Custody: How does possession work for Firefighters?

A Firefighter can have a custom possession schedule.

When a firefighter is involved in a custody situation, some unique problems arise. Although Texas has a Standard Possession Schedule that is presumed to be reasonable in most circumstances, that type of schedule won’t work for someone working a firefighter’s schedule.

If the parents can agree on a schedule, they can work out whatever they want, but if disagreements arise, it is best to have a court order that will dictate the terms of possession.

In that case, the court can order a Firefighter Possession Schedule that has terms that will help the firefighter actually be able to spend time with his or her child. Some of these terms include the following:

“_______________is employed as a firefighter with the ________________ Fire Department. He/she works 24-hour shifts, beginning and ending at 7:00 a.m., with 48 hours off in between shifts.”

“Due to his/her work schedule, ________________ is not able to exercise periods of possession occurring on the same days of each month.”

“An annual calendar of ___________________ scheduled work days is published in advance of each calendar year.”

“IT IS ORDERED that within seven days of the day that _______________receives his/her work schedule for the following calendar year, _________________ shall provide a true and correct copy of such schedule to ___________________ via email.”

“In each instance in which the work shift of __________________ ends on a Friday, then he/she shall have the right to possession of the child beginning at the time the child’s school is regularly dismissed on the Friday on which his shift ends and ending at 8:00 P.M. on the following Saturday.”

“In each instance in which the work shift of __________________ ends on a Saturday, then he/she shall have the right to possession of the child beginning at 9:00 a.m. on the Saturday on which his shift ends and ending at 8:00 P.M. on the following Sunday.”

“In each instance in which the work shift of _________________ ends on a Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday, then he/she shall have the right to possession of the child beginning at the time the child’s school is regularly dismissed on the day on which his shift ends and ending at the time the child’s school resumes the following day.”

In addition to these, there can be other custom terms to detail how possession will work during the summer and on holidays.

One thing to remember, however, is that a court is not required to give a firefighter any sort of custom provisions, let alone ones that the firefighter believes would be best. All of this is negotiable during a divorce or custody case. If the parties don’t settle, and leave it to the judge to decide, they may end up with a schedule that is better or worse than the one they could have gotten by agreement.

To speak with the attorneys of the Beal Law Firm about your unique situation, you can call us at 817.261.4333 or 214.414.0418, or write to us at lawyers@dfwdivorce.com. You can find us on the web at www.dfwdivorce.com.

The Many Parts of a Texas Divorce

In a previous post, we discussed the procedural parts of a Texas Divorce. In this post, the goal is to identify the substantive parts of a Texas Divorce.

Divorces are interesting types of cases, because unlike most cases, they have discrete parts, each of which needs their own jurisdictional analysis. That is, a court may have the power to deal with one part of the case, but not with another.

Not all cases are the same, so some of these parts may not be present in your case, but since there is a great deal of misunderstanding about how divorces work, it is a good idea to at least be aware of them, to be sure that they don’t belong in your case.

1. The Status of the Marriage

The Status of the Marriage is both the most important and least important part of the case – it is the judicial determination of whether the parties are divorced. As long as one or both parties is a resident of Texas, the court generally has the power to make this determination. Since Texas is a “no-fault” State, the court can grant the divorce without reference to either party being at fault. But, either or both parties can allege that the divorce should be granted on “fault” grounds, such as adultery or cruelty.

2. Division of Property

This part of the case involves how the marital estate is divided. The court does not have the power to take either party’s separate property as a part of the division of property. The court does have the power to divide the community estate, as long as the court has personal jurisdiction over the parties. Understanding personal jurisdiction can be tricky, so if either party does not reside in Texas, it is important to get competent legal advice on this topic.

As a part of the division of property, the court may assign the payment of debts, but it is important to note that the court cannot adversely affect the rights of third-party creditors. That is, if the creditor could sue you before the divorce if the debt was not paid, then the creditor will be able to sue you after the marriage if the debt is not paid – there is nothing you can agree to or that the court can order that can change that.

3. Custody

Custody is a legal word with a fuzzy definition. Basically, if there has been a child born or adopted during the marriage that is still a minor or disabled, or both, the court will need to deal with issues of conservatorship, geographic restriction, rights, duties, and possession of the child.

There are a great many presumptions that aid in the predictability of this section, but unlike property division, a jury can be used to decide the ultimate issues of custody, i.e. Primary Conservatorship and Geographic Restriction.

The analysis of whether the Court has the power to issue a valid, binding custody order can be very confusing. The answers are found in a complicated piece of legislation known as the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (the “UCCJEA”).

4. Child Support

Although often even courts treat Child Support as though it is a simple mathematical analysis, under the family code it is not. The statutory presumption is that guideline child support should be used, but there are a great many other factors that the court should consider.

See this previous post for a discussion of those other factors.

5. Spousal Maintenance

Texas has had contractual alimony available for a long time, if not forever. Contractual alimony, however, is only obtained when one party or the other agrees to provide cash flow to the other after divorce.

Spousal Maintenance is the term that is used for the type of post-divorce, non-child-support, non-property division payments that the court can order over the objection of the soon-to-be-paying party. In order to get Spousal Maintenance, the party seeking it must prove a great many things, but the starting point is that he or she must fit in one of three categories:

  1. Be disabled;
  2. Be the victim of domestic abuse; or
  3. Be married for over ten years and not be able to provide for his or her minimum reasonable needs.

6.Tort or Other Cause of Action Against Your Spouse

Although many people don’t realize it, you can sue your spouse, in addition to divorcing him or her. To do so successfully, there must be a valid cause of action. That is, the spouse must have done something that amounts to a Tort or other type of cause of action.

Viable causes of action include assault, battery, false imprisonment, breach of fiduciary duty, and intentional infliction of emotional distress (also known as intentional infliction of mental anguish).

Whether one spouse should sue the other is a very complicated question, and competent legal advice is critical in making a decision on how to proceed.

To discuss your case with the attorneys of the Beal Law Firm, call us at 817.261.4333 or 214.414.0418, or write us at lawyers@dfwdivorce.com. You can find us on the web at www.dfwdivorce.com.

Understanding No-Fault Divorce in Texas

Fault grounds still exist.

There is a great deal of misunderstanding about “no-fault” divorce. Many people believe that the concept of fault has been eliminated from divorces. That could not be further from the truth.

The passage of the “no-fault” law years ago changed the requirement to allege fault, it did not change the right to allege fault.

Prior to the creation of “no-fault” divorce, in order to obtain a divorce in the State of Texas, one or both parties had to accuse the other of some conduct that amounted to fault. And then the accusing party had to prove it – assuming that the accused did not admit it. The common grounds for fault-based divorces included adultery, mental cruelty, physical cruelty, and abandonment.

The reason for a fault-based system was that the State took the position that it had a vested interest in keeping married people married. If you could not prove a fault ground, the State did not require you to continue to live together, but it required you to stay married. That requirement kept people from being able to marry other people, because doing so would amount to the crime of bigamy.

Now, Texas Family Code Section 6.001 states that “the court may grant a divorce without regard to fault, if the marriage has become insupportable because of discord or conflict of personalities that destroys the legitimate ends of the marital relationship and prevents any reasonable expectation of reconciliation.”

As long as one party of the other alleges that the marriage has become “insupportable,” there is no requirement to allege or prove fault in a divorce. The State looks at marriages almost like a business partnership, when it comes to the right to dissolve it.

If you and a friend went into the business of selling donuts, and after a couple of years your friend decided that he or she did not want to sell donuts anymore, you could not make your friend stay in the donut business. Similarly, in this day and age, if your spouse no longer wants to stay in the marriage, you cannot make him or her stay. If your spouse wants a divorce, he or she is entitled to a divorce.

But, the fact that there is no requirement to allege fault does not mean that fault cannot be alleged. Either or both parties to a divorce can still allege that the break-up of the marriage was due to the fault of the other party. While the Family Code still contains the same list of fault grounds that it used to, typically people now limit the accusations to adultery or cruelty.

So what is the benefit of pleading fault? If it is not needed to get the divorce, why bring it up?

One reason to plead fault is that in a divorce, there is no requirement that the property be divided evenly. The court is required to make a “just and right, equitable division” of the property, and one of the factors that the court can consider is the fault of either party. If one party is guilty of adultery or cruelty, that party may not only get less than 50% of the community estate, he or she may get as little as 40%, 35%, or even less. In fact one Texas Judge has been quoted as saying, “If I find out that a husband has been guilty of actual, physical abuse, I’ll take away everything he’s got, including his dreams!”

While, according to Texas law, even in the most egregious of cases the court cannot take someone’s separate property, it is possible that the court can deprive an individual of the use of his or her separate property for some period of time, under certain circumstances. In one famous case, the court allowed the ex-wife and children to live in the separate property home of the ex-husband, as additional child support.

To find out more about how the system works, call the Beal Law Firm at 817.919.3616 or 214.414.0418, or write us at lawyers@dfwdivorce.com. You can find us on the web at www.dfwdivorce.com.

Custody: Airline Pilot Possession Schedule

Pilots and Crew Members often need unique possession schedules, if they are going to spend quality time with their children.

Parents who are not together often have court orders detailing the times during which they each have possession of their children. These orders arise in Divorce and Custody cases.

Texas has a Standard Possession Schedule, an Expanded Standard Possession Schedule, and rules regarding what type of schedule a court should give for children under the age of three. All of these are laid out in the Texas Family Code, Chapter 153.

But, these standard concepts are not the only schedules available for the court or parties to choose from. When one or both parents have a job that does not allow for set possession times, the parties can agree to use an alternate schedule that is tailored for the lifestyle associated with the job. If the parties cannot agree to use such a schedule, one of the parties can ask the court to order a flexible schedule.

One such schedule is that used by Airline Pilots and members of Airline Flight Crews.

A typical Airline Pilots schedule or Air Crew schedule may include language that includes a “finding” by the Judge that the pilot/crew member is “unable to exercise predictable periods of possession occurring on the same days of each month” because of his or her “work and flight schedule.”

The order may go on to describe how and when the Pilot or other Crew Member receives his or her schedule and what the schedule contains.

In order to have a system that allows for consistent possession of the children by the parent with the inconsistent schedule, the Judge can order the airline-employed parent to deliver a copy of his or her schedule to the non-airline employed parent within a reasonable amount of time after receiving it, and to elect which weekends and weekdays the Pilot or Crew Member will be exercising. Although there may be a designated method that the parties are supposed to use to try to resolve any conflicts, since the Airline parent’s schedule is likely less flexible, an order would typically give the Airline parent’s choice priority.

If an Airline or Pilot’s Schedule is used, it is typical to include language that the unique terms will only apply “until such time as” the Airline parent “is no longer employed as an airline pilot [or crew member].” The order can then include terms for possession that will begin at that time, whether a Standard Possession Schedule or otherwise.

One thing to keep in mind, however, is that there is no requirement that a Trial Judge give an Airline Parent a unique Airline Possession Schedule that meets all of his or her needs. In fact, in one Texas case several years ago, a Fort Worth Judge awarded a pilot a Standard Possession Schedule, despite evidence that the pilot would not be able to effectively exercise the schedule and would thus be denied the ability to frequently and consistently see his children. Fortunately for the pilot, the case was reversed by an Appellate Court on other grounds.

To discuss the unique needs of your situation with the lawyers of the Beal Law Firm, please call us at 817.261.4333 or 214.414.0418, or write us at lawyers@dfwdivorce.com. You can find us on the web at www.dfwdivorce.com.

Custody: Electronic Access to your child

Court Orders for phone Calls, emails, and video-chat with your child

Spending time with your child is important. Everyone knows that. But when parents are not “together,” courts often have to get involved to tell each parent when they are allowed to exercise their possession time. If the parents can agree on a schedule, courts will usually approve it.

Sometimes the non-primary parent gets a standard possession schedule, as described here, and sometimes the non-primary parent gets an “expanded” standard possession schedule, as described here. Sometimes parents get something altogether different, like a week-on/week-off schedule or other 50-50 arrangement.

But, in addition to all of that, one other option that parents have to maintain a relationship with their children is through electronic communication.

In 2007, the Texas Family Code added Section 153.015, entitled Electronic Communication with Child by Conservator. The term “conservator” is used for virtually all parents of minor children that go through the court system, whether in a divorce or custody case.

The code defines electronic communication as “any communication facilitated by the use of any wired or wireless technology via the Internet or any other electronic media…[including] communication facilitated by the use of a telephone, electronic mail, instant messaging, videoconferencing, or webcam.”

Unfortunately for parents that can’t agree on the terms of the custody order and have to get the court to decide the terms for possession and access, the statute does not provide much guidance.

Per the code, if a parent is seeking Electronic Communication access, the Judge must allow evidence to be introduced concerning:

  1. Whether electronic communication is in the best interest of the child; and
  2. Whether equipment necessary to facilitate the electronic communication is reasonably available to all parties subject to the order.

The Code goes on to state that any court order for Electronic Access shall require both parents to:

  1. Provide the other conservator with the e-mail address and other electronic communication access information of the child; and
  1. Notify the other conservator of any change in the e-mail address or other electronic communication access information not later than 24 hours after the date the change   takes effect.

Perhaps most interesting in the statute, the Code provides that in virtually any Electronic Access order the Judge must require the parties to:

accommodate electronic communication with the child, with the same privacy, respect, and dignity accorded all other forms of access, at a reasonable time and for a reasonable duration subject to any limitation provided by the court in the court’s order.

What exactly does that mean? It probably means whatever the judge hearing the case thinks that it means, since there is no case law defining the terms used.

So what should you do if you are in a divorce or custody case and want Electronic Access with your child?

  1. Ask for it;
  2. Be ready to put on evidence of why the access you seek is in the Best Interest of your child;
  3. Be ready to put on evidence of the availability of the specific type of access you seek.

If you would like to discuss this or any other custody issues with the attorneys of the Beal Law Firm, please call us at 817.261.4333 or 214.414.0418, or write us at lawyers@dfwdivorce.com. You can find us on the web at www.dfwdivorce.com.

Custody: What is the Extended or Expanded Standard Possession Schedule?

As discussed in a previous blog post, Texas has a Standard Possession Schedule that is part of the Texas Family Code. The Standard Possession Schedule (“SPO”), for the most part, limits the time that the non-primary parent has a right to see his or her children during the school year to 1st, 3rd, and 5th weekends from 6:00 p.m. Friday to 6:00 p.m. Sunday – and very few months have 5 weekends.

The good news for non-primary parents that want to see their children more than the SPO provides is that the Texas Family Code Section 153.317 provides for “Alternate Beginning and Ending Possession Times,” that can create what is commonly known as an Extended or Expanded Standard Possession Schedule.

The Code states, in part:

“If elected by a conservator, the court shall alter the standard possession order. . . to provide for one or more of the following alternative beginning and ending possession times for the described periods of possession, unless the court finds that the election is not in the best interest of the child:

(1)  for weekend periods of possession. . . during the regular school term:

(A)  beginning at the time the child’s school is regularly dismissed;

(B)  ending at the time the child’s school resumes after the weekend; or

(C)  [both] beginning at the time described by Paragraph (A) and ending at the time described by Paragraph (B);

(2)  for Thursday periods of possession [during the school year]. . .:

(A)  beginning at the time the child’s school is regularly dismissed;

(B)  ending at the time the child’s school resumes on Friday; or

(C)  [both] beginning at the time described by Paragraph (A) and ending at the time described by Paragraph (B);

(3)  for spring vacation periods of possession . . ., beginning at the time the child’s school is dismissed for those vacations;

(4)  for Christmas school vacation periods of possession . . ., beginning at the time the child’s school is dismissed for the vacation;

(5)  for Thanksgiving holiday periods of possession . . ., beginning at the time the child’s school is dismissed for the holiday;

(6)  for Father’s Day periods of possession . . ., ending at 8 a.m. on the Monday after Father’s Day weekend;

(7)  for Mother’s Day periods of possession . . .:

(A)  beginning at the time the child’s school is regularly dismissed on the Friday preceding Mother’s Day;

(B)  ending at the time the child’s school resumes after Mother’s Day; or

(C)  beginning at the time described by Paragraph (A) and ending at the time described by Paragraph (B); or

(8)  for weekend periods of possession that are extended . . . by a student holiday or teacher in-service day that falls on a Friday, beginning at the time the child’s school is regularly dismissed on Thursday.”

As important as the optional extra time is, possibly the most important part of the Code provision is that the choice of getting the extra time belongs to the non-primary parent, as long as the election is made properly and timely, unless “the court finds that the election is not in the best interest of the child.”

That means that if a non-primary parent is denied any of the extra time he or she seeks, the court can be made to explain its denial, and the denial is subject to review by an appellate court.

Different people measure time spent with children differently – some count the nights, some count the hours, some count the “quality time.” The real good news with the expanded schedule provided by 153.317 is that by some measure, even the “loser” of a custody battle can get to have his or her children for almost 45% of time – depending upon how it’s counted. Whether the parent can actually exercise the time depends in large part on the distance between the parents – which to some extent is governed by whether a geographic restriction exists. For more on that, see the prior blog post.

To discuss your custody issue with the lawyers of the Beal Law Firm, call us at 817.261.4333 or 214.414.0418, or write us at lawyers@dfwdivorce.com. You can find us on the web at www.dfwdivorce.com.

Divorce and Custody: Possession Schedules for Children Under Age Three

When couples go through a divorce with children or just a custody case, one of the most important things to be determined is the possession schedule for the children.

If the parties cannot agree to a schedule that is in the Best Interest of the Children, the court will order a schedule.

As discussed in a prior blog post, Texas has established a Standard Possession Schedule (SPO) for use by divorce and custody courts in ordering the possession of children. By law, however, the SPO is designed to be used for children age three and over.

So what about children under the age of three?

Neither the Texas Family Code nor case law establish a standard schedule for children under the age of three.

For children that young, the Family Code states that “The court shall render an order appropriate under the circumstances” and then gives a non-exhaustive list of factors that courts are obligated to consider.

The factors detailed in the Code are:

(1)  the caregiving provided to the child before and during the current suit;

(2)  the effect on the child that may result from separation from either party;

(3)  the availability of the parties as caregivers and the willingness of the parties to personally care for the child;

(4)  the physical, medical, behavioral, and developmental needs of the child;

(5)  the physical, medical, emotional, economic, and social conditions of the parties;

(6)  the impact and influence of individuals, other than the parties, who will be present during periods of possession;

(7)  the presence of siblings during periods of possession;

(8)  the child’s need to develop healthy attachments to both parents;

(9)  the child’s need for continuity of routine; and

(10)  the location and proximity of the residences of the parties.

The code also states that the court shall consider “the need for a temporary possession schedule that incrementally shifts to” an appropriate schedule beginning at age three, with the incremental shifts based upon what would be appropriate, given the child’s age, and any evidence of “minimal or inconsistent contact with the child” by either parent.

Finally, the Code mandates the Courts consider “the ability of the parties to share in the responsibilities, rights, and duties of parenting” and “any other evidence of the best interest of the child.”

So what does a “a temporary possession schedule that incrementally shifts” (a “stairstep schedule” or “stairstep possession schedule”) look like?

With respect to Weekday and Weekend Possession, it may provide that the non-primary parent’s possession schedule is as follows:

  1. Tuesdays – On Tuesday of each week, beginning at 5:00 p.m. and ending at 8:00 p.m.
  1. Thursdays – On Thursday of each week, beginning at 5:00 p.m. and ending at 8:00 p.m.
  1. Saturdays Until the Child’s Second Birthday – Until the child reaches two years of age, on the first, third, and fifth Saturday of each month, beginning at 10:30 a.m. and ending at 5:00 p.m. on that same day.
  1. Sundays Until the Child’s Second Birthday – Until the child reaches two years of age, on the first, third, and fifth Sunday of each month, beginning at 10:30 a.m. and ending at 5:00 p.m. on that same day.
  1. Weekends Beginning on the Child’s Second Birthday-When the child reaches two years of age, on weekends, beginning at 10:30 a.m. on the first, third, and fifth Saturday of each month and ending at 6:00 p.m. on the following Sunday.

In addition to these terms, it would likely have additional time for holidays and the child’s birthday.

But, remember that stairstep schedules like that above are not mandatory. Even after considering all of the factors found in the Family Code, the Court may order that the non-primary parent have a standard possession schedule or even a 50-50 schedule, such as a week-on, week-off schedule.

If the parents don’t agree, it is up to the discretion of the court. Just because an SPO or more is not presumed the correct choice, does not mean that a court cannot decide, in its discretion, that it is the best choice.

There is a lot to know about possession schedules, as well as all of the other components of a custody order. To discuss any of this with the attorneys at the Beal Law Firm, call 817.261.4333 or 214.414.0418, or write us at lawyers@dfwdivorce.com. You can find us on the web at www.dfwdivorce.com.