One of the most contentious issues between divorcing parents is how to divide time with the children. Custody battles clog the court and take an emotional toll on all involved. In an attempt to lessen the dissension, Texas legislators enacted Family Code, Section 153, which covers the parent-child relationship following a divorce. The Code Section encourages parents to work together to develop their own parenting plan with the ultimate deciding factor always being what is in the best interest of the children.
Texas Laws Regarding Parenting Plans
Section 153 specifically articulates the public policy of the state concerning parenting plans:
• Parents who are able to act in the best interest of the children should have frequent and continuing contact with them.
• Parents need to provide a safe and stable environment for their children.
• Parents are encouraged to share in the “rights and duties of raising their child” even after separation and divorce.
• Courts may not make custody and visitation contingent upon the payment of child support.
Parenting Plan Terms: Standard Parenting Plan
The Family Code uses some confusing language:
Conservatorship: This is the decision making ability. It does not mean custody. The court encourages the parents to have joint conservatorship.
Possession: This means the time each child spends with each parent. A parent who has primary possession is commonly known as the parent who has custody.
Access: Is a term commonly associated with visitation.
If parents cannot come to their own agreement, Texas Code, Section 153, Subchapter F has a standard parenting plan the court will use. Among other things, it provides for one parent to have primary possession during the school year with the other parent to have access to the children on weekends and one or two evenings during the week.
Requirements of Mutually Agreed Upon Parenting Plan
The Office of the Texas Attorney General has published a Co-Parenting Guide to assist parents in formulating their parenting plan. Some basic requirements of the plan are for the parents to agree on the following major issues:
• Determine a normal possession and access schedule for the children to spend time with each parent. Some children need the security of a home base even if they spend equal time at each individual parent’s home.
• Decide how to divide vacation, school breaks and holiday time between the parents. Consider extra-curricular events the children are involved in. Although consistency in the schedule is important, it is also important to be flexible in order to accommodate an important even in which a child wants to participate.
• How changes to the plan will be made, whether the changes are temporary or permanent.
• How day-to-day as well as important issues will be decided.
• How costs like school supplies and those for extracurricular activities will be handled.
• How the exchange of the children from one parents house to the other will occur.
• Determine how to resolve future conflicts without court intervention.
If parents are having trouble agreeing on a plan, the court may order them to meet with a mediator or parenting coordinator if it appears that will assist the parents in completing a plan without court intervention. If the parents do agree, their written plan will be submitted to the court. If the court approves it, it then becomes the court order. There are times when the court may return the plan to the parents with suggestions for changes before the court will approve it. The final order will always be one that the court finds is in the best interest of the children.
When the Court Will Intervene and Make Its Own Orders
Parents who have a history of child abuse or neglect or domestic violence will not be allowed to have joint conservatorship or primary possession. The court also takes seriously any false charge of child abuse or sexual abuse. There are other times when the court will take into account the circumstances of each parent in determining what is in the best interest of the children.
Contact An Attorney for Help With Parenting Plan Negotiations
Call now to schedule a free consultation with the Law Offices of Frank E. Mann P.C. Frank E. Mann is an experienced family law attorney with over 30 years of experience negotiating custody, visitation, and parenting plans in Houston. We know how important your children are to you; don’t proceed to a parenting plan hearing without a lawyer who can look after your best interests.