As a police officer, you swore an oath to protect your community and enforce the laws of our State. While there are certainly rewarding aspects of the job on top of the merit that is represented by serving the public the job of a law enforcement officer carries with it several challenges, as well. Not the least of those challenges are the problems that you may have in being able to spend as much quality time with your family as you would like. The spouses of police officers often say that their husband or wife is married more to their job than to him or her. While this is usually said in a tongue-in-cheek manner it could also be the case where your spouse does believe that your commitment to your job has taken away from your marriage.
Whatever the actual reasons may have been, filing for divorce is a serious situation to find yourself in as a law enforcement officer. You are now in a position where you need to be able to balance your career, your past involvement as a parent, and the best interests of your child when it comes to creating a parenting and visitation schedule. How you and your spouse come to agree on this subject (or disagree) will go a long way toward determining whether the two of you will be able to sort out the issues of your case together or if a family court judge will need to play tie-breaker on whatever issues you all cannot negotiate your way through.
Most people work some sort of "9-5" job where you start working around breakfast time and you finish your day at some point before eating dinner. If you are reading this in the Houston area then it is likely that you have to go somewhere to work that is not your home. While working from home was a "thing" during the pandemic it has become less and less so now. However, wherever you work you are likely required to be in a certain place at a certain time. The other side of the coin on this subject is that you are then able to leave work at a certain time and go about your business as a parent after that.
Working in law enforcement does not provide you with the same degree of predictability and flexibility. Being able to control the hours you work can be possible, but law enforcement officers tend to work overtime and odd hours, to begin with. Additionally, there are no work-from-home police officer jobs that I am aware of. The thing about serving your community is that you have to be out amongst the community- for better or worse. In many ways, this is the worst of both worlds when compared to someone who works a white-collar job from home. Law enforcement officers don’t get to work from home, and you have the atypical hours to deal with. Not ideal when you are trying to raise a family.
Standard possession orders and visitation
When a parent goes through a Texas divorce the structure of the case as far as visitation schedules are concerned revolves around a parent with a work schedule that is assumed to be a 9-5, standard working hours job with some predictability attached to it. When you get off work at 4:30 every weekday and don’t work on the weekends then it is easier to assume that you will be able to pick up your child from their mom's house on the first, third, and fifth weekends of each month for your weekend visitation. You may have to move some things around to accommodate the new schedule but for the most part, this type of schedule should work well for you.
The first, third, and fifth-weekend visitation schedule is the hallmark of a Standard Possession Order or SPO. This means that if you as a parent are involved in a divorce and are not named the primary conservator of your children then this visitation set-up (or something very similar) is likely that you will be negotiating towards. Judges are quite fond of ordering standard visitation orders that appear similar to a Standard Possession Order, as well. This is the starting point for negotiations on custody. Whether it works out for your family or not is up to your circumstances.
Texas family law does not take into consideration the atypical hours of a police or law enforcement officer. You not only work atypical hours but you are often called to duty on weekends, holidays, and other special events. This may be fine by you, but it is not going to make setting up a visitation schedule easy. Rather, you and your spouse are going to need to figure out how to manage your schedules together as a team. If you agree to a visitation schedule just to “wrap up” the case and do not consider the long-term impacts of what you are agreeing to then you may have just signed up for either many years of difficult parenting around a schedule that does not suit you or an immediate need to try and file a modification case to change those custody and visitation orders. Either way, this is not a desirable situation to find yourself in.
None of this sounds like fun. Your divorce probably won't be an enjoyable experience but the attorneys at the Law Office of Bryan Fagan want to make sure that you know we are here to help guide you through divorce no matter what your circumstances are. We are in the courtrooms of southeast Texas every day representing our clients and advocating on their behalf. A free-of-charge consultation with one of our experienced family attorneys is only a phone call or trip to our website away. The benefit of working with our office is that you can handle your professional obligations while knowing that your attorney will advise, teach, and guide you to make the best decisions possible for you and your family during your divorce.
Custody issues for law enforcement officers
When we talk about custody, we are talking about two different issues in one. When we think about custody the first thing that probably comes to mind is physical possession of your children. This is a part of custody matters, to be sure. Custody of children means being able to take physical possession of them for specific periods per the court orders that you received in your divorce. It can feel awkward to have a set time limit by which you can see your children but that is your reality now. This schedule will help to keep you and your ex-spouse honest with one another about the time that you have your children. Additionally, it will help you and your child take advantage of all the possible time that you could have with one another when it comes to your weeks and weekends.
The second part of the custody discussion has to do with the legal rights and duties that you hold to your children. It is not as if these legal rights and duties are going to first be established in the divorce. You have always held legal rights and duties concerning your children since the moment your little one was born. However, now that you are going through a divorce your final decree of divorce will contain conservatorship rights and duties concerning your children that you will be able to refer to when it comes to what you can do with your child, do on behalf of your child and what legal obligations you have about your child as the duty to care for him or her. The legal term for these rights and duties is conservatorship.
Conservatorship extends to the rights that you and your co-parent must make decisions for your children concerning their education, health, religious practices, and their safety. Rights are typically held jointly between parents. This means that you and your co-parent are likely to share most rights and duties concerning your child. Here is where that statement stops: one parent will have the right to determine the primary residence of your child while the other parent will have the duty to pay child support. If you had to choose between either of these subjects you would choose to be the parent who has the right to determine the primary residence of your child. Your specific circumstances will determine which parent you are for your divorce.
The parent who pays child support will also have visitation rights concerning your child. This means that your child will not "live with you" as is the term commonly used in child custody cases. Rather, you will be the parent who has visitation rights throughout the month based on the schedule that you have. Remember back to the beginning of today's blog post where we discussed how the non-primary parent usually has every other weekend visitation? That is where this comes into play. The most typical visitation schedule for a parent in this position to for the first, third, and fifth weekends of each month to be spent with that parent. You would share holidays with your co-parent and would also have extended periods of possession in the summer of no fewer than thirty days.
Again, all of this is to say that you need to start thinking about how you want to structure your time with your child. It will not be simple for you as a police officer. You will most likely not be able to have the standard parenting time as other people do that are going through a divorce. One thing to keep in mind is that as a law enforcement officer, you may have three days of work where you are on duty and then may have three or four days where you have off from work. You need to be creative when it comes to making up a schedule for you and your co-parent to follow. If you can be honest, clear about your schedule, reasonable about how long it will take you to travel to see your child, and have a co-parent who is willing to work with you on these issues then you will be in a good position to be able to work together towards a solution that is acceptable to all parties.
The primary conservator of your children needs to be able to have a flexible schedule to be home when the kids get home from school, take them to the doctor, be there for them if he or she gets sick, wake them up in the morning, and things of this nature. Many parents assume that mothers are favored by the law when it comes to being named as primary conservators. While it may appear to be this way that is not accurate. What is accurate is that mothers more often than fathers fulfill this role in the household. That doesn’t mean moms are better parents than dads. What it means is that moms more frequently are the primary caretakers of their children. This applies doubly to a law enforcement officer.
If you are a law enforcement officer who also wants to be the primary conservator of your children, then you need to do some serious thinking about whether this is a realistic goal to have. I am not telling you that you have no chance to be the primary conservator of your children if you are also a law enforcement officer. However, what I am telling you is that as a law enforcement officer you not only need to have a schedule that allows for you to be the primary caretaker of your kids, but you also need to have a history of having fulfilled that role for your children in the past. If you have worked mainly outside the house and have rarely been a caretaker for your children, you have an uphill battle on your hands as far as becoming the primary caretaker of your children.
The schedule that you and your co-parent can agree to when it comes to the custody of your children can make sense only in your situation. Don't worry if your schedule seems atypical or if you don't know of anyone else who has possession of their children on the same schedule that you do. In serving the public you are making a sacrifice in many ways- not the least of which is not being able to see your children as often as you would like. While this is a major sacrifice it does not mean that you must forever abide by the court orders as established in your divorce.
Modifying a court order
Modifying the custody orders from your divorce case is a possibility when a material and substantial change has occurred in your life, your co-parent, or your child since the time your initial court order was issued. Modifications are not slam dunks. The court not only has to find that a material and substantial change has occurred in your situation but also needs to find that the proposed modification is in the best interests of your child. These are high hurdles to climb. Bear in mind that you will need to be able to establish that both things are true simultaneously to modify your court orders.
What does this mean for you as a law enforcement officer? Over time, your hours may change. You may get a promotion that takes you off community patrol and puts you at a desk or other supervisory position. As a result, you may have more standard hours that allow for you to shift to a standard possession order or may even allow you to ask for primary custody of your children. In any event that changes in your work schedule would seem to be a major change in circumstance that would justify the filing of a modification case.
Be prepared when you file a modification case to clearly outline your new schedule, and your expectations for it and to be able to describe what you envision as a new custody and visitation arrangement. Again, if the change you are proposing is in the best interests of your child, then you are off to a good start. Do not assume that you will be able to automatically modify your court order, however. If that is your plan, then you are better off working with an experienced family law attorney in your divorce so that you can ensure that you have the best possible visitation order for the time being as well as a good opportunity to modify the order in the future if your work schedule changes.
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.