If you have a child over the age of five he or she is likely as knowledgeable of the digital world as you are. These kids seem to be learning from friends, family and their schools more and more about technology and how it can change their lives. Some of those changes are good. I'm sure most of you all reading this remember having to go to the library to research a paper that had to be written for social studies class. Even in law school, with every resource imaginable online, we went through a series of lessons on how to conduct research using the law journals and recorded appellate cases found in the library. Having information that can be used for good at the palm of our hand is a positive attribute of the technological changes we have seen.
On the other hand, technology has opened up a Pandora's Box of problems into our lives. Adults and children alike can use technology to communicate with people across the world but unfortunately, that communication is not always productive or appropriate. The internet in and of itself can be a scary and wooly place for a child whose activities are not being monitored. Parents are having to take extreme steps to keep their children from harming themselves via technology. We have all heard stories of children being bullied via text messaging and social media. This can be a disaster for these kids and their families.
What is the relationship between these issues and family law? You as a parent need to be aware of what your child is doing online and how he or she is utilizing the technology that is seemingly everywhere in our world. Having the ability to use technology and do so with the help of a mobile phone means that our kids can be out and about in the world with the ability to get into things that they are probably not ready for at their young ages.
In final decrees of divorce, I recommend to clients with children that usernames and passwords for internet websites where movies, television shows, music and other forms of entertainment are downloaded should be shared between the parents. Knowing what your child is getting into on these websites is the first line of defense against your children falling into harm’s way. If you have already experienced problems associated with technology and your children, then this is a must-do in your case.
What about cellphones in particular?
Cell phones are a technological innovation that I would guess have increased the ability for kids to get into things that they shouldn't by a factor of roughly 1,000. It is easy for parents to keep track of a home computer. You can put the computer in an open place in the house, keep it password protected and then only allow your children to be online for a short period. Keeping an eye on them when they are in the home is pretty simple.
Compare that scenario to one where your child has a cellphone where the internet and everything contained within it is made available to him or her. He or she can take that phone to school, to friend's homes and then you are really behind the eight balls when it comes to taking steps to protect your kids. You and your spouse should talk about what you want to do as far as allowing your child to have a cellphone. If you agree that a cellphone is something that your child can have, you can then agree that a phone without the internet is more appropriate. Your child can make phone calls and send text messages (with no photos) but the “damage” that can be done online is significantly more limited.
Social media, etc.
Teenagers, pretty much across the board, are involved in the world of social media. If you are aware of this then you need to take steps to make sure that your child isn’t getting into trouble or posting information/photos/videos that could harm your child. Negotiate with your spouse to ensure that you all are exchanging information that is being used to log into these websites. Usernames, passwords, email addresses and any other information that is used to go online should be noted in your final decree of divorce. Commit to remaining vigilant and you all will be happy that you did.
While we are on the subject, you should examine your social media use while you are going through your divorce. It is not just kids that make mistakes while online and do things that they later regret. Adults, in larger numbers, than you may think, do this as well. We tend to think of social media as being this private interface between ourselves and the people who are closest to us. We post things online; we share information and expose a lot of our personal lives to the people that we have a social media connection to. All of this is done from the comfort of our homes, offices, and vehicles. It all feels very intimate, but in actuality, that couldn't be any further from the truth.
What we feel like is being shown to just a close circle of people is in actuality being shown to people all around the world. This includes your spouse’s attorney. One of the first things that a family law attorney will do when he or she is assigned a case is to look up the opposing party online. It is an easy way to dig up dirt on that person and otherwise get an idea of who he or she is. We tend to overlook the things that we have done years ago and instead focus on recent behaviors when we are talking about ourselves. You need to be prepared to speak openly and honestly with your attorney about any information that may be less than flattering which exists online.
So, if you have a robust presence on the internet what can you do once your divorce starts? For one, you need to speak to your attorney before deleting or removing anything from a social media website. It feels different, but what you are doing by deleting things off of your profile is akin to throwing away documents in the trash. Your opposing party may find out what you did and then attempt to bring that to the judge's attention, as well. This could result in you being reprimanded for improperly getting rid of the evidence.
What to do with your social media accounts during a divorce
The first thing that I talk to clients about as far as social media is concerned is just not using it during the case. I don’t mean that you can’t check Facebook to see if your cousin posted pictures of her new baby. What I mean is that I do not recommend that folks post status updates, photos or voice their displeasure with their spouse/their attorney/the judge/a mediator on Facebook. That type of behavior has a way of coming back around to hurt you in the end.
Next, you can set your profile to private where only friends can access your profiles. Many social media websites will allow you to set your profile to “private.” This is a great way to keep prying eyes off of your social media pages. The deal is that you stand to gain very little by exposing yourself and your case via social media. This is true, in my opinion, for life in general but specifically during a Texas family law case.
What about military service? What rights are associated with this issue?
One of the great parts of living in Texas is that we have the privilege of living nearby so many veterans. This is a privilege that we at the Law Office of Bryan Fagan get to experience every day in representing the veterans of southeast Texas. While the law applies equally to all persons, parents who are active-duty military have special considerations that have been carved out for them by our state legislature. Those considerations are reflected in the Texas Family Code.
In today’s military climate, it could be that you have deployed overseas to places as far-flung as the middle east. While you are away from home, your children’s lives are still proceeding even though you are not there. I have worked for many military members and their primary concern about their children is typically centered around maintaining a strong relationship and bond with him or her while overseas.
What the legislature has done to further this cause is to allow you to appoint another adult, temporarily while you are deployed overseas, who can exercise your right to determine the primary residence of your child. This right would be in effect for the period that you are overseas and would cease to be as soon as you return home.
The state does have an order of preference, stated in the family code, as to whom you could bestow these rights. First and foremost, your child's other parent (the noncustodial parent) could be provided this right. To me, all things else being equal, this would make the most sense. Your child would likely be more comfortable with their other parent housing him or her while you are away than any other person. Co-parenting is a huge part of raising a child after a divorce, and this would be the ultimate show of good faith towards co-parenting a child.
In some situations, however, it may not be in the best interests of your child that the noncustodial parent is put into that position. At that point, a nonparent custodian could be slid into this role with the permission of the court. This nonparent would not become a permanent conservator of your child, but that person would be able to take on the role of parent for a certain period. The rights and duties that we have spent the past few days discussing would be exercisable by this nonparent custodian. As with anything, a court can modify or enhance those rights based on the best interests of the child. If you are a military member who finds yourself in this type of position then you should speak with an attorney who has experience representing veterans and active-duty members of our military.
Closing thoughts on rights and duties in Texas family law cases
When I talk to many potential clients about their family law case, the main concern most parents have is the ability to spend as much time with their children as possible. This is completely understandable. However, as an attorney who has gone through many divorce and child custody cases, I can tell you that while the time you spend with your child is very important it is the rights and duties associated with your child that will have an even more lasting impact on him or her.
Your ability to weigh in on where your child lives, where he goes to school, the type of medical care he receives as well as who will care for your child when you are not around are extremely important issues that are often overlooked at the beginning of a family law case. The purpose of today’s blog post is to key you into these important issues so that you can begin to think about them now rather than towards the end of your case.