When a couple with children is getting divorced, the most obvious point of disagreement is over parenting time. While the divorce decree doesn’t change the fundamental relationship between a parent and child, it does determine when a parent gets to be with his or her child — and, in what is a tough realization for many, when the child will be with the other parent.
But there are a number of other conflicts that come up for parents as they’re trying to work out a divorce decree. Some of them are specifically addressed in the Texas Family Code, while others have to be either written into a decree specifically or worked out between parents as they come up. Here are some of the main areas of conflict we’ve seen in working with couples at the Law Office of Lisa A. Vance.
Parental decisions, generally
Decisions regarding the health, safety and welfare of the children are usually shared by the parents, provided that each lives in the same county. But often they don’t, or there is some other reason to debate which parent has what right or duty when it comes to the “management” of their children.
According to Section 153.132, if a parent is named sole managing conservator of a child, that parent has “the right to consent to medical, dental, and surgical treatment involving invasive procedures” and “the right to consent to psychiatric and psychological treatment.” If both parents are named joint managing conservators, they share in those rights, and must negotiate decisions. So, if making non-emergency medical decisions for your child is important to you, and you don’t trust your soon-to-be-ex, this right is one that you may want to push for. As an example, if one of you wants to have your child vaccinated, and the other does not believe in vaccinations, you may find yourselves with the conundrum of who decides what to do.
The sole managing conservator language in Section 153.132 also includes education decisions. The pandemic has brought an interesting new dynamic into this — deciding whether or not a child should go to school or do online learning if that choice is available. As we covered in an article a few months ago, if parents disagree, it would require a petition and a judge’s decision to resolve the case. You can, of course, always agree to rely upon the medical advice of the pediatrician – especially since that is the expert the judge will want to hear from if you decide to go to court on this issue.
If one parent is a sole managing conservator, or if there’s something written into the decree saying one parent gets to make decisions about education, that parent’s decision would stand — but if the other parent felt it was unsafe, a case could be made for modifying the decree, and a judge would ultimately rule on it.
If one parent practices a religion and the other doesn’t, or each parent practices a different religion, this might be an area of contention. While Christmas is covered in standard orders, and the holiday season is something you’re certain to discuss, make sure you’re thinking about other religious holidays if they’re important to you. Remember that the dates for Easter, Yom Kippur, and Hanukkah vary from year to year, so you’ll definitely want a lawyer involved to finesse the language in the decree to cover holidays like that.
This can be a particularly tricky issue. It’s one thing to be concerned about how your soon-to-be-ex will look after your child; it’s quite another to be concerned about what happens when he or she has a work obligation and needs to place your child in the care of a third party. This can be especially emotional if your soon-to-be-ex is having an affair and you’re concerned about your child with his or her new partner. You can draw parameters in the decree, but setting boundaries doesn’t ensure they’ll be respected or observed.
This one may ask you to look a bit into the future. If you’re getting divorced when your son is 8, for example, and you know you don’t want your child to play football, you can attempt to put language in the decree to determine that. There’s no guarantee, however, that your soon-to-be-ex will agree to that — or, if you’re litigating, that a judge will agree to that.
One reason divorced parents seek modifications to decrees is that, when their children get older, they have extracurricular activities in which a change to the parenting time schedule would help the kids. You can try to create a decree that works for your children from the time your divorce is first final to when each of your children reaches 18 or graduate from high school. But you can’t know with any certainty what the future will bring.
This is by no means a complete list, but they’re certainly things to look out for as you’re working on your decree. It’s also worth noting that some judges try to cleave as closely as possible to standard orders in litigated divorces, so if you have specific items you want in your decree, you might have more luck with a collaborative divorce or mediation, where negotiation and creativity are more likely.
And, if you want specific items in your decree, it’s best to consult with a lawyer to see what’s possible and what’s enforceable. The family lawyers at the Law Office of Lisa A. Vance can help, whether you’re seeking a divorce or a modification to an existing decree.