A child custody case can be difficult enough as it is before even considering learning the language of the family law courts. Every field has their own special “lingo” that you have to learn to be successful and family law cases are no different. While many of the terms are somewhat well known because of their use in popular culture, many are tough to decipher and take a little bit of experience to be able to explain them well.
Knowing how to define certain terms and speak about them well enough to explain your positions and goals is incredibly important when you are about to meet with a family law attorney. While it is likely that the attorney would be able to figure out what you are talking about, knowing how to speak the language of family law can increase your chances of being an effective communicator both to your attorney and inside of a child custody case.
With that said, today’s blog post from the Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC will detail for you some of the most frequently used and important terms in a child custody case. If you have questions about any of these or would like to seek clarification on any of them please do not hesitate to contact our office today. We understand that learning about this area of life is not only confusing at times but very stressful as well. One of our licensed family law attorneys would be happy to speak to you about your case and to explain the issues in greater detail.
Child Custody terminology
Child Custody- this is a basic “catch all” legal phrase used to define the relationship between your child and each of their parents. Ironically, child custody is one of the most widely used terms in family law cases but is actually not defined in the Texas Family Code. Sole custody and joint custody situations are most widely applied in Texas family law cases.
Conservatorship- If you have used the term “Custody” before in the context of a family law case it is likely that you had the attributes of a “conservatorship” in mind but did not know the word. Conservatorship refers to the rights and duties that you possess as a parent in relation to your children. A joint management conservatorship is the “default” conservatorship setting for parents in Texas absent reason to not institute this sort of arrangement. Sole Managing conservatorships are less common but can be ordered when sufficient evidence is produced as to why a joint managing conservatorship is not appropriate.
Enforcement- If you or your opposing party has violated the court’s order on any subject then an enforcement may be filed by the party who has been harmed by the violations. An enforcement literally seeks the judge’s enforcement of his or her prior order through punishments like holding a party in contempt of court. Contempt of court usually has fines and court costs that are attached to them. In extreme situations involving child support jail time is even possible as a remedy.
Enforcement cases have their own set of rules and procedures that begin at the time your enforcement petition is filed with the court. As such, it is recommended that you have an attorney experienced in family law represent you in any enforcement case, no matter how seemingly straightforward the subject matter appears to be.
Final Orders- Final Orders in your child custody case will contain all points that were agreed and settled upon by you and your opposing party or were ordered in a contested trial by a judge. The Final Orders will be signed off on by you, the opposing party, your attorneys and the judge. It is important that you have a copy of the Final Orders at your home so you can keep track of your and your opposing party’s responsibilities under that order.
Mediation- Mediation is a formalized settlement process led by an independent, third party attorney. In mediation, both you and your opposing party agree to name this third party attorney (known as a mediator) as a facilitator of the settlement negotiations. You and your opposing party will meet at the mediator’s office (with your attorneys) in an attempt to negotiate and settle any outstanding issues of your child custody case. The mediator acts like a ping pong ball- bouncing back and forth between your room and the opposing party’s room to see if a settlement is possible.
Mediated Settlement Agreement- If successful, mediation will result in the drafting and signing of a Mediated Settlement Agreement (MSA). The MSA basically takes each point that was settled upon and puts them in writing. Both sides have an opportunity to review the MSA after drafted by the Mediator. All parties, their attorneys and the mediator will sign the MSA when satisfied with its construction.
The MSA is a binding agreement- meaning that you nor your opposing party can wake up the next morning only to attempt to state your disagreement with some portion of it. The attorneys in your case will then need to draft an order that takes the terms agreed to in the MSA and puts them in a document that a judge will sign. This is how the settlement terms become orders that have the authority of your court behind them.
Modification- A modification case is when there is a prior court order already in place that, in the opinion of you or your opposing party, now needs to be changed or amended in some form or fashion. The standard for a modification case regarding subjects like child custody, child support, visitation, etc. is that a substantial change in circumstances for a party to the case or one of the children must have occurred that requires a modification of the prior order.
Petition- A petition is the legal document that will begin your child custody case. You are petitioning or asking the court to address the concerns that you have presented. At the conclusion of your Petition you will “pray” that the court grant your relief as requested.
If you are the party to a child custody case who is in the position of responding to a petition you can file your own document asserting independent causes of action. This document is known as a counter-petition.
Petitioner- The petitioner is the person who initiates a child custody case and files the petition.
Respondent- Likewise, the person who responds to a petition is known as the Respondent.
Temporary Restraining Order- A Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) is often sought by a Petitioner after filing a child custody case. A TRO temporarily restricts the behavior of you and your opposing party while you wait to go forward to Temporary Orders Hearing.
In the Temporary Orders Hearing, you and your opposing party can put forth evidence that will allow a judge to make a ruling on temporary orders that will provide some structure for you and your family while the family law case proceeds towards a resolution. Issues that are touched on temporary orders are typically things like conservatorship, visitation, child custody, and prohibitions against acting in certain ways towards the opposing party in violent, abusive or harmful ways.
Questions about any of these terms? Contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC
Every child custody case is different and yours may have terms or concepts that I was not able to cover in this blog post. If you find yourself with additional questions regarding aspects of your child custody case that you do not understand please consider contacting the Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC today. Our licensed family law attorneys are read and willing to meet with you six days a week in a free of charge consultation. We take pride in representing our neighbors across southeast Texas and would be honored to do the same for you.