How to Change a Texas Court Order for Child Access

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Texas Family Courts are responsible for determining child access rules and requirements.
Texas Family Courts are responsible for determining child access rules and requirements.

It’s common knowledge that going through a divorce is both emotionally draining and logistically complex. To go through the process is to make a series of difficult compromises, or to leave your fate in the hands of a judge whose interests may not be aligned with yours.

While the financial complexity of divorce is widely known, many will tell you that the hardest part of the process is determining the custodial and timeshare arrangement with their children. In particular, child access time is often a major source of contention.

At Sean Lynch, our experienced family law attorneys have observed that child access negotiations can get very heated. We’ve seen individuals jockey for more care and possession time with their children and deprioritize what’s in the child’s best interest. We’ve even seen some disgruntled spouses attempt to use their children as bargaining chips in custody order negotiations.

While only one parent can be recognized as the custodial parent for purposes of a child’s primary residence, hiring an experienced Tarrant County family law attorney to handle child access negotiations on your behalf will help ensure that your interests and rights are represented in the final agreement.

Difference Between Child Access and Conservatorship

In Texas, the legal term for custody is “conservatorship.” Instead of being referred to as a custodian, the parent with court-ordered custody of a child is called a “conservator.” In Texas, there are 3 types of conservatorships:

  • Joint Managing Conservatorship: Both parties share decision making about most issues.
  • Sole Managing Conservatorship: One party has the exclusive right to make most decisions about the child.
  • Possessory Conservatorship: The party that is not the Sole Managing Conservator.

While conservatorship determines the child’s primary residence, it doesn’t specify how much time the child spends with each parent. This important framework is determined separately in a child possession schedule.

In most cases, both parties try to reach an agreement on this important issue through mediation. If they’re unable to strike a deal, they can petition the court to make the schedule on their behalf.

It’s worth noting while children must be 18 to determine which parent they live with, Texas does allow children who are at least 12 years old to have a say in terms of where they live and who they spend time with.

Difference Between Child Custody and Child Visitation

In divorces, child custody and child visitation must both be determined. While child custody and child visitation both relate to the parent-child relationship, there are significant differences between them from a legal standpoint.

Child custody, known in Texas as conservatorship, refers primarily to which parent the child lives with. The child custody arrangement also defines how much say each parent has when it comes to major decisions, such as the child’s education and healthcare treatments.

Child visitation refers to how much time each parent spends with the child. This will be determined separately by a child care and possession schedule agreed to by the parties, or if necessary, by the judge who oversees the proceedings.

What Is a Child Visitation Schedule?

A child visitation schedule outlines how much time each parent is able to spend with their child. Establishing this schedule is especially important for the noncustodial parent, or the parent with whom the child does not primarily live.

Given the high cost and unpredictable nature of the courtroom, it’s always better if the parties can reach an agreement outside the courtroom. But when that’s not possible you can ask the court to determine the possession and access schedule via court order.

Either way, it’s essential to hire a Tarrant County child access lawyer who can help you navigate your case. We have your best interest at heart and will make sure your parental rights are protected and respected.

Standard Possession Order

Instead of customizing an access schedule that suits the specific needs of each parent, the court typically issues a standard possession order (SPO). This is a templated framework that gives each party what the state of Texas deems is a reasonable amount of possession and access time.

Under a standard possession order — which may vary based on the child’s age and the parents’ proximity to each other — the noncustodial parent will see their child on the following days. The rest of the time, the child will be with the custodial parent.

Parents separated by less than 100 miles 

  • Thursday evenings during the school year (from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.)
  • The noncustodial parent can choose to have one weekend of possession per month instead of standard weekend visits (if notice is given 14 days in advance).
  • 1st weekend of the month (from 6 p.m. Friday to 6 p.m. Sunday)
  • Spring break every year
  • 3rd weekend of the month (from 6 p.m. Friday to 6 p.m. Sunday)
  • June 15 to July 27 every summer (different days can be scheduled by April 1)
  • 5th weekend of the month (from 6 p.m. Friday to 6 p.m. Sunday)

If the child is younger than 3 years old, the judge may award a more carefully structured access schedule, which more acutely considers the child’s best interests. To that end, here are a few factors a judge in Texas may consider:

  • Whether the parent has a history of caring for small children
  • The child’s separation anxiety from one parent
  • The child’s physical health
  • The child’s behavioral, medical, and developmental needs
  • The child’s emotional development
  • The distance between the spouses
  • Others who live with the parents, including siblings
  • And more

Modifying a Child Access Order

In Texas, the law recognizes that circumstances change over time and the rigidity of court orders can create complications for the average Texas family. For this reason, court orders are not written in stone.

Either parent can file a motion to modify an existing order for child visitation, as well as child custody and other divorce-related issues, at any time. The court may consider a suit to modify the parent child arrangement if both parents agree to the change, or if the petitioning parent has experienced a material and substantial change in circumstances.

Depending on whether both parents agree to the changes to the existing order, the modification process can either be simple or complex. The complexity of your case can also be eased by hiring an experienced family law attorney like Sean Lynch.

If Both Parties Agree

If each party agrees to the modification order, the process is typically quick and painless. All your child access lawyer will need to do is submit to the court a proposed order highlighting the changes. The judge will then review the modification case and likely approve it.

What Happens If Both Parties Do Not Agree

If the parties do NOT agree to the proposed modification, gaining approval becomes more challenging. The burden will be for the petitioning party to prove there has been a “material and substantial change in circumstances” in their life that warrants them spending more time with their child. Qualifying life changes may include:

  • Employment situation changes
  • Your ability to financially support the child changes
  • Changes to your health and wellness

Another path is to argue that your child’s emotional or physical well-being is in danger, either due to abuse or neglect, and that your child would be safer spending more time with you.

No matter the circumstances of your modification request, it’s critically important to have an experienced Tarrant County family lawyer who can guide you through the process. Our Texas law firm has a wealth of experience helping individuals modify their current order, and we can do the same for you in your case.

Even if you have a great argument for getting your court order modified, you should never take the results you want for granted. Judges take all modification petitions very seriously, especially when the outcome may not be in the child’s best interest.

Obtaining legal help from an experienced family law attorney will give you the best opportunity to achieve the outcome you desire.

How Can I Change My Child Access Court Order

Under Texas law, you can adjust an existing order by filing a petition to modify in the court that granted the divorce, unless the child has moved. Sean Lynch has helped countless clients research and amend their existing agreements. Our process looks like this:

Case Review and Research

We review your change in circumstances and research whether your request has merit

Legal Pleading

If it does, we send a petition to the court

Courtroom Argument

We argue our case before the court

Court Decision Published

The court determines whether changes to the current order is warranted

Can Visitation Be Ordered If One Parent Poses a Threat

If one parent has a history of misconduct, such as physical or emotional abuse, the judge may still allow him or her to visit with the child under supervision. This will typically be the case if the judge believes it’s necessary for the child’s safety and well-being. It can also be something that the custodial parent requests with reason.

Child Access Rights for Unmarried Fathers

All biological fathers have the right to seek child access, even if they were not married to the child’s mother at the time of birth. If the mother is not allowing the father to spend time with the child, the father can petition for visitation rights.

In Texas, courts rule in the best interest of the child. In many cases, what’s best for the child is to spend time with both mother and father. Even still, securing child visitation rights is not guaranteed. When reviewing your case, the judge will consider many factors, including your criminal background and any history you have with the child.

Child Custody Modifications

Getting a child custody modification is similar to the process of modifying an existing child access order. It ultimately comes down to whether there has been a “material and substantial change in circumstances” that warrant an alteration to the current order. You will need to file a petition with the court to initiate the process.

Given the magnitude of the change, custody orders may prove difficult to modify, but the Fort Worth family lawyers at Sean Lynch are here to provide legal advice and give you the best chance to win your modification case.

How Child Access Impact Child Support

Many wonder if modifying the child possession schedule may impact their child support requirements. The short answer is: no. Increasing or decreasing the amount of time you spend with your child will not affect the amount you owe (or receive) in child support.

Either parent can separately petition for changes to the child support order if changes to the payer’s financial situation warrant a modification.

Other Court Order Modifications

Whether it’s related to child custody, child support, or spousal maintenance, the court may update any order if the change in circumstances rises to the standard of material and substantial. To reasonably ask the court for a change, your modification order must meet at least one of the following criteria.

Type of court order

What you’ll need to prove

Child support
  • There has been a significant and permanent change to income or living expenses.
  • The child in question requires new and extraordinary medical support, and the custodial parent requires additional income.
Spousal maintenance
  • There has been a significant and permanent change to income or living expenses.
  • The spouse in question requires new and extraordinary medical support.
Visitation schedule
  • Your new circumstances (improved living arrangement, improved emotional well-being, etc.) would warrant you spending more time with your child.
  • Your child’s emotional or physical well-being is in danger, and he or she would be safer spending more time with you.
Asset division
  • You can prove the original arrangement was influenced by fraudulent information (failure by an ex-spouse to disclose assets) or mistakes in the proceedings.

Contact Our Top Fort Worth Family Attorneys

The award-winning lawyers at Sean Lynch, PLLC, are pleased to offer some of the most affordable and effective legal advice and services in Fort Worth and Arlington. Unlike other family law attorneys, we are up-front about our pricing, so you know exactly what you’ll pay in your modification case. And we ALWAYS have your best interest at heart.

Our top Texas law firm is ready to help you modify your court order so you can spend more time with your child. If you need help or would like legal assistance, we are here for you.

Contact our family law practice today to schedule a no-cost consultation with a top-rated attorney in Fort Worth.

Parent Rights After Divorce

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Father dancing with his daughter in the living room.
You might be a non-custodial parent, but you still have a right to spend time with your child.

Even if you weren’t granted custody by a judge, you still have the right to spend time with your children as part of parental rights after divorce. However, the circumstances of that arrangement can vary wildly from case to case. The courts want what’s in your child’s best interest. If you, as a non-custodial parent, do anything that could jeopardize your child’s safety or well-being, or you fail to show up on time and as scheduled, the courts have an obligation to protect your children. In certain cases, the court may order supervised visits or take other protective measures.

If a non-custodial parent is having his children stay the night, you should prepare your home ahead of time. Be sure to have your child’s favorite toys, foods, and games available. You should also make sure the children have places to sleep and privacy. 

Put Your Arrangements In Writing

It’s often in the best interest of everyone involved to put down your arrangements in writing. This will allow all parties to be clear on what to expect. In a perfect world, parents will work to resolve any issues that may arise. If you can’t solve your problems amicably, you should seek the advice of a family attorney. An attorney may also be helpful if a parent wants to file for a change to a current child custody order.

Parents who are interested in expanded custody or visitation rights could ask a judge to modify an existing child custody order. A parent may also be able to ask a judge to put an end to supervised or limited visitation rights after completing a treatment program or complying with other court orders. Legal counsel can help a client retain consistent access to their children, whether in person or through digital tools.

Your Parental Rights After Divorce

Before a divorce, both parents have equal rights to make decisions about their children. These decisions can relate to where the children will live or go to school. This usually does not change after divorce. Parents may no longer live together. However, the law typically provides both parents with equal legal rights to be actively involved in their children’s lives.

Knowing the implications of legal and physical child custody and visitation is important to understand your rights as a parent after divorce.

Legal Custody

Not having child custody does not mean you will not be involved in the lives of your children. Custody can refer to legal custody or physical custody.

Legal custody means that you have the legal rights to be involved in decisions about your child such as where they will go to school and their medical care. Both you and your ex must agree on arrangements for care and access to the child. You still have parental responsibilities for your children and the right to be updated about your children’s activities.

Sole legal custody means that only one parent can make important decisions about the child. Joint legal custody means both parents are involved. Most often, the courts will award joint legal custody. This is because it is typically considered to be in the best interests of the child to have both parents involved in their lives.

However, the other parent may be found to be unfit to be involved in significant decisions regarding the child. This could possibly be due to substance abuse and addiction or poor mental health. In these cases, the court may give sole legal custody to one parent after a divorce.

Physical Custody

Physical custody of the child determines where they live and reside. In sole physical custody, the child will primarily reside with one parent, while the other parent has legal rights to visitation. The court may sometimes award joint physical custody after divorce where the child lives with each parent in turn. This could be a few days each week or half the year with each of the parents.

Sole Physical Custody

Sole physical custody means that the children stay with the custodial parent permanently. The noncustodial parent will get regular visitation rights. Children do not have to pack their bags or move houses regularly. This can add stability to their school routine and relationships with friends and neighbors.

However, sole custody can have a negative impact on the noncustodial parent’s relationship with the child. The noncustodial parent may not feel as involved in their child’s life because they don’t see them often. It can also be harder to bond and form a meaningful relationship with less contact.

The child may also express their wish to change the custodial parent as their needs may change as they age.

Joint Physical Custody

Joint physical custody can often allow the child to foster a strong relationship with either of the parents. This is because they will see each other more often and maintain contact. The court can impose a schedule for how the parents will share parenting time with their children if parents cannot come to an agreement. The time that the child spends with the father or mother does not have to be an equal split. Parents can agree to have the children stay with them on alternate months, weeks, or holidays.

Joint custody can often be a good option for children if the father and mother are on amicable terms even if they don’t like each other. However, the child may find themselves caught between both parents if the divorce was full of conflict.

It may also not be practical to have joint custody if the father and mother live far apart. If either of you has plans to move away, custody arrangements may also change. A divorce lawyer can help to advise you on your options for custody and rights as a parent after a divorce.

Visitation

The court awards visitation when one parent has sole physical custody. This allows the noncustodial parent to have parenting time with the child to maintain their relationship. You and your ex can come to an agreement and decide on the appropriate visitation schedule. The schedule must be in the child’s best interests.

Standard possession schedules in Texas law also set out guidelines for the child to spend time with noncustodial parents. The schedule states that noncustodial parents have possession and access every alternate weekend, spring vacations in alternate years, and extended time during summer holidays. However, if parents can decide and agree on a schedule, the court will typically include it in the divorce decree.

Both the mother and father must follow the visitation schedule defined in the court order. If the parent with custody refuses to let the other parent see the children, or the noncustodial parent takes the children away without the agreement of the parent, the offending parent can be found in contempt in a family law court. There are exceptions to this when the parent has reason to believe that the child will be harmed or the children do not want to visit the other parent.

It’s important to get legal advice from a family law attorney if you’re facing an issue with the other parent interfering with your visitation rights.

Parental Rights Of Stepparents After A Divorce

A stepparent can develop a close relationship with their stepchildren with deep emotional ties. This often happens if the stepparent came in when the child was at a young age. However, as a stepparent, they can lose the legal rights to see their former stepchildren if they get divorced. The court will view them as a third party who is not a parent. This can result in contact being cut off.

Options For Stepparents

Stepparents have a few alternatives to resolve this issue. You can adopt your ex’s child before the divorce. This enables you to get all the legal rights that a biological parent normally enjoys. This can only happen if the other biological parent who is not active in the child’s life gives up their legal rights to the child. If the parent refuses to give up their rights, you can ask the court to terminate their rights. However, you must prove that the parent is not active in the child’s life, did not take care of the child, or is a bad influence. You may need to engage a divorce attorney for legal advice.

The second option is to seek legal custody. This may be an option if you can prove that you have a very close relationship with the child and are capable of their care. You could even get primary custody.

The third option for stepparents is to seek visitation rights. You may need to provide help for child care or pay child support as you will also have parental responsibilities. Many stepparents may go for this option.

Ultimately, judges will consider the child’s best interests. In many cases, cutting off contact between stepparents and children can have an emotional toll on the children. Finding out your rights as a stepparent after divorce can mean the difference between maintaining contact and having equal parenting time with the children, and losing your relationship with them. You do not have to give up custody of your stepchild after divorce if you feel that it is not in their best interests. Talk to experienced attorneys to find out your options and decide on the best course of action.

Child Support Rights

Under the divorce order, the court may order one parent to pay child support to the other. The state of Texas has guidelines on the maximum amount of child support that you or your ex are required to pay. However, judges consider a number of factors to determine the appropriate amount of support. Income is one of the most significant factors that determine child support.

You have the right to file an enforcement motion if your ex does not pay you the required child support amount on time.

What Rights Does A Divorced Father Have?

A father has equal parenting rights after divorce including rights to legal and physical custody of their children. In Texas law, the parent’s gender cannot be considered by the court when deciding who to award custody of the child to after a divorce. Judges will not start from the presumption that the mother will be more likely to provide better care for the child.

The Texas Family Code also states that divorce courts mainly have an interest in ensuring that the child continues a relationship with both the father and mother as that is usually in the child’s best interests.

A father may also be entitled to child support after divorce if he has sole physical custody, although the courts will consider other factors.

Enforcing Parental Rights

In some cases, you may have to engage attorneys to enforce your parenting rights after divorce in state courts. This can happen if your ex denies you these parental rights or does not comply with the terms of the divorce order.

If your ex is consistently late for child exchanges or plans activities with the children during your parenting time, you have to show evidence of their actions and that you attempted to keep up your side of the agreement like being at the appointed place at the appointed time. You can request a lawyer to file a motion to enforce on your behalf. Your ex will have to appear in court with your child and you can fight for equal parenting time.

If your ex threatens you and stops you from visiting the child during your parenting time, gather evidence. You can use it to have the court enforce your rights. You can also call the police to report the violation of your rights. While police officers can be reluctant to take action in what they see as a civil matter, you can use the police reports as evidence in court.

Your lawyer can also ask for an injunction if your ex is taking the child away and moving to another city or state without the approval of the court. If you want to modify the divorce decree, your lawyer can also help you to have these legal modifications approved especially if the father or mother is depriving you of your parenting time.

Contact Us For A No-Cost Case Review

In many divorces, children can be one of the most contentious issues. If you need help understanding and defending your parental rights, engage the services of the award-winning Family Law attorneys at Sean Lynch to help you prepare your legal case. We have decades of experience in family law and can protect your parenting rights after divorce.

Contact us today for a no-cost case review.

How to Make Your Child Custody Exchange Easy

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Father hugging his daughter before leaving while the mother watches.
There are a number of ways to make the exchange easier on both the parents and the children.

In the early stages of a divorce, exchanging custody of your children might feel like part of a hostage negotiation. The first few times you pass your children to the other parent to spend time with them can feel unnatural and painful. However, with the right steps, you can have an easy child custody exchange.

Shuffling your children around doesn’t have to feel like or be an unpleasant chore. Having a plan and sticking to the arrangements can keep things civil even if you never want to speak to your ex again. Just follow these tips to help you avoid conflict, make sure your children are safe and comfortable, and make custody exchanges easier.

Maintain A Routine

Agree on a fixed time and place for custody exchanges that comply with the parenting schedule. Set rules on how parents will transport the children. This will minimize any potential for surprises that can lead to tension, especially it comes to parenting time.

Help Kids To Understand Their Schedule

Parents aren’t the only subjects of focus here. Kids need to be comfortable with the parenting schedule too. Make sure your child has a copy of their schedule and keep them updated about any changes to the days or schedules. You can use colors and stickers to mark changeover days for your younger children. Update the days on electronic calendars for older kids who may prefer to have reminders on their phones.

Communicate With The Other Parent

If you are going to be late, or you need to change the time and place of the custody change, it’s important to let the other parent know of the change in plan immediately. If you consistently fail to show up on time or do not comply with the visitation schedule, your ex can file a Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus in the family law court and get you to appear in court with your child.

Limit Your Conversation

You may have to talk to your ex to work out changes to schedules and exchanges, but talking to them may trigger a conflict that is stressful for your child every time you meet. The best way is to limit face time and contact. Use text messages and emails. Avoid talking about any other topics and stick to those related to parenting your child.

One way to avoid having to see them entirely is to plan to have one parent drops the child off at school or extracurriculars in the morning while the other parent picks up the child at the end of the day, provided that the schedules of both parents and the child fit.

Your children can still have a good relationship with both parents even if parents don’t see each other.

Don’t Make Kids Pack Their Bags

If your child always has to pack and unpack when moving between the two houses, they may not feel settled in either house and feel excluded from the rest of the family. If your child looks unhappy during exchanges, that can escalate the tension between two parents. Put your child’s interests first. You can consider providing them enough essentials at both homes if possible. Work towards making them comfortable in either home.

Meet In Public

Meeting out in the open minimizes the risk of an altercation. Just being in public activates certain decorum in adults in many cases. A public place is also a neutral location where neither parent has an advantage. You can choose your child’s daycare or school, a park, a shopping mall, or even a police station.

If you do have to drop the kids off at one parent’s home, make sure the other parent is home at the agreed time and that your kids can enter the house.

Bring A Friend

Bringing a friend or loved one along for the exchange can also ease tensions. If your relationship and divorce were volatile and difficult, the presence of another person can often create a feeling of formality that will lower the overall anxiety level of the situation.

Arrive Early

For example, if your schedule says to exchange custody at noon, arrive at the exchange location a few minutes early. The extra time will allow you to get your bearing and ease your nerves. This has the added bonus of helping your children transition more easily, too.

If you’re consistently late, that can lead to more conflict during exchanges which is not the best situation.

Don’t Pick A Fight

If you want to argue with your ex-spouse when exchanging custody, you won’t have to look far to find a reason. Rather than do this, keep your cool, remain positive, and stick to the basics when conversing.

You might be anxious or sad seeing the other parent or your child going to the other parent’s home to spend time with them. However, picking a fight with the other parent can stress your child out and is not in their best interests. Your kids may already find it difficult to bid goodbye to one parent.

These child custody exchange tips will put your mind at ease. These ways can reduce conflict and tension with your ex as well. If your ex takes a similar approach, you’ll find it much less stressful during these exchanges.

In the event that your ex continually violates your visitation orders, explain your concerns to them, and learn more about your legal rights provided by Texas law. You may be in a position to request a legal modification to the parenting schedule from the court. Our family law experts at Sean Lynch with decades of experience can help. If you have any questions, contact us for a no-cost case review.