We sometimes hear from parents who are confused and upset by the court orders they received from Texas courts. For example, a child custody order might say different things on different pages, or it might be written in a way that doesn’t make sense or that’s too vague to follow.
The court order makes child custody and visitation a challenge, and it can cause disagreements between the parents. Sometimes, one parent accuses the other of not following the order when that parent was just following a different part of the order. Not following the order is called “being in contempt.” It’s a serious problem that can get you into deep trouble in Texas courts.
A Motion to Clarify
If your child custody order doesn’t make sense to you or the other parent, or if it’s causing conflict in your custody arrangement, there are actions you can take. Texas law allows parents and their attorneys to file something called a “motion to clarify.” The motion asks a court to clarify an order if the court finds that the order is not specific enough and that one parent could be held in contempt if the order was clarified.
Your lawyer can help you seek a motion to clarify before the court finds that one parent is in contempt, as part of a contempt proceeding, or after a denial of a motion for contempt.
What a Motion to Clarify Doesn’t Do
When the court grants the motion to clarify, it simply rules to change the order to be less confusing. There are things that a motion to clarify does not do, including:
- Substantively change the order: A change in a court order is called a “child custody modification.” If you would like the order changed so that the terms of the arrangement are different, seeking a modification is probably a better fit for you. Talk with your attorney.
- Apply retroactively to hold a parent in contempt: The order only applies going forward, so you can’t ask the court to clarify the order, and then immediately hold the other parent accountable for not following it in the past.
Get a Lawyer’s Help for Confusing Child Custody Orders
When a child custody order is confusing, it’s best to get legal help. Following only your interpretation of the order can lead to trouble. And if the other parent isn’t following the order because of confusion, get legal help too. Your attorney can protect your interests and your relationship with your child. Start by calling the Arlington office of the Schneider Law Firm, P.C., at 817-799-7125.
Child custody is often the most emotionally charged issue in a divorce. “How will this affect the kids?” is the first thing most parents wonder about divorce. And fear of losing time with a child can be devastating.
In Texas, there are several things that family courts consider when making decisions about child custody. Here’s an overview from the lawyers at our Ft. Worth law office.
Conservatorship, Possession and Access
Texas divides child custody into two categories: conservatorship and possession/access:
- Conservatorship is the right to make important decisions about your child’s life. These include decisions about where your child will go to school, what medical treatment they will receive and what religious practices they will follow.
- Possession and access are where the child spends his or her time. The court may decide which parent the child will live with most of the time, as well as how often the other parent spends time with the child.
The “Best Interests of the Child”
When deciding child custody matters, Texas courts use a “best interests of the child” standard, which was outlined in a case called Holley v. Adams. The case involved termination of parental rights, but courts have said that they should apply in all child custody cases.
There are many factors listed in Holley, including:
- The desires of the child
- The physical and emotional needs of the child now and in the future
- Any emotional or physical danger to the child
- The parental ability of the person seeking custody
- Programs available to help the parent and child
- Plans for the child by the parent seeking custody
- Acts of omission by the parent that might indicate the parent/child relationship is troubled
Each Case Is Different
Each child custody case is different. For example, when judges apply the “best interests of the child” standard to very young children, they often give the child’s preferences less weight than they would if the child was older. Older kids get more of a say in where they would like to live and who they would like to make their decisions.
Conversely, with babies, courts consider how well the parent is prepared to deal with the baby’s basic needs–like eating, sleeping and having diapers changed. These things naturally become less of a concern as the child grows older.
Questions About Your Child Custody Case? Ask a Lawyer.
Because each case is different, it’s important to talk with an attorney about the facts of your case. Don’t just rely on internet research. Instead, schedule a confidential consultation. You can get started by contacting the Ft. Worth office of the Schneider Law Firm, P.C., at 1-817-755-1852.
As time passes after a divorce, it’s common for child custody plans to stop being as convenient – and appropriate–as they once were. Children grow up. They become teenagers with lives of their own. Sometimes parents move away. Other times, their situations change and they can’t parent the way they once did.
If your existing child custody plan has stopped working for your family, you are not stuck with it. Texas family law allows for modification of existing child custody plans. Here’s what you should know.
If Both Parents Agree, Things Are Easier
As with most parenting decisions, things are easier if both parents agree that the child custody order should be modified. When parents agree, all they need to do is submit a proposed custody order to the court. In most cases, the court reviews the proposed custody order and approves it.
Unfortunately, life is rarely that simple. If parents disagree about the change, they must both appear in court to have the order modified.
You Must Show a Significant Change in Circumstances
In order to grant a child custody modification, Texas family courts require you to show that a material and substantial change in circumstances has occurred. You must prove that the change in circumstances makes your current arrangement inappropriate or unworkable, as well as that the proposed change is in the child’s best interests. If you request the modification, that burden of proof rests with you.
What does “material and substantial in circumstances” mean? It depends on your case. Many different changes can qualify.
- Texas courts have granted a modification when doctors diagnosed a child with a health issue that meant his parents needed to care for him differently.
- They have also granted modifications when one parent was unable to find significant employment in Texas and was forced to relocate for work.
- Courts have also granted modifications when a parent struggled with substance abuse and was no longer able to care for a child safely.
Older Children Have Some Say in the Matter
Texas law makes a distinction between children younger than 12 and children who are 12 years old and older. When a child is 12 and wishes to change the primary caregiver, courts may grant the modification. It’s likely that the judge will want to talk privately with the child, and the request will only be granted if the judge believes it’s in the child’s best interests.
Talking With a Lawyer Is a Good Idea
If your family’s needs have changed and an existing child custody plan is no longer working for you, talking with an attorney is a good first step. At the Schneider Law Firm, P.C., we can talk with you confidentially about your situation and help you take the best course of action. Call our Arlington law office at 817-799-7125 to get started.