There is no denying that child custody arrangements are one of the most challenging aspects of divorce.
In an ideal world, both parents would go on to co-parent amicably – keeping the lines of communication between them open for a free exchange of information and shared concern regarding the children. While this works for many exes, some divorced parents cannot – and should not – communicate, according to a recent court ruling in Texas.
If you are facing a child custody concern, especially if it’s causing contention between you and your ex, don’t wait to address the matter with an experienced Killeen child custody attorney.
The Parenting Standard
Texas employs a family code that is designed to ensure frequent and consistent contact between children and their parents. However, this balance only holds when the parents “have shown the ability to act in the best interests” of their children.
When this ability or inclination breaks down, Texas courts can intervene, as evidenced by a recent Texas divorce case. When parents prove they cannot effectively communicate with one another, which is essential to successful co-parenting, the court can prohibit communication entirely.
The Divorce Case
In the case in question, the couple’s divorce decree assigned them joint managing conservatorship, which included the following terms:
The mother had the right to determine the children’s primary residence.
The mother received child support from the father.
Both parents had the right to give consent for noninvasive medical and dental care. They also had the right to consent to invasive medical procedures – after consulting with the other parent.
From here, things became more complicated.
When divorce gets complicated, it’s essential to have a skilled Killeen divorce attorney by your side. He or she will help you through the ups and downs and be the best defender of your financial and parental rights.
The Filing of Competing Motions
The mother moved for enforcement of the child custody ruling – alleging that the father had extended his spring break possession of the children several days beyond the ordered visitation. The father then filed an enforcement motion of his own – alleging that the mother failed to uphold her court-ordered responsibility to do all the following:
Maintain health insurance for the children
Pay for the children’s uninsured health expenses
Notify him of the children’s activities
Notify him of the children’s medical appointments
The mother came back with a counterpetition that the father made reports of child abuse to CPS that he knew were false – based on his intention to deceive. From here, she alleged that the father had a pattern or history of abuse and requested that he be denied access to the children or be required to have supervised visitation with them.
At this point, the parents were just getting started.
The Father Amends His Original Petition
The father amended his original petition, requesting that the court consider the mother’s alleged history or pattern of neglect and limit her possession in response. He also asked for sole managing conservatorship and that he be paid child support.
The Mother Amends Her Counterpetition
Not to be outdone, the mother amended her counterpetition, requesting the sole right to provide consent for invasive medical treatments and an injunction that would prohibit specific actions on the father’s part, including coming within a 500-foot range of her home other than when dropping off or picking up the children.
The mother also amended her original enforcement motion, requesting that the court compel the father to pay the parent facilitator his share of the expense and that the court hold him in contempt along with jailing and fining him for his failure to cover health care expenses.
The Father Finetunes His Position
Finally, the father amended his enforcement motion and requested that the court hold the mother in contempt, jail her, and fine her.
Regarding Medical Neglect
The parenting facilitator testified that he found no reason for concern regarding medical neglect on the part of the mother – despite the father’s reports to CPS. The facilitator testified that the dispute arose in response to the mother purchasing a generic inhaler for one of their children. The child’s doctor, however, assured the facilitator that this was not a medical concern.
A CPS caseworker also testified that the father filed five CPS reports that alleged medical neglect on the part of the mother. The caseworker, however, found no evidence of any wrongdoing on her part.
For his part, the father expressed the legitimacy of his concerns – saying that the physician’s assistant wrote a letter condemning the generic inhaler for their child. The mother, however, testified that the child’s doctor approved her inhaler purchase.
With cases as complicated as this, it’s clear why it’s essential to have a skilled Killeen divorce attorney by your side.
Regarding Communications with the Children
The mother testified that the father had shown up several times at her home when he was not invited or scheduled to be there. The father admitted to communicating with the children through their bedroom windows while he stood in the bushes outside, but he maintained that he only did so because the mother was restricting his communication with them.
The parenting facilitator ultimately found that the father was treating the children like tools against their mother and that continuing in that pattern would lead to lasting emotional damage. The mother voiced her concern that allowing the children unsupervised visitation with their father could jeopardize their welfare and safety.
At trial, the court determined that the father was incapable of co-parenting and communicating effectively with his children's mother – further, the court found that communication between the parents was not in the best interest of their children.
As such, the court ruled that the parents should not communicate with one another except when absolutely necessary. In necessary circumstances, the parents were only allowed to communicate by mail. However, the court did not stop there and went on to include all the following orders:
Each parent was ordered not to communicate with the children when they were in the other parent's possession.
The parents were prohibited from tracking the children when they were in the other parent’s possession.
The parents were prohibited from going within 500 feet of the other parent’s home.
The parents were prohibited from attending appointments for the children during the other parent’s possession.
The parents were prohibited from canceling appointments for the children during the other parent’s possession.
The court also gave additional orders, including the following measures:
The mother was awarded additional days with the children to compensate for the days she lost over spring break.
The father’s child support and medical support were modified upward.
Both parents were ordered to pay one another unreimbursed medical expenses and for the father’s portion of parenting facilitation – with a net amount owed to the mother.
The mother was also awarded her attorney fees on a number of counts.
The trial court determined that the father did act with malicious purpose or in bad faith with the multiple CPS reports. It found that the reports had no factual basis. For this reason, the mother was awarded reasonable attorney fees for her related efforts.
The Father’s Appeal
The father appealed the trial court’s final order based on the following claims:
The mother “lacked standing to bring a claim under family code Chapter 261, and thus the trial court lacked jurisdiction to modify the decree.”
The court lacked the necessary evidence to find that he made a false report without a factual foundation.
The court’s prohibition of communication and its moratorium on attending the children’s medical appointments was not in the children's best interests.
A False Report of Child Abuse or Neglect
When a person knowingly makes a false report of child abuse or neglect with the intention of deceiving, it is an offense. Further, when a report is deemed false or lacking in factual foundation in a case affecting the parent-child relationship, it can lead to a modification or restriction regarding access to the children.
The Father’s Claim
The father claimed that a modification of child custody arrangements must be based on the at-fault parent being prosecuted for filing a false report, which did not happen in this case.
However, the legal language that addresses this matter does not mention prosecution. Instead, the basis for a modification is the court’s finding that a report was either false or lacked the necessary factual foundation. As such, the appeals court found that the trial court was not in error on this determination.
The father shared that the only information from the doctor he had received was that his child needed a specific inhaler and that failure to treat the child’s asthma effectively could lead to death. He argued that the doctor’s later statements were not passed on to him. Further, the father received a letter from the physician’s assistant specifying which inhaler to use.
While the court acknowledged potential confusion, it drew the line regarding the father continuing to file reports with CPS after the matter was effectively cleared up.
The Children’s Best Interests
Texas courts always base child custody determinations on the best interests of the involved children. While maximizing both parents’ time and ability to communicate with them is generally preferable, this isn’t always the case.
Here, the father claimed that limiting his communication with the children was not in their best interest, but the court ruled otherwise. The court concluded that the father misused the open communication policy – using the children to control and manipulate the mother, which is decidedly not in their best interests.
The Appeals Court Rules
The appeals court found that the trial court was the best source for ascertaining the father’s credibility, and it determined that the trial court did not overstep its discretion regarding the false reports.
Further, the appeals court found that the trial court’s ruling did not eliminate the father’s right to access his children’s medical records or to consult with their healthcare providers. As such, the court rejected the father’s claim that the children were endangered or that consistency was precluded by the ruling.
Additional matters cited by the appeals court in defense of the trial court’s ruling included these factors:
The father continued to file CPS reports even after the child’s doctor confirmed there was not an issue.
The appeals court had concerns about the father using the children to make reports about their mother.
The caseworker testified that the mother had fears about her own safety in relation to the father.
The father hiding on the mother’s property to communicate with his children secretly and telling them to hide a cell phone from their mother raised additional concerns.
When a Divorce Becomes Contentious
If a divorce is going to become contentious, child custody is a common catalyst – but it is by no means the only one. If your ex refuses to play by the rules and will seemingly stop at nothing to vex your child custody arrangements, seeking the court’s intervention tends to be the only viable option.
If this is the situation in which you find yourself, having the seasoned legal guidance of a dedicated child custody attorney on your side is always the best practice. Contact a Killeen child custody lawyer for the support you need in your case.
Best Interest Factors
As mentioned, Texas courts base child custody determinations on the best interests of the involved children – given the unique circumstances, which can vary considerably. The best interest factors that guide child custody determinations include the following considerations:
The children’s needs, including any special needs any of them may have
Each parent’s ability to adequately address the children’s needs
Each parent’s commitment to successful co-parenting, which includes keeping the lines of communication between both parents open
Each parent’s inclination and ability to support a healthy, ongoing relationship between the children and their other parent
In the case at hand, many of these responsibilities fell by the wayside as hostilities grew.
An Experienced Killeen Child Custody Attorney Can Help
Brett Pritchard at The Law Office of Brett H. Pritchard – proudly serving Killeen, Texas – has a long and impressive track record of fiercely advocating for child custody terms that uphold his clients’ parental rights and work well for them. Child custody cases are often fraught with emotion, but Mr. Pritchard has the compassion and legal insight to help. Don’t wait to reach out and learn more by contacting us online or calling us at (254) 781-4222 today.