Articles Posted in Parental Rights

Can I ask a Texas Court for visitation rights for my grandchild?

Texas allows grandparents to gain court-ordered visitation of grandchildren in very limited circumstances. The reason that the statute allowing grandparent visitation is so limited is because the United States Supreme Court has decided that parents having the ability to make decisions about raising their children is a fundamental right that should not be interfered with by courts. Basically, in the United States we want parents to be able to decide whether their kids get to see their grandparents or not even if the parents don’t seem to have a great reason for keeping their kids away from their grandparents. A parent’s right to decide how their kids are raised is more important under the law than a grandparent’s desire to see their grandchildren.

How does Grandparent visitation work in Texas?

Usually, it is in the best interest of a child to live with their parent. This is not always the case though, and there are times that a court may need to terminate the rights of a parent. The court will terminate a parent-child relationship if it finds it to be in the best interest of the child and if the parent committed one or more of the statutory acts set out in Texas Family Code 161.001. Abuse and neglect will not always be the only reasons that a parent’s rights have been terminated. Instead, each case that is brought before the court will be determined on a fact based analysis considered by several factors.

How does the court determine the best interest of the child?

In 1976 the court came up with several factors that determine the best interest of the child in Holley v. Adams, and are now termed the Holley factors. These factors include 1) the desires of the child; 2) the emotional and physical needs of the child now and in the future; 3) the emotional and physical danger to the child now and in the future; 4) the parental abilities of the person seeking custody; 5) the programs available to assist the person seeking custody in promoting the best interest of the child; 6) plans for the child by the person seeking custody; 7) the stability of the home or proposed placement; 8) the acts or omissions of the parent that may indicate the parent-child relationship is not a proper one; and 9) any excuse for the acts or omissions of the parent. Not all of the factors listed above will apply to each case brought before the court. The court will use the factors on a case-by-case basis to decide if termination of the parent’s rights is in the child’s best interest.

You have a pending case involving a child (divorce, SAPCR, modification) and child support has been established.  However, like most parents you are concerned about the future—what happens when the children go to college, how will I afford their expenses then?  Most people say that you can “save the child support” but that is not ideal.  Children are expensive and it is highly likely that you will spend all of the child support and then some with all of the things that come up throughout their lives until they turn 18 or graduate from high school.  Child support ends on “removal of the child’s disabilities for general purposes, the marriage or death of a child, or a finding by the court that the child is 18 years of age or older and is no longer enrolled in high school or a high-school equivalent program.”  In the Interest of W.R.B. and B.K.B., Children.  So, what are your options to ensure that your children can get a college education and have support from the other parent?

This issue is addressed in In the Interest of W.R.B. and B.K.B., Children from the 5th District Court of Appeals in Dallas.     There, the Dallas Court of Appeals addressed the issue of post-majority support which is defined as applying “only to a non-disabled child who is 18 years of age or older and is no longer enrolled in high school or a high-school equivalent program” Tex. Fam. Code Section 154.001(a).  Therefore, this creates or allows for a specific scenario in which the other parent would still be required to make support payments.  In this case, the Court held that the trial court cannot order post-majority support on its own volition but the parties can agree to post-majority support in writing.  In the agreed modification orders, the parties had done just that.  Therefore, the Court of Appeals held that it was proper for the trial court to render the order of post-majority support.  However, the issue then became that the obligor parent stopped paying the post-majority expenses and so the recipient or obligee parent filed an enforcement action seeking reimbursement of all of the expenses, attorneys’ fees and interest.

The Dallas Court of Appeals held that for post-majority support, this is after the child ages out and was based purely upon the parties’ agreement and so therefore it is not enforceable in a family law court under the Texas Family Code.  Rather, the proper avenue is breach of contract.  This is because the agreed orders, with respect to the post-majority support, are considered a contract because it is an agreement of the parties not based upon legal authority.   This is unlike the issue of child support that was ordered which remains enforceable even post-aging out of the children because the Court still maintains jurisdiction over that issue as it was awarded under the family code.

You may not think that this distinction is important, but in the world of family law it is imperative that you understand the difference.  It could be the difference between you actually being the father of a child in the eyes of the law as well as differing burdens of how to overcome that label if you are not the child’s biological father.  In fact, if you are in the middle of a divorce or a suit affecting the parent child relationship, knowing your definitions is crucial when it comes to duties to support children and your rights to visiting those children.

Texas Family Code Section 101.0015 defines alleged father as a man who “alleges himself to be, or is alleged to be, the genetic father or a possible genetic father of a child, but whose paternity has not been determined.”  So, if you think that you are the father of a child but it has not been concluded by court ordered genetic testing—then you are an alleged father.  We see this type of scenario come up in situations such as cases involving the Attorney General’s Office of Texas.  If a woman petitions the Attorney General’s Office for child support, then that agency will file a lawsuit and have all of the alleged fathers served.  It is then your duty to ask for genetic testing if there is any doubt in your mind about whether or not you are the father.  Once genetic testing is completed and paternity is established, you then become an adjudicated father.   Adjudicated father is defined in Texas Family Code Section 160.102(1) as a man who is determined to be the father of a child by the Court.  Therefore, once your paternity is established by results of genetic testing then the Court will name you as the father and proceed forward with child support, visitation, etc.

In contrast, Texas Family Code Section 160.204 defines a presumed father as follows:

Many parents, grandparents, and even professionals do not fully understand their duty to report child abuse let alone the consequences for their failure to report.  But what about such duty to report of just an ordinary person?  That is right; ANYONE who has knowledge or reason to believe that a child is being abused in any way must report it to the appropriate agency.  That agency would be the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, your local law enforcement and even your local district attorney’s office.  The family code does not exclude anyone in the duty to report.  Examples of professionals would be teachers, attorneys, doctors, nurses, and daycare employees.

Chapter 261 of the Texas Family Code encompasses the duty to report, definitions, etc.  Once you have determined what abuse or neglect means in Texas, and you know a child who is being subjected to such acts, you must report it.   Unfortunately, many of the cases we see are children being sexually or physically abused.  Once you learn of this abuse, what do you need to do?

Texas Family Code Section 261.101 legislates and defines those who are required to report as follows:

In Texas, if the child custody visitation schedules are court-ordered they are typically either standard possession or expanded standard possession (alternate beginning and ending times).   One parent will have the exclusive right to designate the child’s primary residence and then the non-primary parent has the visitation schedule.  In contrast to the school year, summer and spring break visitation schedule, the holiday visitation schedule is regardless of distance between the parents’ residences and most courts only focus on Thanksgiving, Christmas, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day.  However, additional holidays can be requested and ordered such as Easter, Halloween, etc.

In custody orders, holidays are divided out as even and odd years.  So, if you are the primary parent you typically have odd Christmas and even Thanksgiving.   A parent will not have the same year for both holidays.  Because Christmas falls in an odd year this year, the primary parent would have possession of the child from the day the child is released from school until December 28 at noon.  Texas Family Code Section 153.314 specifically sets out the language for the court orders and is follows:

Sec. 153.314.  HOLIDAY POSSESSION UNAFFECTED BY DISTANCE PARENTS RESIDE APART.  The following provisions govern possession of the child for certain specific holidays and supersede conflicting weekend or Thursday periods of possession without regard to the distance the parents reside apart.  The possessory conservator and the managing conservator shall have rights of possession of the child as follows:

Are you involved in a divorce or child custody suit and you are concerned that your ex constantly leaves your child with strangers or a relative? Then the right of first refusal might be the answer to your concern. The questions then arise as to how it works and would it be best for your child.

If you or your ex are in possession of your child and you are going to be absent for a certain period of time, then you must first call the other parent before you can leave your child with another relative, babysitter, etc. This provision is a mutual agreement between the parties that if you or your ex are not going to be present after a certain number of hours (can range from 2, 4, 5, etc.) then you agree that the other parent can have possession of the child during your absence. As you can imagine, this provision has both negative and positive aspects.

For instance, you know that if your ex is going to be absent during their scheduled period of possession more than 3 hours then you have the first opportunity to take possession of the child during their absence. This allows for additional time with a parent who may have only a standard possession schedule which reinforces Texas’ public policy of frequent and continuing contact between both parents. After all, who would want a babysitter to watch their child if you know the other parent is available? Would you not want your child to have some extra time with the other parent? Maybe, maybe not. You definitely need to discuss the pros and cons with your attorney.

Are you married and your wife has been unfaithful and now she is pregnant?  Did your ex-girlfriend call you and tell you that she had a child and it is yours?  If you are not sure that you are the father, you absolutely need an attorney.

How this issue can arise and what the law says:

If you are filing for divorce for a series of reasons, namely the adultery and resulting pregnancy, you want to be sure that you are not adjudicated the father of this child.  Reason being, in Texas all children born during the marriage are assumed to be products of the marriage and therefore, you are the presumed father.  So, you will need to make sure that if you have any doubts that you plead for a paternity test.  If it comes back negative and you are not the father, you will want to ensure that you are not ordered to be the father of this child.  Many men fall into the trap of not being the father, but the order states otherwise and therefore they are on the hook for child support for a child that is not biologically theirs.

You have a final family order, whether it is an order in suit affecting the parent-child relationship, final decree of divorce, etc., and you would like it modified.  You are either the parent receiving child support and you want the amount increased or you are the parent paying child support and you want it decreased.  Or, there has been a change that would require the conservatorship or visitation modified.  It is not an uncommon question and the Texas Family Code does specify particular deadlines and requirements with respect to filing a modification.

For child support, Texas Family Code Section 156.401 states that final orders can be modified if either (a) there has been a material and substantial change in circumstances for a party or the child after the order was entered; or (b) it has been three years since the order was last entered or modified AND the monthly amount either differs by 20% or $100 from the amount that it should be under the child support guidelines.  So, it has been less than three years but something has happened that would require a change in child support then you can seek a modification.  For instance, did the parent paying child support get a new job after your orders were rendered and they are now making more money?  Or, did the obligor lose their job and they are no longer making any money?  Additional instances of material and substantial change in circumstances would also be (a) the obligor parent had another child that they are financially responsible for; (b) health insurance has changed (lost or new premiums); or (c) the children are now living with the obligor parent or another person.

That brings us to modifying orders as to conservatorship and/or possession or access.   If you are seeking to modify the parent who has the exclusive right to designate the primary residence of the child in less than one year from the orders being rendered, Texas Family Code Section 156.102 governs.  If you do so, you must attach an affidavit to your pleadings and the affidavit must allege specific facts that the child’s present environment may endanger the child’s physical health or significantly impair their emotional development.  Not only must these allegations be made, but you also have to prove this.  If you do not have this, you will have to wait more than one year to change who has the exclusive right to designate the child’s primary residence.  If you are modifying in more than a year, your burden is a material and substantial change in circumstances of a party or the child AND it must be in the best interest of the child.  In fact, best interest of the child is the ultimate burden in every family law case.

You have been divorced for a few years and your child comes home after a visit with their dad and reports “daddy has a new girlfriend.”  You start asking questions like the person’s name, what they look like, what they did, etc.  You find out the new girlfriend spent the entire visitation weekend there, including overnights.  You contact your ex to find out who this person is and if there is anything you should be concerned about.  However, your ex refuses to tell you and instead tells you to stay out of their life and that it is none of your business.

Whether or not you can modify your final orders to keep away the new paramour will depend upon a few factors.  For starters, a modification carries a burden of “material and significant change” in circumstances, the parties or child AND the modification must be in the best interest of the child.  In most cases, the judge will not keep the new paramour away from your child because they are not viewed as a danger to your child.  The key is going to be exactly why you are concerned with the new paramour.  If your case is one in which the new paramour absolutely should not be around your child then you will want a stay away order.  For instance, if the new paramour is a registered sex offender, introduced your ex to controlled substances, has an extensive criminal history some of which involves crimes against a child, or your child does not want to be around this person because they make them uncomfortable (there will need to be elaboration on this) or anything of that nature then you would want to consult with an attorney and seek a modification.

The important thing to know is that this paramour is not a party to your suit—therefore, in not being a party, they cannot be ordered to do anything and if they are it will not be enforceable.  Rather, if you are going to get orders having the paramour not be present, it is important to request an injunction from your ex allowing this person to be present or near your child.