Check your court order for restrictions, but generally there are none. During your periods of possession, you have the right to let the children visit their grandparents, spend the night at a friend’s home, or engage in activities as long as they return to the other parent on time. You may allow your parents to take the children on a vacation, even out of state. Avoid misunderstandings by letting the other parent know when the children are traveling with your parents or relatives. Write up the days and locations and contact information to keep everyone on track and informed.
If you cannot pick up your children when it is your time for possession, you must notify the custodial parent ahead of time. Virtually all visitation orders allow parents to swap weekends, or make any other visitation arrangements they wish, as long as both parents agree. If both parents cannot agree on a change, then that visitation period is lost.
Parents who must work during their weekends can offer additional time to the other parent or offer to swap weekends. The other parent is not required to change or accept the additional time or weekends. Children benefit when parents are flexible and able to work out mutually agreeable swaps.
The court order is your fall back schedule when you and the other parent don’t agree. If you both can agree to temporarily change the plan, there’s no need to return to court. Children’s needs change as they grow. Children’s schedules change as they move from pre-school, elementary, and middle school and into high school. The courts encourage cooperation and flexibility in developing plans to ensure regular, consistent contact with both parents. When you and the other parent cannot agree, then the court order is the fall back plan you both must follow.
If you need help coming up with a plan that works for both of you, read about mediation and mediation alternatives here. A trained mediator can help both parents focus on the interests of the children and resolve outstanding issues that may be keeping you from reaching a solution. Parents may attend mediation voluntarily or may ask the court to order the parties into mediation.
If the other parent keeps you from spending time with your child on the days and times listed in your court order, you may want to modify your order. This involves filing a motion with a court, and having a hearing in front of a judge. The other parent must be served with the motion and given notice of the hearing. At the hearing, you can explain to the judge why the visitation schedule is not working, and request a new order. You may use a mediator to work out the terms of the new schedule, and submit that to the court or the court may order you both into mediation. Many courts have a separate docket for agreed orders, which gets the new schedule into a court order more quickly than the contested (you don’t agree) docket.
If you need help reaching an agreement, read about mediation and mediation alternatives here.
The court order is your fall back schedule when you and the other parent don’t agree. The courts encourage parents to cooperate and be flexible. Parents who agree can set up any parenting plan/visitation schedule they want. Children’s schedules change as they move from pre-school or one grade to the next. Children benefit when parents create plans that fit their family’s needs. When you and the other parent cannot agree, the court order is the fall back plan you both must follow. If you need help coming to an agreement, read about mediation and mediation alternatives here. If you want to change the order through court, you can file a motion to modify.
If you are trying to follow the court order, check it to see if you have a standard possession order (or SPO). If you don’t have a copy, contact the district clerk’s office in the county where you went to court – probably the county where your child lived at the time the order was signed — and ask them for a copy. There may be a charge for a certified copy.
Look at the “Possession and Access Order” section of your court order. If the noncustodial parent is given the 1st, 3rd, and 5th weekends (beginning on Friday and ending on Sunday); a weeknight visit once a week during the school term; a period of extended summer visitation; and shared holidays; then you probably have an SPO. The My Sticker Calendar highlights the 1st, 3rd, and 5th weekends in gold. Parents are encouraged to go through the calendar with their children and use the stickers to personalize time spent with each parent. Each parent’s calendar should match to keep everyone on time.
SPO’s may vary a little bit. Some parents tell child support staff they want to select the option to start their weekend visitation when school ends on Thursday, while other parents may start their weekend parenting time at 6 p.m. on Friday. Read your order before you leave the office and check to see if your requests were included in it.
If you don’t have an SPO or don’t understand your order, ask an attorney to explain the order.
If you and the other parent are having an especially hard time with your co-parenting relationship, take a step back. Think about the role you played in the last dispute and try some of these strategies.
1. Don’t see each other in person. Have your conversations over the phone. You may be able to keep a record for court if using email or texting. Do not post family business on Facebook or other social media.
2. Make sure everything you say or put in writing is polite and to the point. Do not talk about anything other than your “parent-business.” Be clear in what you say.
3. Say something to show the other parent that you understand what he or she has said. Listen when the other parent is talking. When he or she is finished, say something like, “Let me make sure I understand. What I just heard you say is…” and then say what you heard.
4. Don’t push the other parent’s buttons. You probably know what makes the other parent angry, sad or upset. Don’t make the other parent feel bad on purpose.
5. Look for what is good. Try to see what the other parent is doing well. Sometimes, just letting the other parent know that you noticed goes a long way toward making a conversation easier.
6. Stop and ask yourself, Is this worth fighting over? There are many things to fight about if you look for them. You can’t argue about everything and still have time to make decisions. When you feel yourself starting to argue, stop. Ask yourself, “Is this worth fighting over? Will I even remember this in six months?”
7. Remember that your child loves the other parent. Your child’s other parent is an important person. Give him or her the respect your child would want you given.
8. Do what you say you will do. Keep your promises. Do this for your child. Don’t break promises, show up late or change plans just because the other parent does. You can only control yourself. You cannot control whether or not the other parent follows through on promises.
9. Keep detailed notes. Keep a record of meetings and conversations. If things are really bad, and they don’t improve, you may want to review these notes before talking to a mediator or attorney.
10. Use a mediator. There are times when problems are too big for two people to resolve on their own. If you and the other parent can’t get along, try to find a mediator to help you. For a list of mediators, go to http://www.TXmediator.org or contact your local dispute resolution center or visit the Access and Visitation Directory on www.texasattorneygeneral.gov.
11. If a mediator doesn’t help, see a lawyer. Generally, you will be able to work things out without going to court. Sometimes, though, the situation calls for some major intervention. Be sure to get the help you need. *
*This list is adapted from Mom’s House, Dad’s House: Making Two Homes for Your Child by Isolina Ricci, Ph.D. (New York, NY: Fireside Books, 1997) p. 108.