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What do I do when I show up to pick up my child from the mother for my visitation and my child isn’t there?

What do I do when I show up to pick up my child from the mother for my visitation and my child isn’t there?

Don’t get emotional.

First, there is no need to get emotional. Missing a scheduled visitation can be very frustrating, especially given the inconvenience of travelling to the pickup location and waiting. Set aside your need to react emotionally and focus on what you need to do. Use a visitation procedure or checklist ahead of time so you don’t even have to think about anything. Follow your procedure every time whether something goes wrong or not.

Remember, possession schedules can be confusing! She could be mistaken about who is supposed to have the child or you could have misread something that was written in a confusing way. Sometimes an order on one page changes something in the possession schedule five pages away.

Ask if you are not sure.

Some of my old clients call me with questions about what they are supposed to do and I always try to take those calls because I don’t want them getting into trouble either. Don’t feel bad if you make a mistake, and try to be understanding when the other parent does. That doesn’t mean give up your time, you should still ask for make-up time if you are sure you are right.

Have a plan.

Visitation Checklist:

  •  Control your emotions.
  •  Keep a visitation diary.
  •  Have a copy of your order with you.
  •  Write down the exact time you arrived to pick up your children and how long you waited.
  •  If the child isn’t there or no one answers your knock, take a picture at the exchange time.
  •  Wait at least 20 minutes.
  •  While you are waiting, try to solve your problem and re-read your order to make sure it is your time.
  •  If you don’t get visitation, try to reschedule.

You should always keep a visitation diary. It should be a separate calendar, notebook, or planning book that is only used to document visitation. When you arrive at the location designated for the exchange at the designated time, write down the exact time you arrived and how long you waited. See this Sample Visitation Procedure.

Always go to the location for the exchange to pick up your children, even if the other parent tells you that you won’t be getting visitation unless you agreed to reschedule. If your child is not there, take a selfie at the time the exchange is ordered and wait at least twenty minutes. During that time you can attempt to call or text the mother to find out what is going on. You should also re-read your order to make sure it really is your time. Make a note in your diary of what you did to solve the problem. Make sure your photo is backed up to the cloud with the embedded time and location data.

Reschedule.

If you do not get your scheduled visitation, try to ascertain why in writing either through text or email messages depending on how you normally communicate. Script your communications ahead of time as much as possible so that you don’t have to think about it and you don’t put emotions into your messages that could get you into trouble. You should also attempt to schedule an extra visitation period to make up for the time that you missed. Again, note in your diary what you did to try and solve the problem.

Whether or not you should attempt legal action against the mother after missing a single visit depends on the specific facts of your case, the evidence you have, the jurisdiction where you live, and your specific judge. Only a local attorney can properly advise you of your options. See Child Custody Enforcement Mistakes.

Good luck!

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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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Jail for Overpaying Child Support?

Jail for Overpaying Child Support?

In this post I will explain why a Houston man really went to jail for failing to obey possession and child support orders and what it means to you.

News stories are often a source of misinformation. Misinformation from news sources can feed our perceptions of unfairness. Our perceptions of unfairness can get us into trouble. It is not that journalists want to deceive you, but sometimes we all hear the story we want to hear and get stuck in a cycle of confirmation bias. Confirmation bias is the tendency to disregard evidence that contradicts truths we firmly believe or want to believe.

Watch the video below from Fox News Houston. It purports to tell the tale of a father sent to jail for the crimes of paying too much child support and visiting his son too much.

Confirmation bias is the tendency to disregard evidence that contradicts truths we firmly believe or want to believe.

No, You Won’t Be Thrown in Jail for Paying Too Much Child Support.

It is an error for you to be jailed for overpaying child support. Fox News Houston left out that the father owed $2,743.09 in back child support arrears when the mother filed her enforcement. While the case was reset at least once and the father did make his child support current, that was not enough to correct the contempt.

As of June 14, 2013 you can no longer avoid jail simply by showing your child support is up to date at the enforcement hearing.1 The original hearing was set for June 10, 2013, before the repeal went into effect; however, it was reset by agreement to give the father time to pay. Unfortunately, the father had erroneously believed he was up to date before the June 10 hearing and needed time to make one more payment. By the time of the new hearing, the repealed law could no longer help him escape jail.

As of June 14, 2013 you can no longer avoid jail simply by showing your child support is up to date at the enforcement hearing.

The father also tried to argue that the missing child support was the fault of his employer. He claimed that an employee incorrectly entered the withholding amounts from his paycheck. The problem with that argument is that you, not your employer, are responsible for ensuring child support is paid correctly. Your order probably even says this. You do not get to enjoy the benefits of your employer’s mistakes at the expense of your children.

In fairness to Fox News Houston, Snopes also got this story wrong. The Houston Court of Appeals did overturn one violation where the trial court found the father guilty of paying too much child support.2 Unfortunately for the father, the appeals court was able to overturn only this part of the order and leave the remaining violations and the father’s sentence intact.

Yes, You Can be Jailed for Visiting Your Children Too Much.

Visiting your child too much is probably a violation of your order. It is another way of saying you have your child when the other parent has the right of possession. A court ordered parenting plan is written to give children fair access to both parents. Either parent deciding that he should have more time with the children without the other’s permission is deciding that the Court was wrong. Judge’s don’t like that. They also don’t like it if you disrespect the Court by disobeying the Court’s order. If one parent can prove beyond a reasonable doubt the other is visiting his children against orders without permission, a Judge can and often will put him in jail.

How Stories Like this Hurt You.

In my previous post, “When Cultures Clash”, I explain a little bit about cognitive dissonance and confirmation bias in the context of mixed-culture divorce and remarriage. Briefly, our cultures largely define our belief systems. When someone acts outside of our belief system we often see that as bad. Once we define a person as bad, we start to discount everything positive we hear about them and emphasize the negative. Because of this confirmation bias feedback loop, the bad person keeps looking worse and worse in our minds until he becomes the worst thing since Prince Humperdinck.

DILBERT © 2017 Scott Adams. Used By permission of ANDREWS MCMEEL SYNDICATION. All rights reserved.

There is already a perception that fathers do not get a fair shake in courts overall. The thing to remember is that no matter how true this might be, it says absolutely nothing about your individual case. At least in Texas, the law is that mothers and fathers are treated equally. There is a standard parenting plan. There are guidelines for child support. There is a presumption against spousal support. Texas’ public policy is to maximize the time children spend with both parents, and judges generally follow the law.

A bad attitude feedback loop can adversely affect how the Court rules for you, but it probably won’t!

If you go to court believing stories like this, and believing you are not going to get a fair hearing, you won’t–at least not in your mind. You will already be emotional because of whatever brought you into court. Because of confirmation bias, every ruling against you is going to feel unfair. The Judge will see your attitude and probably won’t like it. The judge’s attitude might show through, further feeding into your confirmation bias. A bad attitude feedback loop can adversely affect how the Court rules for you, but it probably won’t! Once you ratchet up that attitude, though, it is going to be harder to follow the final orders.

What Should I do?

Always go into Court in professional attire with a professional attitude. Maintain that professional attitude no matter what. Pre-trial, you are auditioning for the trial court. In trial, you are auditioning for the appeals court. Expect the Judge to be fair. A judge can be fair but wrong. Sometimes the judge is wrong because of a mistake that can be appealed, but most of the time it is because your evidence did not support the “correct” ruling. However, because of cognitive dissonance, the losing parent often rationalizes the judge’s decision by believing he is corrupt or has a bias against one sex. This is usually counter-productive.

A judge can be fair but wrong. Sometimes the judge is wrong because of a mistake that can be appealed, but most of the time it is because your evidence did not support the “correct” ruling.

If you are ordered to appear for an enforcement, get an attorney. The judge should give you the option to reset so you can find one at the first hearing but don’t count on it. Get an attorney even if you think you can work out an agreement with the other side. Once you are in front of a judge and facing large fines and a jail sentence, the other side has a huge amount of leverage to get a very unfavorable settlement from you.


1See Act of May 23,2007, 80th Leg., R.S., ch. 1189, § 1, 2007 Tex. Gen. Laws 4054, 4054, repealed by Act of May 22, 2013, 83d Leg., R.S., ch. 649, § 2, 2013 Tex. Sess. Law Serv. 1735, 1735 (West) (effective date June 14, 2013)

2In re Hall, 433 S.W.3d 203, 208, 2014 Tex. App. LEXIS 5704, *8, 2014 WL 2420972

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Texas Sanctuary City Law Changes

Texas New Sanctuary City Law.

Unfortunatly, there is a lot of bad information floating around about the new Texas sanctuary city law. It is unfortunate because when politicians and advocacy groups dispense misinformation about immigration law to scare people, they actually empower abusers who commit family and sexual violence. That is because abusers can control their victims by giving them false information about what will happen to them if they report.

This post tries to dispell some of the worst of the fake news.

Does the new law grant police officers the right to stop and ask for “papers”?

No. The new law does not grant police officers any new powers to ask for identification. The law prohibits officers from asking victims or witnesses of crimes about their immigration status with a few exceptions.

  1. The law does not prohibit police officers from asking about your immigration status if it is relevant to the crime. For example, an officer may ask the nationality of a victim of human trafficking.
  2. The law does not prohibit police officers from talking to you about your immigration status if cooperating with the police could help you. For example, cooperation could make you eligible to obtain certain federal visas.
  3. The law does not prohibit officers from asking about your immigration status if he has probable cause that you also committed a criminal offense.

If any other law or local policy prohibits officers from talking to you about your immigration status, that will not change. In other words, the law adds prohibitions, it does not take any away or grant police officers any new rights.

The law prohibits officers from asking victims or witnesses of crimes about their immigration status with a few exceptions.

Does the new law make government officers comply with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)?

Yes. The new law requires government officers to comply with Immigratios and Customs Enforcement (ICE). This includes prohibiting agencies from enacting policies designed to thwart ICE officers from performing their duties. For example, an agency cannot have a policy to deny entry of immigration officers into jails. The new law also requires government officers to honor detainer requests unless the person detained has proof of citizenship – such as a Texas driver’s license.

Does the new law allow local governments to inform me of my rights as an immigrant?

Yes. The new law specifically authorizes agencies to have written community outreach policies. These policies can, among other things, inform immigrants that a police officer is not allowed to ask them about their immigration status when they are victims or witnesses of crimes. Specifically, the statute requires community outreach policies to include outreach to domestic violence and sexual violence victims. This is important because victims of domestic and sexual violence are often misled by perpetrators into believing they will be deported if they report their abusers.

What should I do?

You should contact an immigration attorney to determine whether you are eligible to change your status. Otherwise, just don’t break the law. The current government’s main priority for immigration enforcement is still against those who have committed crimes.

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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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