It is presumed by courts across the State of Texas that it is in the best interests of your children that you and your child’s other parent be named as joint managing conservators of your kids. It doesn’t matter if you and your child’s other parent were married at one point or were never married- the presumption is that the two of you need to share in the parenting rights and responsibilities when it comes to your child.
Conservatorship refers to your rights and responsibilities of raising a child. Sharing in those rights and responsibilities means that teamwork with your ex-spouse is important. That may be difficult for you to think about as you engage in a contested family law case, but children generally do better when both of their parents take an active and involved role in raising them. Sharing in those rights and responsibilities does not mean that they will be shared exactly equally, however. That is where the contested nature of family law cases comes into play.
What happens when you and the other parent cannot agree on a visitation plan?
The default setting for visitation in Texas is what is known as a Standard Possession Order. So long as you and your child other parent reside within 100 miles of one another, your visitation with your child would look like this:
- Weekend visitation with your child on the first, third and fifth weekends of each month. You would pick up your child at 6:00 p.m. at their other parent’s home and drop your child off on Sunday at the same time and location. Weekend possession periods expand to picking up and dropping your child off at school on Friday/Monday for some families.
- Each Thursday night during the year you would be able to see your child from 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. I call this a Chick fil a night for you and your child to go out for dinner and then drop him or her off at home.
- Holidays like Christmas, Easter, Spring Break and Thanksgiving are alternated from year to year. Summertime visitation expands for you as the parent with visitation rights. You would be provided with thirty days in a row of visitation under most Standard Possession Orders.
Holiday visitation periods take precedence over regular, school year visitation. Christmas is treated a little differently than Spring Break or Thanksgiving because it is so long. The first half of Christmas break begins at 6:00 p.m. on the day that school is released and ends at noon on December 28th. The second half of Christmas break begins at noon on 12/28 and ends at 6:00 on the Sunday before school lets back in for the Spring Semester. Obviously, the first half of the holiday encompasses Christmas Eve and Christmas Day
The weekend visitation that we discussed earlier in today's blog post continues on into the summer but can be upended by summer holiday visitation. Unless you provide notice to your child's other parent insufficient time (usually by April 1stof that year), you will be able to be in possession of your child for the entire month of July. The only exception is that the other parent will be able to choose one weekend that month to be able to see your child.
Child Support Basics
If you would like to get into a more full-throated discussion on child support in Texas you are more than welcome to search our blog for articles that relate to this subject. You are sure to find a wide range of them that will hopefully answer any question you have. With that said, my aim in discussing child support with you today will be to provide you with the basic information that anyone who has a child needs to know.
The Texas Family Code lays out the basics of child support as far as what should be paid based on how many children you have before a court in any given lawsuit. If you are the parent who has visitation rights to your child it is likely that you will also be the parent who pays child support. Your ex-spouse, with whom your child lives primarily, would be the recipient of your child support.
I will assume a question that some of you are wondering: can you pay your child directly for the child support that you owe to him or her. After all- it is called child support, not ex-spouse support (although that exists, too). The answer to that question is: no. Child support is to be paid to your child’s other parent so that he or she can use that money on behalf of the child’s best interests. Typically your child support payments go through the State of Texas so there is another layer between your money and your child.
The net resources that you earn on a monthly basis are the starting point for calculating your child support figure. Next, the children who are become the court are counted. Finally, a percentage is multiplied against your net income to determine a specific number for your child support obligation.
For example, one child means that 20% of your net income is assessed for child support purposes. Two children are 25%, three children are 30% and on up to 5 or more children being not less than 40% of net monthly income going towards supporting your children. The amount that you have to pay may be decreased based on how many children you are responsible for providing support for who are not before the court.
If you are not working that does not mean that you do not have to pay child support. If you are in that type of situation a judge will likely set your child support income based on minimum wages earned working forty hours per week. This should encourage you to find a job and earn an income even if that means you have to pay child support. The alternative would be to not work and still have to pay child support based on minimum wages that it would assume that you could earn.
How to change any aspect of a final decree of divorce or Suit Affecting the Parent-Child Relationship
The entire reason why people go through a difficult family law case is to have orders set by a court that allow you some certainty in regard to your property, your child and your life after the family law case ends. Not knowing how much you stand to receive in child support each month, or if you are going to be able to pay your bills after your divorce or a host of other issues is no way to go through life. As such, it is important that you understand what is contained in the final orders of your case.
In the event that you have orders handed down that you do not agree with or find that they no longer suit you or your circumstances, it is possible for you to change them through a process called a modification. If the material and substantial change has occurred in your life, your ex-spouse's life or the lives of one of your children then you have an opportunity to have specific orders modified.
What sort of changes would a court be looking for? For instance, if you are ordered to pay spousal support to your ex-wife and she gets married, you should no longer be responsible for paying spousal support. A modification of your divorce decree would appear to be justified based on this condition having been met. Likewise, if you are the custodial parent of a child and that child has developed an illness that requires constant medical care, you may need to ask a court to go back and adjust the amount of child support that you receive in order to help offset the increased costs of the medical care of your child.
Many times (most times?) a parent asks for a modification of an order it has to do with the visitation/custody orders no longer being workable for your family. Maybe transporting a child based on the prior orders just doesn't work out any longer because one parent has moved. Maybe your child is over the age of 12 and now wants to live with you primarily instead of their mom. It could be a whole host of reasons why you would ask for modification.
Whatever the modification is in regard to, a judge must find that it is in the best interests of a child. This can basically work in one of two ways: either the judge will issue your orders after a child, which means that he or she will be able to dictate what is in the best interests or your child. Or, you and your child’s other parent will be able to negotiate the terms of your modification. At which point a judge will likely presume that you and your child’s other parent are acting in their best interests and approve the modification even though he or she played no role in creating the order.
What happens in the event that someone violates your court order?
There are two parties to your family lawsuit: you and the other person. Therefore, it is possible that one of you could violate the order. You may be sitting at your desk shaking your head and thinking that it could never be you that violates the court order. Well, I don’t know how to tell you in any other way that, yes, even you could violate a court order. Stranger things have happened.
Either way, if a violation occurs in regard to your court order the aggrieved party could file an enforcement lawsuit against the violating party. The filing party is doing so in order to force the other side to follow the rules and to allow the judge to assess some degree of punishment against the violator. Contempt proceedings are the normal means for doing so. Jail time and fines are possible depending upon the circumstances of your enforcement. In addition to parental rights termination cases, this is a situation where you are entitled to have the court appoint you an attorney.
Many times parents decide after a period of time that it is no longer necessary to follow the visitation orders that they have on the books. This may be for any number of reasons, not the least of which tends to be that the other parent did something to upset him or her and now a violation of the order will occur to settle the score. Once that happens, hurt feelings come into play and an escalation of violations occurs. Typically, more than one violation occurs and a battle of enforcement suits is the end result.
Does this sound familiar? If you and your ex-spouse find yourself in a situation where you both have violated court orders it may be worth your time to examine why those violations occurred. Maybe you can work together in mediation to modify your orders to better suit your lives now. That would be far agreeable than suing each other over these enforcement related issues. Your family's situation is unique but with some co-parenting and assistance from an experienced family law attorney, it is likely that you have solutions that can minimize cost and time spent on these type of unpleasant occurrences.
Questions about family law cases in Texas? Contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan
If you have any questions about the material that we covered in today's blog post, I encourage you to contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan. Our licensed family law attorneys offer free of charge consultations six days a week where we can answer your questions and discuss your specific circumstances. We take pride in being able to work along with side people just like you who live in our community. We thank you for giving us some of your time today and hope that you will join us again tomorrow.