What I wish I put in my parenting plan

Having regrets isn’t where you want to be in life. Rather, you want to embrace your opportunities and make the most of them. We know that tomorrow isn’t promised. So, seize the day. Today is the best possible day to get anything of value done. Yesterday was the best day to get anything of value done but today will do. Take advantage of the time and then move on to the next objective. That’s how to handle things in your daily life and a divorce. 

It is human nature to look back on certain events and to think that you should have taken things more seriously. Should have focused more attention on something. Sound familiar? It’s because this is something we all do from time to time. These sorts of thoughts percolate in our brains and have trouble finding our way out. If we aren’t careful, they can stain our lives after the divorce or child custody case comes to an end. 

We are going to spend our time talking about what parents like you wish they had put in their parenting plans. The parenting plan is a series of court orders that mandate how you and your co-parent raise your children. Have any regrets about your child custody case? Come on in and discuss those matters with us. Want to avoid a similar fate? Take a seat and stay a while. 

Wish #1: A geographic restriction

Imagine this. You and your spouse get divorced. The kids end up living for the most part with your ex-wife. That’s fine, you think. She’s great with the kids and you work a job that requires you to be on call a lot. So, it makes complete sense for her to be the parent with whom the children reside primarily. You have no problem with that. In the divorce, you readily agree to pay her child support and have a visitation order with the kids. No problem. 

Now that your divorce case is over with it finally seems like you and your family are finding a groove. The kids are adjusting to living in two houses. You are getting used to raising children on your own. The logistics of picking up and dropping off the kids took some getting used to but you are doing just fine now. All is well. Or, at least, that is what you think is going on. 

Imagine a situation where your co-parent would like to take a new job across the state. Instead of living ten minutes from you, your co-parent would now live two hours from you. A new job in  Nacogdoches was calling her name. So, she leaped up and grabbed that job. The kids like the town. They visit up there from time to time since that is where her parents live. What can you do about this situation?

A geographic restriction helps keep families together

Without a doubt, it is a challenge to have families like yours manage the intricacies of a possession schedule after a divorce. Most families like months or even years to work out all the kinks. There are just some things that sound great in mediation that do not work out as great in the real world. You and your co-parent working together on raising your children is what this situation is supposed to be all about, right? 

Not so fast. Your court orders are supposed to uphold your rights under the law. Well, are you to believe that those court orders are going to allow your co-parent to up and move wherever she wants? No. That makes no sense. Didn’t you just go through with a family law case where the court told you over and over how co-parenting is important? Shared rights and responsibilities and all that jazz. Why would the court allow your co-parent to do something like this?

The reality is that your co-parent can move with the kids if she chooses to. This is her prerogative. There are limitations that she must bear in mind as she decides where to move, however. Where she moves must comport with your visitation orders. This means her moving can not impede your ability to have a meaningful relationship with your child. For many people, this is a breath of fresh air. A court would not allow her to move to Canada on a whim.

What to do when your ex-spouse decides to up and move with the kids?

With no geographic restriction in place, you do have some vulnerabilities as far as what your ex-spouse chooses to do with their residence. Let’s say you find out she has a move planned to Canada. What are your options at that point when it comes to stopping her from doing that? Filing a modification petition with the court is one choice. Alerting the court to a changing circumstance being your ex-spouse’s imminent move to Canada would be a circumstance that needs consideration. 

Within that modification petition, filing a request for an emergency temporary orders hearing is also sensible. Within that hearing, you present the evidence on hand about your ex-spouse deciding to move across the continent with your kids. No use trying to hide the ball here. You want her to say. Her moving with the kids at the drop of a hat would seriously harm your ability to spend time with your children. This is something you need to avoid. Thus, filing the motion to modify the divorce decree orders. 

A judge would consider your evidence. This is a major move for your ex-spouse to make. It would, as you note in your petition, essentially put an end to your ability to have a major role in the lives of your children. As a result, it’s unlikely your ex-spouse will be able to move. However, you need to be attentive to situations like this. However, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Better to insert a geographic restriction before the situation arises.

What is a geographic restriction?

A geographic restriction allows you and your co-parent to determine a specific geographic region where the children may live. A court cannot technically tell your co-parent where she can live. However, the court has jurisdiction over your children. This means that a court order can include language as to where the kids can and cannot live. Do not underestimate this as a must-have for a parent. Many people look back and kick themselves for not including a geographic restriction in their court orders. 

What options do you have for a geographic restriction? The options are many for you and your co-parent. Some parents want their geographic restriction to be their “home” county and a few counties that border their home county. Others prefer it to be just the “home” county. I have served clients who agreed on a specific school district in the Houston area to be the geographic boundaries where they can live. You read that right, these folks liked one school district so much that this became the boundary for living purposes. 

Working with an experienced attorney with the Law Office of Bryan Fagan helps you to make a wish list become your reality. We know what it takes to build a custody order that suits a client and their children well. This level of experience has been gained through building up trust with our clients and their families. We take nothing for granted and look forward to serving our clients in the courtroom and at the negotiating table. Contact us today for a free of charge consultation.

Why may a geographic restriction not work for your family?

Of course, not everyone would benefit under a geographic restriction. For one, if you work a job where moving is essential from time to time then it makes no sense for you to have a geographic restriction in your court orders. Why limit where you can move if that becomes necessary? Violating a court order puts you in a double whammy position where doing so could leave you susceptible to an enforcement lawsuit from your co-parent. Violation of an order tends to cause this to happen. 

Another consideration is that when you violate a geographic restriction then it tosses that restriction out the door. Meaning that the restriction no longer is valid, and your co-parent does not have to abide by it, either. This makes sense given that a geographic restriction is intended to help you primarily as the parent with visitation rights. Do not underestimate the power of geographic restriction to improve the quality of your child’s life and to make your life more difficult. 

In some circumstances, a geographic restriction doesn’t make sense when you live in an area that is in transition. So many places in Harris County, for example, are either being built up steadily or are transitioning from an older area to one where there is new development. When your home area is unsettled a geographic restriction may not make sense. Moving in a couple of years is desirable when the transition is to something you are not fond of. That geographic restriction made sense at one time but may not at another. 

Wish #2: A right of first refusal

Plans change from time to time. We have all been in a position where we thought one thing was going to happen with our schedule but another issue came up. Our entire day or even weekend is thrown for a loop because of this change. What are we to do in this situation? This is bad enough when it is just our schedule that is thrown off. However, when you have children coming over that weekend it is even worse. Those court orders you spent so much time and money on don’t work out well when you have a custody schedule that is susceptible to a wonky work schedule. 

Or, put yourself in this position. You have a weekend to yourself upcoming. The kids are scheduled to be with your co-parent. You made plans to drive and spend the weekend with your parents at their place. You have everything ready to head out for the weekend on a Friday afternoon. First, you receive a phone call from your co-parent. She has the work schedule change this time. Her employer called to tell her that she needed to come in for work on Saturday and Sunday. Not exactly ideal for anyone- including the kids.

What to do now? In a situation like this, your co-parent may choose to just call her parents and ask them to watch the kids. Sure, the kids would enjoy this but what about you? If your co-parent calls you as in this situation that works out. Is there anything in Texas family law that allows you and your co-parent to keep the other up to date on changes in your weekend schedule, for example?

The right of first refusal stands to help you a great deal

Fortunately for you, the answer to this question is yes. Placing a right of first refusal in your court orders allows you and your co-parent to prepare for situations like this. A right of first refusal is very simple. Suppose that you have something come up on a Friday morning before you go to pick up the kids from school that day. Without a right of first refusal, you could choose to contact your mother to come pick up the kids. She would watch the kids until you were available to see them that weekend. 

Under a right of first refusal, this is not how it would play out. In a situation where you are not able to see your children for a weekend or even just pick them up late, you would need to give notice to your co-parent about this. It then puts the ball in her court to decide whether to accept possession of the children for whatever period you stand to be unavailable. 

Bear in mind that you can choose to make the right of first refusal apply to any situation where you see fit. Many families agree to include a right of first refusal when a parent won’t be available for more than twelve hours. A short time away from the kids, for a quick run to the office or something like that, may not be long enough to interest you. That is what makes a child custody case great. You and your co-parent have ultimate authority to agree to whatever is in the best interests of your children. 

Wish #3: Making the orders clearer

All the hard work in your child custody case comes down to making those orders as unambiguous as possible. The more clear you get them the more likely they can be enforced down the line by a court. Enforcing a court order is not something a person hopes to do in your shoes. However, when a violation of the court order occurs an enforcement lawsuit becomes more necessary. Going into an enforcement case with language in the order which is difficult to understand makes it hard to enforce that order. 

One of the key things to an enforcement case is that the judge must be able to determine that the language in the order is unambiguous. This means your co-parent must have been able to understand their responsibility under the order to be found in violation of it. An unclear order means a judge cannot agree to the enforcement. Therefore, having a clear court order makes a big difference in a family law case. 

Getting a clear order for your case is not difficult but it does require acting intentionally. You cannot lose your focus in the case just because your case is almost over. Rather, it is the end of the case that makes the most sense to apply your focus to. The court order is the purpose of the court case. Without an understandable court order, there is no purpose to going through a child custody case in the first place.

Wish #4: Hiring an experienced attorney

The Law Office of Bryan Fagan provides you with the greatest advantage in a child custody case. We have the experience you need to be confident in moving forward with a case in family court. Do not put yourself in a position where you wish that you would have included something in your court orders. Rather, work with an experienced family law attorney. Our lawyers here at the Law Office of Bryan Fagan know how to achieve results in a variety of child custody settings. 

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. Interested in learning more about how your family is impacted by the material in this blog post? Contact us today.

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