How will your personal life impact your child custody or divorce case? This is the question that we will be asking and answering in today’s blog post from the Law Office of Bryan Fagan. To be sure, when you are trying to figure out how things are going to play out about custody issues related to your children it is important to ask difficult questions which may not be easy to look at. If you want to be able to anticipate the results of your family law case a situation involving morality clauses may be a concern of yours.
Fortunately, you can turn to experienced family law attorneys such as those with the Law Office of Bryan Fagan. In short, a morality clause is a portion of your final orders in a child custody or divorce case which seeks to promote the safety, consistency, and stability of your child's home environment. Rather than restricting your behavior or that of your co-parent, morality clauses are designed to look out for the best interests of your child. Those best interests are best served by you and your co-parent putting their needs first and your needs afterwards. These are behavioral standards that are not included in every court order in a family law case but may end up playing a role in your case.
What does it mean to look out for the best interests of your child? It means promoting what is good for your child even if it is not in your best interests or does not serve a goal that you had in mind. In a child custody case if you are angling to become the primary conservator of your child but you have never served your child in this capacity before then you may be doing so out of self-interest to be able to see your child. However, what may be in your child's best interests is to defer that role to your co-parent. It may also mean putting your ego aside and thinking about your child's interests first and foremost. Sometimes as a parent, we can trick ourselves into thinking that our wants always match up with what is in the best interests of our children. This is not always the case, and a family law situation can force us to come to grips with this.
What is an important factor for a court to consider when determining the best interests of your child? A consistent, stable, and safe environment for your child is of the utmost importance. Courts look for a situation where your child can live safely, attend school, have meals prepared for him or her, and otherwise live their lives being able to be a child and not be overly concerned with things like where their next meal is going to come from. If you can provide your child with this type of environment, then you are in a good position to reach whatever goals you have for yourself in a child custody or divorce case.
Considering a hypothetical situation involving a morality clause
The purpose of a morality clause is to help ensure that your child has your full attention when it comes to growing up. So often in families who have gone through difficult times the focus of a parent can sometimes be on issues that are unrelated to the child. You may even be able to think about a circumstance in your own family's history where your focus or your child's other parent’s focus was on subjects that had nothing to do with your child. A morality clause is intended to promote the best interests of your child first and foremost.
With that said, let's consider a situation where a morality clause could impact the custody breakdown for you and your family. Suppose that you and your co-parent have gone through a divorce case where a morality clause was included in the final decree of divorce. That morality clause states that no unrelated, romantic partner can spend the night when your child is present. This is a straightforward and common clause to insert into a divorce decree. Everything about this is straightforward but it can still stand to provide a useful lesson for those of us who are involved in family law cases.
Let's say that one night your child's mother has her boyfriend stay over at her house at the same time your son is there. This would seem to be a direct violation of the morality clause included in your divorce decree. When your child returned home, he mentioned to you that a man stayed over with his mother on Saturday night. Thinking back to the parenting course that you took after your divorce you attempted to discuss this issue directly with your child's mother. You attempted to call her on the phone, write her an e-mail and even send a text message. However, all these attempts were unsuccessful. Feeling like you had no other options you sought the advice of an experienced family law attorney.
When you spoke with the experienced family law attorney you noted that going directly to your child's mother to discuss the situation with her was unsuccessful. When your prospective attorney raised the possibility of sending a letter to the child's mother asking her to explain the boyfriend staying over when your son was there you declined. As a result, after hiring this experienced family law attorney to represent you the next step in the process was to file an enforcement case against your child's mother.
The enforcement case seeks to hold your child's mother accountable for violating the court order. This is done through filing a lawsuit and bringing to the court’s attention each violation of the divorce decree. You would note the specific violation of the order, cite the violated portion of the divorce decree, and do this for every violation involved. Your child's mother would then have an opportunity to defend herself in the state of the explanation as to why your son was exposed to a sleepover during his period of possession.
Once you made it to court, the family law judge agreed with your assessment of the situation. The judge made slight changes to the custody orders from your divorce decree and your child's mother ended up losing some of her conservatorship rights. All of this is because she violated a straightforward provision from your divorce decree. The same type of principle applies to alcohol or drug use. Imagine a situation where you showed up intoxicated to pick your child up for a weekend of possession. This would put your child's well-being at risk, as well.
Ultimately, what a morality clause allows you to do as a parent is to make an argument that your child's safety is at risk if a violation of that morality clause occurs. Your child's mother’s boyfriend, at the end of the day, is an unrelated male temporarily sharing a home with your son. Objectively speaking this is placing more risk in front of your child than is necessary. This is the epitome of putting your interests ahead of your child and their best interests.
One of the common misconceptions that people have surrounding morality clauses in child custody or divorce orders is that the morality clause is intended to restrict the personal lives of parents. Many parents become frustrated at the idea of a judge being able to tell them how to live their lives, especially after going through a difficult child custody or divorce case. The last thing that is apparent once is to continue to need the permission of a judge to do certain things that most other adults would take for granted.
However, the actual purpose of a morality clause in a Texas family law case is to promote the safety, well-being, and best interests of your child. When a child goes through a family law case it is, without a doubt, a time of transition for that child and your family. Your child has likely seen their life turned on its head temporarily to get through the family law case. Sharing a home with an adult who is unrelated to him or her would only further add to this difficult period of transition and change. While a family court judge still has the authority to do so, he or she may approve the inclusion of a morality clause in the final orders for your case to provide a lasting method of ensuring structure, and consistency instability in the life of your child.
Many parents in your situation will assume that a morality clause always is something that should be included in your court orders. This is usually based on the parent assessing the situation as it is right now but not considering what your life could look like in the future. For example, if your child's mother has a boyfriend right now then you may be eager to include a morality clause in your divorce decree. However, if the situation changes in the future and you enter a committed relationship then you may be of a different mind at that point.
There are no guarantees in the future, but a morality clause is fairly standard as far as orders are concerned after a child custody or divorce case with minor children. Even if you oppose having the morality clause included in the court orders the judge will likely allow its inclusion. It is not typically the kind of disagreement that takes a case to a trial – especially if you and your co-parent agree on the other issues in your case. What we can mention here is that a morality clause can be tinkered with and changed to suit the needs of your family.
Whatever the needs of your family are it will work out to your advantage to have an experienced family law attorney working alongside you in the case. One of the difficult parts associated with a family law case comes about after the case itself. You and your co-parent have either attended a trial and/or mediation and are now done negotiating and presenting evidence. You must take all those agreements that the two of you came to and put them down in writing. Emotionally it can feel like the case is over with, but the reality of the situation is that the work is just beginning.
Including a morality clause in your court orders means being able to put the language into an order which is clear, unambiguous, and enforceable. This is the key to any family law case. All the hard work that you put into your case, all the expense, and all of the time will go up in smoke if you cannot draft an order that is reflective of the settlements arrived at by you and your spouse. A poorly worded court order will leave you and your co-parent constantly arguing after the case is over about how to proceed in a specific situation. Where there is no clarity in written orders you two can expect to find acrimony and fighting. Constantly squabbling over how something is worded means that you two have differing views on what each of your responsibilities are. The way to avoid this is to be very clear with one another during negotiations. If you can successfully settle upon language for a mortality clause in mediation, then you need to make sure that the mediator includes the language as you agreed to it in your mediated settlement agreement. If the mediated settlement agreement does not look right to you then you need to ask your attorney and/or the mediator questions. This is your best chance to get the issue right. Don't miss the opportunity because you were afraid of asking questions.
What about dating during your divorce?
To close out today’s blog post I wanted to write about a subject that catches the attention of many people. It is increasingly common, perhaps even the norm, for people in your position to begin dating even before the divorce comes to an end. I get it. Emotionally, you feel like you are divorced from your spouse the second the paperwork is filed with the court. Even if you are not legally divorced until the judge signs your final decree of divorce that is just a formality and something between you and the State of Texas.
For everything else, you feel like you can start to look around and find someone to share your time with. If we are being honest with ourselves, you may have started that search months ago and are now comfortable with bringing that relationship out into the open. The question that we need to ask ourselves is whether this is a good idea. Even if you emotionally feel divorced from your spouse it is wise to start dating even before your divorce comes to an end. What impacts could it have on your case and on any of these sorts of issues which we have been discussing today in our blog post?
The short answer is that, no, it is not a good idea to start dating while your divorce is still ongoing. There is a laundry list of reasons why this is not wise but I would like to settle upon just a few in closing out our blog post. For one, it potentially puts you in a bind when it comes to the division of your marital estate. If your spouse becomes aware of the dating that you have been doing it will logically cause him or her to speculate about how long this has been going on. If you file for divorce and are immediately posting photos on Facebook about your new romance, then it begs the question of how long you and this other person have been dating.
Your spouse can start digging and trying to figure out if you have spent money on this other person. Short trips, gifts, meals, entertainment. These are just a few of the ways that you could have spent your money on a significant other. You were likely using your community income to spend on the other person. That means you were spending money that was just as much your spouse's as it was your own. This can complicate marital property division tremendously.
Finally, you are potentially harming the relationship that you have with your children by dating during the divorce. The same type of behavior that a morality clause tries to prevent your children from being exposed to is seen in a dating situation. Your children need stability and consistency right now. Bringing an unrelated adult over for a sleepover while the children are there is not dissimilar from dating in the open while the divorce is ongoing.
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