Clarifying the Texas Summer Visitation Schedule
Schools are now out and the three months of summer vacation have now started. While just about all parents are concerned with what their kids are going to do to fill the time they would ordinarily spend in the classroom, parents who are divorced will typically be concerned with when they actually get to spend time with their kids as well. This is especially true for those parents who are the possessory parent, i.e., the one with whom the child(ren) do not primarily reside with. The summer months are seen as an opportunity for this parent to have a chance to experience some extended time with the kids.
The Texas Family Code draws a distinction between:
1. parents who live within 100 miles of one another and
2. parents who live more than 100 miles from one another.
If the possessory conservator lives within 100 miles of the managing conservator, the possessory conservator will give the managing conservator written notice by April 1st which states the extended period or periods of summer possession (totaling 30 days) that the possessory conservator is requesting for the upcoming summer months.
BEGINNING AND ENDING
That period of possession can begin no earlier than the day after summer vacation begins and shall end no later than seven days prior to the beginning of the new school year.
The possessory conservator may exercise their periods of possession in no more than two separate periods of at least seven consecutive days each. Further, each period of possession shall begin and end at 6:00 p.m. on whichever days he or she chooses.
APRIL 1ST NOTICE REQUIREMENT
If the possessory conservator does not give the managing conservator written notice by April 1st of that year which specifies the extended period or periods of possession he or she would like to take advantage of during summer vacation, they are automatically granted time with their child(ren) for thirty consecutive days beginning on July 1 at 6:00 p.m. and ending on July 31 at 6:00 p.m.
As far as the managing conservator is concerned, that parent shall have possession of the child(ren) on any one weekend beginning Friday at 6:00 p.m. and ending on the following Sunday at 6:00 p.m. during any one period of possession by the other parent.
The exception to this rule is that the managing conservator must give written notice by April 15th to the possessory conservator of their intention to take advantage of this weekend. Unlike the drop off/pick up rules for the rest of the year, the summer time sees the managing conservator be responsible for transportation purposes in this scenario.
While the summer is intended to be a time of fun for your kids, when parents do not work together, it can also cause stress and anxiety for the kids. When going through the summer visitation, it is in everyone’s best interests to remember that ultimately what is best for the children is what’s best for the parents
HOW FAMILY COURTS VIEW “SPLIT CUSTODY” IN A DIVORCE CASE
When you are involved in divorce proceedings where children are involved, it’s going to be a difficult time for the children, and any final outcome will be a big adjustment. This is especially true when you have multiple children together. Many tough decisions must be made regarding child custody and parenting. In some cases, parents may feel that it is in the best interest of the children to split them up. Should that ever be a consideration? When one child wants to be with one parent, and the other child with the other parent, is it a feasible option? There are endless questions and strong opinions surrounding the splitting up of siblings.
Many new families choose to have multiple children in the first place so that the children can grow up to be close in nature. Buddies, best pals, playmates; that’s what we think of when we consider siblings. A built in best friend for your child, or in the case of bigger families, more playmates to go around. In the event of divorce, the dream of what you thought your family should be will have to change considerably.
To Split or Not to Split
Each family’s situation is unique, and the court system recognizes that. However, many family court judges will consider the divorce process to be somewhat traumatic for young children, and not be readily in favor of adding to the trauma by separating them from their sibling. In the event that the children actually prefer to be separated from each other, a judge may be more willing to sign off on a split custody arrangement. This option is usually only considered in cases where the children are old enough to be part of the decision making process. Although it varies by state, in Texas a child must be at least 12 years old to be considered old enough to have a voice in his or her own custody arrangement. At this age, a judge may take the child’s wishes into account, but by no means is held to honor those wishes.
A Personal Decision
It’s a very personal decision during a custody situation to decide whether or not to split up your children. If both parents agree to split up the children, the judge may be more likely to go along with the request, although it’s not the usual route taken. Primary joint managing conservatorship as it’s called in Texas, is usually awarded to one parent for all of the children involved. Many split custody situations come about as a natural progression of the children aging and the parents becoming more relaxed about the custody agreement. In these situations, the custody agreement can be legally modified to reflect the current living arrangements.
At the end of the case, the court will always make the decision based on the best interest of the children.
Child Support Enforcement in Texas
A number of Texas parents are delinquent on their child support and the state has ways of enforcing payments.
When parents decide to file for divorce, children involved in the separation are often forced to go through a financial and emotional transition. In order to minimize the dramatic financial changes that can take place during this hard time, Texas courts order the non-custodial parent to pay child support to the parent who maintains primary custody of the child. Child support can help parents pay for essentials, maintain solid ground and ultimately increase the child’s quality of life. Unfortunately, not all parents who are ordered to pay child support follow through with the obligation, and some children are left to struggle without the financial support they need and deserve.
In an attempt to collect unpaid child support and enforce current child support orders, the Texas Attorney General’s Child Support Division uses various methods. The negligent parent may be subject to the following:
• Suspended professional and/or driver’s license
• Payments deducted from their paychecks
• Intercepted funds from lottery winnings, income tax refunds and other sources of income
• Liens put against their property
Parents who owe child support may face jail time as well. Past due child support payments also accrue interest until the balance is paid in full.
Parents who owe a substantial amount of money in back child support may be put on the state’s Child Support Evaders list. These parents must owe a minimum of $5,000 in past due child support, and have a warrant out for their arrest. Furthermore, they must miss at least six months of payments and are avoiding apprehension. These parents cannot be involved in any pending bankruptcy cases
Since child support is such a critical part of a child’s life, it is important to ensure your child receives what he or she is entitled to.
Basic Outline for Completing an Uncontested Divorce
1. File an Original Petition for Divorce in the proper county.
Generally speaking, the proper county is the county you or the other party (Respondent) have resided in for at least 90 days prior to filing for divorce, assuming you have been a resident of the State of Texas for at least 6 months.
The petition names the parties to the suit (yes, a divorce is a law suit), establishes the court’s jurisdiction to hear the case, lays out the grounds for divorce and asks the court to grant the divorce.
2. Present a copy of the filed petition for divorce, along with a Waiver of Service, to the Respondent.
The waiver, once executed and filed with the court, tells the court that the Respondent has formal notice of the suit as required by Texas law. Normally, a party to a lawsuit must be served with legal papers before the filing party can proceed. A waiver of service does exactly what it says; it is the Respondent’s method of waiving that service thus allowing the filing party to proceed with the case.
3. File the executed waiver with the Court.
4. Draft a Final Decree of Divorce
The Final Decree of Divorce sets out the agreement of the parties. The decree includes provisions for dissolving the marriage, child custody, child support and property division. It is the document the judge will sign that officially divorces the parties.
5. Go to court after 60 days has elapsed from the time of filing and “prove up” the divorce.
The prove up consists of reciting information about the divorce to the Court so that the Court is satisfied that all of the requirements for a divorce, as outlined by the Texas Family Code, have been met. If the requirements have been met the judge will approve and sign the divorce.
6. Get a certified copy of the Final Decree of Divorce.
Once signed, a certified copy of the Final Decree of Divorce with the judge’s signature is usually available from the Court within a few days. A certified copy is used to complete a name change, establish a child support account, or simply prove that you are divorced.
How Domestic Violence May Affect Child Custody Determinations
An allegation of domestic abuse has the potential to have the greatest impact on child custody and visitation rulings. In Texas, the family court must, by law, consider all domestic violence concerns before awarding child custody (now known as “managing conservatorship” in Texas). If you have been charged with domestic violence, the court has the authority to deny custody, and to place significant limits on your right to access or possession of your minor child. The court will carefully review the allegations to ensure that they have merit, and will not curtail custody or visitation if the evidence indicates that the allegations have been made in an attempt to punish an ex-spouse, or to curry favor in a custody or visitation hearing.
As in other states, the courts in Texas always seek to give priority to what is determined to be in the best interests of the minor children. The factors evaluated by the court in making this decision may include documented history of spousal or child abuse, as well as other concerns, such as:
The respective stability of each household
The mental health of each parent
Any personal behaviors of each parent that may negatively affect the child (substance abuse, gambling, sexual promiscuity)
In Texas, the courts follow a rebuttable presumption that it is not in the best interests of a child to grant custody to a parent who has committed domestic violence. This presumption will be enforced, even if you negotiated or mediated a joint custody agreement, if the court determines that the history or threat of domestic violence influenced a parent’s decision to enter into such an agreement.
An Overview on Child Support Obligations in Texas
One of the most hypersensitive issues affecting separated and divorced parents is financial support for children. Child support disputes are not uncommon. The mistake many parents make is taking an action, like stopping payments, without considering the consequences.For example, a custodial parent may feel visitations can be denied to non-custodial parents who fail to pay support. Cutting off visitations may punish a non-custodial parent in arrears, but children also suffer by being deprived of a parental relationship. Texas family courts deal with these issues separately.
A parent, with or without visitation privileges, can be ordered to pay support. Remember, support is a parental obligation. Visitation statuses do not affect the ongoing needs of children.
Child support orders establish rules parents must follow. Child support modifications are possible, with a court’s approval under the proper circumstances. A job loss can be a valid reason.
Unemployed parents often skip child support payments rather than work within the legal system to modify support orders. A better option is to contact the Child Support Division of the state Office of the Attorney General or Family Court.
Getting the support modification ball rolling quickly is important — child support payments do not change until a court approves modification.
Child support modifications are subject to conditions and may be sought by custodial or non-custodial parents. Support orders in effect for less than three years old cannot be changed. Whatever change in circumstances drives you to request modification must qualify as “substantial” or “material.”
REMEMBER: A failure to pay child support can lead to a contempt charge and possible fines and jail time.
When noncustodial parents cannot pay the child support payments that they have been ordered to make, they need to contact the court clerk and the Office of the Attorney General right away. The court does not reduce or reimburse payments if parents fall behind on providing the funds, and notifying the OAG or court clerk does not automatically result in lower monthly payments. To achieve this, the parent needs to file for a modification to the child support orders and obtain a new one.
Noncustodial parents could qualify for child support order modifications if substantial changes have occurred in their lives and are affecting their ability to make payments. There are two main criteria considered for a modification. The child support order must be at least three years old, and the amount of the payments must differ by $100 or 20 percent compared to what the parent would pay if the order is changed.
One reason why noncustodial parents may seek modifications to child support orders is the loss of employment. The court might require parents in this position to demonstrate that they are searching for other jobs or are part of employment training schemes.
As soon as noncustodial parents lose their jobs and are unsure of when they could obtain employment again, it may be in their best interests, as well as those of their children, to seek a child support order modification. Doing so could help them avoid being fined or even imprisoned.