a big deal for parents. Understandably, the right to determine the primary residence of your child and the right to receive child support are two of the most highly contested rights which are negotiated for in a divorce. Child support is a subject that you and your co-parent can negotiate on but there are guidelines as outlined in the Texas Family Code that most families choose to utilize in their family case. Those guidelines are based on taking a percentage of your net monthly income and paying that to your co-parent in support each month. 

When it comes to creating a possession schedule for you and your co-parent, many families choose to utilize a Standard Possession Order or SPO. An SPO is a tried-and-true method of dividing parenting time between children. If you and your co-parent cannot agree on a method of dividing time with your children and a judge is called on to decide on possession and visitation you will likely end up with something that looks a lot like the standard possession order. The hallmarks of an SPO are visitation for the possessory conservator on the first, third, and fifth weekends of each month, split holidays, and extended summertime possession for the possessory conservator. If you know anyone who is divorced minor children then you are probably familiar with many aspects of a standard possession order. 

Of course, the SPO is just one method that can be used in your case when it comes to dividing time with your children concerning your co-parent. The two of you are free to create whatever kind of possession and visitation schedule that you would like so long as you can agree on it before a trial. Most of the time parents such as yourself are in a better position to decide on these subjects for your child than a judge would be. You and your co-parent not the circumstances of your family much better than a family court judge does. Even if you and your Co-parent are not in agreement on very much at this moment you still have more institutional knowledge of your family than a judge does. A family court judge is very likely to hand down some sort of possession schedule that mirrors an SPO. If the first, 3rd, and 5th weekend of the month visitation does not work well for you then you should carefully consider your options in negotiation before allowing your case to get to a trial.

Many parents think of split custody as being ideal for their family. Split custody, for many people, looks like Shared parenting time on an equal basis. Your child would spend 50% of the year with you and 50% of the year with your co-parent. If this is something that appeals to you and your spouse in a divorce, then you should begin to work out the details of how you are going to divide your time workout. Especially if your child is in school you need to be careful about how you divide time with your child. The last thing you want to do is cause a lot of disruption in the life of your child in trying to facilitate a split custody possession schedule. It may take some careful planning for you all to cause the split custody plan to work.

Whether we are talking about child support, possession, visitation, or anything else in a parenting plan the bottom line is that the more you and your co-parent can work together on these subjects the better off your child is likely to be. You and your co-parent can avoid the unpleasantness of a trial, as well as its costs, by choosing to negotiate on this subject matter. It can take time to do this and will almost certainly involve you all meeting in the middle on different subjects. However, if you are willing to do this then your goals can be reached when it comes to the different elements of a parenting agreement. You and your co-parent can choose to negotiate directly with one another, or you can do so through your attorneys. The nature of your relationship and the issues involved in your case will dictate how much direct negotiation happens.

Finally, I will also mention how mediation is an effective and useful tool for you to keep in mind during your divorce or child custody case. Mediation involves you and your child’s other parent agreeing to utilize a neutral, third-party mediator to help you all arrive at settlement solutions in your case. Mediation avoids the unpleasantness of a trial and puts you in the driver’s seat when it comes to creating a negotiated agreement on parenting matters.

Questions about the material contained in today’s blog post? Contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan

if you have any questions about the material contained in today’s blog post, please do not hesitate to contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan. Our licensed family law attorneys offer free-of-charge consultations six days a week in person, over the phone, and via video. These consultations are a great way for you to learn more about the world of Texas family law as well as about how your family’s circumstances may be impacted by the filing of a divorce or child custody case.

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