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Temporary Orders – Where is my child?

Is it possible to request a change to a temporary custody order because a parent is leaving the child at an undisclosed location with an unknown person while he works?

In Texas both parents have a right to receive information about the health, education, and welfare of their children. They both have the right to be designated on their children’s records as a person to be notified in case of emergency – unless there is some reason for the court to take away those rights. (See, Emergency Guide to a Temporary Custody or Protective Order Hearing.)

New custody orders can be particularly frustrating for parents. Parents don’t necessarily understand all of their rights and duties. It’s probably more often than not that I find that a client is violating one or more aspects of their thirty-plus page order. A letter from your attorney explaining your rights to the other parent’s attorney and the consequences of violating them may be enough to fix the problem. This is also a good opportunity to do an orders audit to see if you are out of compliance yourself.

One helpful way to think of temporary orders is as an opportunity to try out a custody arrangement and fix whatever isn’t working in the final orders. You may want to start a list of issues you are having and just make sure your attorney addresses them in the final orders. It ought to be pretty simple to have the final orders require parents to exchange information about daycare providers.

Here are a few suggestions that might help your case to go more smoothly:

    • Make an outline of your Temporary Orders with bullet points for your rights, duties, exchange locations, etc.
    • Buy an appointment book and calendar the visitation schedule.
    • Write a note at the beginning and end of every visitation in your appointment book. Include at least:
      1. time of exchange,
      2. date of exchange, and
      3. any information exchanged (such as Junior has a runny nose).
    • Consider asking the judge to order the parents to enroll in one of the co-parenting web sites or apps available to help facilitate co-parent communications. A few I would suggest looking at are:
      1. Our Family Wizard
      2. Talking Parents
      3. App Close

Good luck!

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Victim Monsters

Victim Monsters

Belief Systems

Belief systems are powerful, and when shared by a population, they build civilizations up or burn them to the ground.

Before he died, a distant relative sat down with me and humbly told the story of how he gave his wife a black eye. He did this with all the boys in our extended family at a time when we were old enough to understand but young enough to shape our belief system. He wanted us to grow up with a deeply held belief that it is never okay to strike a woman.

Belief systems define who we are and are difficult to change. I could post a hundred scenarios where you think a woman deserved to be hit, but my subconscious completely rejects the input as absurd or rationalizes why it does not matter. Belief systems are powerful, and when shared by a population, they build civilizations up or burn them to the ground.

Bailif, club this man

A “Men’s Problem”?

Recently, I was at a domestic violence conference where a speaker asserted that “domestic violence is a men’s problem.” He went on to say something about not caring if it offended people, that it should offend people, and his belief was backed by statistics saying women are overwhelmingly the victims. In other words, that is his belief system, and he will rationalize why any contrary information does not matter. So, let me give you that contrary information, and then tell you why it does not matter

First, let me tell you a little bit about my experience with domestic violence. Not only have I seen it in my professional practice, but I’ve witnessed it with family and friends.

Case 1

Arnold and Ann have a child together. Both parents have drinking problems. When Ann gets drunk and upset, she throws things at Arnold. One day, Ann became especially angry and started throwing items at Arnold and punching his head and body while he was holding their baby. Arnold kicked Ann out, and she called the police and had Arnold arrested. Ann, it turns out, has done this with at least two other boyfriends. The truth was only revealed later when she attacked the wrong person.

Case 2

Previously, Ben was arrested for beating his wife, Betty. The attack was so severe that she required hospitalization. But he used the kids as leverage to get his wife to come back, and she never prosecuted him. One day when they were both drunk, they had an argument, and Betty locked Ben out of the bedroom and passed out. Ben decided to retaliate for his prior arrest by filing a false report that Betty pointed a gun at him. Police records showed multiple inconsistent statements on Ben’s part, including bizarre claims that Betty’s prior injuries were due to her own clumsiness. And yet, because Betty doesn’t remember anything, she is labeled a perpetrator and indicted for family violence assault with a deadly weapon. “She pointed a gun at me” almost always wins over “I don’t remember what happened.”

How do you tell who is the victim and who is the abuser? The victim is probably the one you don’t like. Think about it. Is it the popular kid being beaten up at school, or is it the popular one doing the beating? Abusers are masters at manipulating other people’s belief systems – not just their victims’. It is downright creepy hearing the support an abuser receives from family, friends, and fellow church members against the victim. I wish I could repeat some of the things they say.

Anecdotal versus Statistical Evidence

These examples may not matter to you because they are anecdotal evidence, which refers to evidence derived from individual stories and experiences. It is often dismissed as immaterial because it is considered less reliable than large scientific studies. This, however, is another belief system that you should challenge.

Your belief system may prevent you from considering this latter possibility and questioning the validity of your assumptions.

While statistical evidence is more reliable, it is only as reliable as what it measures. For example, if I go to the courthouse and count the number of men and women in suits, I should get a good indication of how many lawyers are there. Why do it that way? Because it is more efficient than asking everyone to show a bar card. It’s important to remember, though, I am not measuring lawyers, I am counting people in suits and assuming that is a good proxy. My assumption sounds reasonable, but it could be way off. Domestic abusers do not carry around domestic abuser cards. We can only count arrests, admissions, complaints, or some other proxy. Nobody can go back in time to see what really happened.

In my anecdotal experience, the number of male and female victims are about even, and the number of wrongful arrests and incorrect findings of domestic violence is frustratingly high. In the two examples above, a study counting arrests would find three female victims and one male victim. Case 1 revealed one female victim when it was actually one male victim. Case 2 showed one male victim when in reality the female was a victim twice. So, the study is flawed.

Maybe my anecdotal data is completely unreliable, and I am an outlier in the statistics. Or, it could be that studies matching my experiences better reflect reality. Your belief system may prevent you from considering this latter possibility and questioning the validity of your assumptions. See, for example, this story: “Women more likely to be perpetrators of abuse as well as victims“. University of Florida News (last visited October 30, 2017).

Being a Victim

At this point, it may help to talk about why victims return to their abusers. As I said before, abusers are masters at manipulating people’s belief systems. An idea that they instill in women is that if they leave, they will lose their children forever. For men, the notion is that if they leave, they will be arrested, ruining their lives and reputations. Thanks to the belief system that domestic violence is a men’s problem, this is sadly a very real risk.

If you are not willing to have your belief system challenged and instead want to silence or shut out contradicting information, then you are part of the problem.

How do men become victims in the first place? Like me, many men are instilled with the belief system that it is never okay to strike a woman. They live in fear that if they lift a finger in their own defense, they will be prosecuted. Women have fingernails, hands, feet, and whatever weapons are handy that are capable of inflicting damage and pain. Imagine you are that guy in school who was beaten up all the time. Now, you are being hit by your wife, and your self-esteem is entirely wrecked. If you call the police, you risk being arrested. If you leave, you also risk being arrested. In either case, do you really have any options?

Whose Problem is It?

The more important the problem is, the more ideas and perspectives are necessary to solve it.

So, how can we determine whether domestic violence is a men’s problem? In my opinion, that’s the wrong question. The question should be, “What use is a belief system that says domestic violence is a men’s problem?” All around us, there are victim monsters in pretty floral dresses with bright eyes smiling at you, and victim monsters wearing dashing suits giving you friendly handshakes and pats on the back. Does it matter if 4 or 40 percent of victims are men? The children in their homes see horrible treatment and abuse of their mothers or fathers. What belief systems are being wired permanently into their little brains? Let’s focus on that.

If you are not willing to have your belief system challenged and instead want to silence or shut out contradicting information, then you are part of the problem. You may see yourself dedicating your life to standing up for what you believe in, but you aren’t. The more important the problem is, the more ideas and perspectives are necessary to solve it. And yet, today we do the opposite

Listening is Better than Pontificating

Aren’t some things worth a broken ego? How about we don’t shut out ideas we don’t want to hear? Why not put the problem of domestic violence above our belief systems and listen? Are ideas that challenge our deeply held beliefs scarier than the monsters they might be creating?

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Child Custody Laws in Texas

Child Custody Rights in Texas:

2017 Updates

2017 has been another big year for updates to the Texas Family Code. The vast majority of the updates involve child welfare and CPS. The 2017 updates provide protections to parents who homeschool and for poor parents and parents with convictions for certain nonviolent offences. The updates also provide protections for parents who administer low-THC cannabis to their children according to a prescription, and there is a brand new chapter for Temporary Authorization for Care of a Minor Child. Now that parents and non-parent caregivers of children have new rights and protections, be sure to talk to a Family Law Attorney who can tell you how the law applies to you. Some of these laws may not be in effect yet.

There are a few dozen rights and duties of conservators of children specified in the family code. A conservatorship (child custody) order can allocate these rights any number of ways. This article will focus on five rights of parent conservators: Child support; possession and access; consent to treatment; making important decisions; and being informed about the child’s health and welfare. It is important to remember that no right or duty depends on any other. For example, if you are denied possession you still have to pay child support, and if you did not receive child support, you still cannot deny possession.

Summary

If you are a parent, you generally have a right to:

  • Have your children at certain times,
  • Receive information about how your children are doing,
  • Consult with the other parent about how to raise your children, and
  • Make decisions about how your children are raised; and
  • Depending on the orders you may have a right or duty to pay or receive child support.

The other parent cannot deny you any of these rights without a court order. If you feel like your custody rights are being denied by the other parent, call an attorney for a consultation. Your kids only grow up once.

Child Support

Child support is a major source of conflict when parents are separated. If you pay child support, think of it as paying taxes. When you pay taxes, the government takes money from you, you have no say in how it is spent, and it will be spent stupidly if for no other reason than to annoy you – just like child support. If you value your sanity, you will not look into any detail on how your tax dollars are spent, neither should you you pay attention to how your child support money is spent. Cover your ears, close your eyes, and sing a happy song to yourself if you have to, without a change in conservatorship, there is not much you can do about how that money is spent.

What if I can’t pay your child support? First of all, not paying your child support can cause you a lot of problems, but seeing your kids is not one of them. Make sure you do what you need to do to enforce your visitation above all. If your ex says you cannot see your kids until you pay up, go to pick them up anyway; but document, don’t argue. You can come back later to try and get the time you missed through an enforcement.

Second, don’t just skip payments. If your circumstances have materially and substantially changed — you have had other children, you have gone on active duty, you were injured, etc., then your support order can be modified. If you have lost your job, it is going to be harder to get a reduction but it may be worth a try. The important thing is to do everything you can to support your child and to be able to show that you have been doing everything you can to support your child.

Child Support CYA Checklist

_ Open a rainy day account and deposit 25% of your child support payment amount every month for the first year, 15% the second, and 10% after that until you have a year’s worth of payments saved up.

_Be polite to your Ex. It’s good for your kids, and your blood pressure.

_ Save your performance reviews.

_Review and update your résumé every six months.

_If you lose your job, get a haircut and start mailing your résumé that day. Keep a diary of everything you are doing to find another job. Imagine what someone could criticize you for not doing enough in your search. Immediately seek a child support reduction.

 

What if I am not getting my child support, or it is consistently late? In that case you have a couple of options: the Attorney General’s Office or a private attorney. A private attorney is going to represent you, while the Attorney General’s Office represents the State of Texas. If your ex has money and you can come up with an initial retainer, then a private attorney is probably your best bet. A private attorney can move fairly quickly according to your direction and should be able to collect attorney fees from your ex. Attorney fees earned to collect child support can usually be enforced with jail just like child support.

If you have an ex that habitually and intentionally avoids paying child support and goes into hiding every time he gets out of jail, then you will probably be better off letting the Attorney General enforce it; otherwise, you might end up out the attorney fees as well as the child support owed.

Possession and Access

You have a right to possession of your kids if it is in the order. You have a right to see them on the dates and times indicated in your order. So why does it get complicated? Sometimes it is innocent – the kids have some activities they want to do; sometimes it is not – the other parent schedules the kids for something during your time. Sometimes a parent has the child call to ask the other parent for permission to attend an activity instead of visitation. These are tricky situations to deal with and you should discuss them with an attorney or family counselor to get specific advice, but, generally, schedule makeup time in writing or go to court and enforce the order. Judges have seen the games parents play in these situations so try to be calm and smart and do all of the right things.

Making Important Decisions

These decisions could be allocated differently in your order so it is best to check or seek legal advice. In general, both possessory and managing conservators can usually make their own decisions concerning moral and religious training, non-invasive or emergency medical treatment, decisions about education health and welfare, and how to discipline the child. Often there are strong disagreements about how the other parent makes these decisions, but unless it is having a significant impact on the child’s health and welfare, you may need to learn to live with it.

Information About Your Child’s Health and Welfare

If the other parent is not keeping you informed about your children’s health and welfare, go to their doctor’s office and get a copy of their complete medical records. If the other parent won’t tell you who the children’s doctor is, then file an enforcement if you are entitled to medical information in your order. Hiding information about children’s health is a big red flag. Maybe it is being done out of spite, but often information is withheld because someone has something to hide. Parents can see things that absolutely shock them when they look at a full set of medical records for the first time.

Many schools have student records online and you should certainly look at those, but it doesn’t hurt to get first-hand information from students and counselors. Being the possessory conservator does not make you a second-class parent. Even if communication with your ex is good, a different set of ears listening to school officials can be helpful, and your order should say that you have a right to consult with school officials.

Conclusion

Parents don’t lose the right to participate in raising their children when they break up or get a divorce. These rights can be enforced. If you feel like your custody rights are being denied by the other parent, call an attorney for a consultation. Your kids only grow up once, and they have a right to your support and guidance.

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