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Working on the Weekends: Alternative visitation ideas for Texas parents

If you are a non-custodial parent, meaning that you are not the parent who cares for your child during the school week, you likely have visitation that involves possession of your child on the first, third and fifth weekends of each month. This suits many parents well- the type who have a predictable work schedule and live relatively close to their child. This is the type of schedule that our state legislators believe to be in the best interest of children in the State of Texas.

However, it may not be in the best interests of your children for you to have this type of schedule for visitation. In fact, it may not even be in your best interests. Yes, you would like to see your children as much as possible. Every other weekend plan provides you with a set amount of time for you to have your child with you and to spend time with him or her. Yes, you will not have to worry (hopefully) about visitation being withheld by your child’s other parent for any reason under the sun.

What you may find is that after your first trip to the family court that a new job has been offered to you or you had to move farther away from your child. Not so far that you have had to completely scrap the first, third and fifth-weekend schedule, but far enough where it is a larger effort to make it see your child on each of those weekends. Do you have any options to choose from, as far as how to handle these changes? Today's blog post from the Law Office of Bryan Fagan will seek to answer those questions.

The visitation orders act as a safety net for you and your child

Before you and your child's other parent went to the family court for the first time you didn't have any visitation orders in place. This meant that if your child was not living with you, you would have to call their other parent and arrange for a time where you could see your child. The other parent (usually the child's mother) held all the cards as far as visitation was concerned. She determined when, where, how and for how long you could see your own child.

This didn’t suit you well and therefore you filed a lawsuit in order to be awarded visitation time and a set amount of child support to be paid to your child’s mother each month. Predictability was a key part of all of this. Not only did you know how much you were going to owe in child support each month, but you could actually plan a schedule around seeing your child. Gone were the days where your child’s other parent may ask for $2,000 a month for no apparent reason. You could also plan a vacation with your child, and you knew that you would be able to see him or her on their birthday.

You can basically look at the visitation orders as a safety net for you and your child. If nothing else, you were “guaranteed” to see your child as frequently as was proscribed in your visitation plan. Of course, you could always attempt to negotiate for more time with your child’s other parent and could come to agreements between yourselves about modifying the orders on the fly. That is what you had talked to your attorney about and what the judge hoped would occur.

Temporary changes to your plan can be agreed to between you and your child’s other parent whenever you want. As long as you both are ok with what is being proposed, the judge isn’t going to come knocking on your door to make sure their order is being followed to a T. This is the great thing about co-parenting: you can resolve issues without going to court and can determine outcomes that are best for your child. No matter how hard a judge tries, he or she will never be able to know your child as well as you and the other parent do.

Your child will get older and their needs will change

There are very few things that are predictable in life, but we can safely say that as your child grows older his/her needs will change. Specifically, their schedules will cease to be as wide open as they were when he/she were younger as their school responsibilities pick up. Extracurriculars and other activities that occur within and outside of school will take up space on their schedule as well.

This is when co-parenting and working with your child’s other parent is most important. Co-parenting is easy when your child (and you) have all the time in the world. However, as your child gets older and your own responsibilities change there will be a time crunch that affects your family. If you can work with your child’s other parent to develop an “on the fly”, flexible visitation plan it will benefit everyone involved. Consistent contact for your child with both parents is the most important aspect of visitation in the eyes of the court.

Work with your child’s other parent on modifying a visitation plan

Remember that if all else fails you and your child’s other parent can go to court and ask a judge to create a new visitation plan (if there has been a substantial change that has occurred for one of you or your child). You and the other parent can modify your plan informally for any reason under the sun. The judge in your case may deny your request for a modification because there has not been a substantial change in circumstances. You and the other parent do not have to clear this hurdle when you do the changes informally.

If you are set to negotiate a change with the other parent, you should keep notes about what you have discussed. The most important thing for you to do is to work to see the problem from the other person’s perspective. You know what you want to achieve through negotiations, but you will not be able to get very far unless you take a step back and consider your family’s situation from the perspective of the other parent.

When do you need to stop informal negotiations and head to court?

When your child’s other parent is denying you visitation with your child then you need to consider going to court immediately. Make sure that you have reviewed your court order and know exactly what days and times you were entitled to see your child. Address the denial of access to your child with the other parent. If he or she will not work with you or continues to refuse to allow you the court ordered visitation that you are awarded under your order then you need to see the judge.

An enforcement lawsuit seeks to enforce the terms of a court order. You would likely need to hire an attorney (though it is not required) due to how complex enforcement cases are. You would file the lawsuit, notify your child's other parent of your having done so and then set up a date on which to have a final hearing with the judge. There may be some mediating that you can do in an attempt to avoid going to court, but in an enforcement lawsuit, there is not as much middle ground to cover. Either the violations (in this case a denial of visitation) occurred, or they didn't.

A final hearing in a visitation enforcement case involves you and your attorney explaining to the judge why the visitation schedule was violated. You must detail the exact dates and times that violation was denied to you. You would then ask the court to apply a punishment against the other parent. Punishments in enforcement cases can involve makeup time with your child, fines, attorney's fees, and even jail time in extreme situations.

In the alternative (or in addition to the enforcement case) you can file a modification case that seeks to modify your court orders. This is where mediation comes to pay dividends many times. There is usually a vast amount of middle ground where you and your child’s other parent can work together to find a visitation plan that works better for your family. You all can come up with your own visitation plan, use your settlement agreement to draft a new order and submit the order to the judge for their signature.

Working on the weekends? Be sure to read this section of our blog post

Many parents like yourself find that some weekends out of the year must be spent working. Whether your job is one that has shifted you towards weekend hours, or the responsibilities of your job require that extra time be put in on the weekends, getting home for an entire weekend is likely difficult at times. This difficulty comes into focus when you are expected to be available to see your children on the first, third and fifth weekends of each month.

If you are working on a weekend when you are supposed to have possession of your children you will need to contact the other parent in advance, if possible. The times that you are expected to work on a moment’s notice and do not have the opportunity to call your child’s other parent are likely to be few and far between. Many times you will be able to exchange one weekend for another with the other parent. As long as you and the other parent agree to the exchanges, any arrangement under the sun becomes acceptable. However, if you cannot agree on making a swap then you will need to allow the other parent to keep your child and you will lose out on that visitation period.

This is where your skill at negotiation comes into play. Many parents will offer additional amounts of time in the summer or during other pre-determined periods of visitation in exchange for allowing you to swap a weekend here and there. While the other parent is not required to work with you on this, many times their willingness to cooperate will result in your being more willing to do so in the future. In the end, it is your children who benefit the most from having parents who are willing to work together to do what is best for him or her.

Can grandparents or other family members step in as proxies and take your children if you can’t?

You should look to your court orders to see what is allowed and what is not allowed. Many parents know ahead of time that their work schedules often demand that they work on many weekends. As such, they will negotiate for other relatives to be able to pick up or drop off their children. In fact, your child’s other parent has no right to determine who spends time with your child during your weekend. I have heard parents complain that their ex-spouse never sees their kids and that it is always grandma or an uncle who picks up the kids and spends time with them. You should let the other parent know if you can’t make it on time to pick up the kids but that your mother or father will be there to do an exchange.

Questions about Texas family law issues? Contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan

If you have any questions about the material that we shared with you today, 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 here at our office. These consultations are a great opportunity to ask questions and receive direct feedback about particular issues you may have. We are more than happy to answer questions and provide you with information about how our office can help you and your family. Thank you for your time and consideration.

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