Modification of Custody in Less Than One Year: How Important is the Affidavit?

You just finalized your divorce or custody matter, however it seems like every time you turn around you think that your child should live with you instead of the other parent primarily of the time.  Even though it is has not even been a year yet since your final orders were rendered, it just seems as though something is constantly coming up and you are genuinely concerned.  The other parent may be endangering the child’s physical welfare or emotional development such as engaging in criminal activity, drug usage, physical/mental/sexual abuse, or overall endangerment of the child.  You want to change the custody orders now but you have been told that there are certain roadblocks in requesting the modification this soon.  What should you expect?

Less than One Year Requirements 

If you are filing your petition to change the parent who has the exclusive right to designate the child’s residence in less than one year, there are specific requirements that you must follow.  In fact, you must qualify within these statutory parameters to even file your case.  The most important and crucial requirement is the affidavit that must be attached to your petition.  In fact, Texas Family Code Section 156.102 mandates that an affidavit must be attached to your pleadings and “(b) must contain, along with supporting facts, at least one of the following allegations: (1) that the child’s present environment may endanger the child’s physical health or significantly impair the child’s emotional development; (2) that the person who has the exclusive right to designate the primary residence of the child is the person seeking or consenting to the modification and the modification is in the best interest of the child; or (3) that the person who has the exclusive right to designate the primary residence of the child has voluntarily relinquished the primary care and possession of the child for at least 6 months and the modification is in the best interest of the child.”  Frequently, we see the first requirement being the grounds on which someone files a modification.  Allegations are made that something bad has happened in the other parent’s care and this is why that parent should no longer have possession of the child.  But, the key is that the allegations must be made in the affidavit.  Many people get hung up on this requirement and many times affidavits fall short on their face.

What’s in an Affidavit?

This issue was discussed recently in an appellate case from the 14th Court of Appeals in In the Interest of A.D.  There, mom appealed the trial court’s decision to allow dad to be primary in a case less than one year and said that his affidavit was not sufficient.  Mom had made several false sexual abuse allegations against dad regarding their daughter over the course of an entire year.  The trial court found that this behavior on mom’s part was physically and emotionally dangerous and detrimental to the child and therefore awarded primary to dad.  Mom requested a jury trial over the matter in which several experts and witnesses testified that mom had made severely poor decisions regarding the child and these sexual abuse allegations.  That is, even though every professional (including police, CPS, and doctors) ruled this out, she continued to pursue it.  The jury ruled that dad should continue to be primary and mom appealed arguing that the court’s decision was improper and that the dad’s affidavit was not sufficient.

However, the Court of Appeals disagreed and reiterated the standard from Texas Family Code Section 156.102(c) which states that “The Court shall deny the relief sought and refuse to schedule a hearing for modification under this section unless the court determines, on the basis of the affidavit, that facts adequate to support an allegation in (b) are stated within the affidavit.”  Therefore, the Court must look to the affidavit on its face to determine if it can move forward with a hearing on modification.  This is why it is so important that your affidavit contain all of the allegations and facts that you believe would necessitate a modification and it would not hurt to include the “magic language” from subsection (b) either.  The Court of Appeals also clarified that the trial courts are to just look to the facts of the affidavit and if they were true, would that justify having a hearing.   Therefore, this is the key part that most people miss—the trial court should have a hearing if the affidavit alleges facts showing “the child’s present environment may endanger the child’s physical health or significantly impair the child’s emotional development”.  Thus, you do not have to prove the allegations are true before a hearing is held—just have to prove that they are true at the hearing to bring about the change you are requesting.

For any additional information regarding modifications in less than one year, schedule a consultation with Guest & Gray today.  Our family law team is ready to help.