How to Enforce a Texas Visitation Order
- How to Enforce a Texas Visitation Order
One of the most common reasons people seek legal assistance in a divorce or custody case is because they have children. One common scenario is when one parent goes to pick up the children and the other parent refuses to release the children. In situations like these, law enforcement is usually called, and things can get messy.
Without a court order, law enforcement will tell a parent in this situation that there is nothing they can do and that the parent should contact a family law attorney to help them resolve the situation. Without a court order, there is nothing that tells law enforcement which parent has a superior right to the children at any given time.
Here are some things a divorce attorney can help establish through a court order:
- How decisions are going to be handled for the children regarding legal issues
- A visitation order establishing a schedule for each parent and when each is supposed to have the children
- Medical support
- Child support
Once a visitation order is established and in effect, it often helps to resolve some of the conflicts between two parents. This is because each parent understands what is expected of them—it is written into the contract and established by law. This is not always the case, and it may be necessary to enforce the visitation order.
Another point to consider is that if you are married to the child’s other parent, a Texas divorce will result in a visitation order.
If you are not married or do not want to file for divorce for whatever reason, you can file a Suit Affecting the Parent-Child Relationship, which will establish a custody order that includes visitation.
Keeping a Visitation Journal
Once you have a court order that gives you the right and the ability to see your children, it is highly recommended to start a visitation journal. This is a useful tool to provide evidence in the case that the other parent starts making it difficult for you to exercise your visitation rights.
Having a record will help you when you:
- Discuss visitation issues with the other parent
- Settle the issues in mediation
- Ask the court to enforce your visitation order, if necessary
The Visitation Journal should include:
- WHO – Who was there when you tried to see your children? Did you call law enforcement to report the issue? If so, what was the report number?
- WHAT – What happened? Did anyone answer?
- WHEN – When did you try to see/pick up your children? The date and times you tried to see your children?
- WHERE – Where was the location where you tried to pick up your children?
- WHY – Why didn’t the other parent let you see the kids? Were they upset because of something you or the kids did?
You should keep the journal updated whenever you visit your children and are not permitted to see them. Write your journal entry as soon as possible, and make sure all of the information is correct.
Remember, if something bothers you, never dismiss it as too insignificant to mention. Your log may be extremely useful to your attorney when presenting specific facts to the judge in potentially explosive situations.
Enforcing a court order means that you are asking a Texas judge to make another person follow an order by law. Although it can be accomplished in several ways, it usually involves some sort of tradeoff.
Visitation enforcement is a permitted method that helps the non-custodial parent when the custodial parent:
- denies access to their children
- has a conflict with the co-parent
- has an on-going conflict during exchanges
The most frequent issues that occur in regards to the visitation order that lead to enforcement are:
- Trying to change dates and times of visitation
- One of the parents being unreliable in following the schedule of having the children
- A parent says that visitations are going to stop
- A parent designating someone else to pick up the children
- The custodial parent keeps the children because of problems with the other parent’s family or friends
- One of the parents makes changes to the child’s routine or schedule that interferes with visitation of the other parent
- The non-custodial parent is not paying child support and the custodial parent decides because of that, they can withhold visitation
Remedies for Enforcement and Modification
A parent may seek aid from the court and get access to the child by filing an enforcement or modification and asking the court to do the following:
- Change the visitation plan
- Schedule and enforce additional visits
- Ask for attorney fees
- Hold the primary parent in contempt of court
- Increase visitation
- Change custody, in extreme cases
Contempt is used to enact a court’s order after a party has failed to follow an act they were ordered to do.
Civil contempt is the method by which the court acts in order to obtain compliance with its enacted order. This allows the court to:
- Press a fine on the offending party
- Jail the offending party until the party follows and enacts with the court’s order
What is Needed for an Enforcement Case
If the visitation order states that one of the parents must pick the child up from the other parent’s home or another listed location, then they must comply with the order and appear at the designated location at the stated date, time, and place.
For your visitation attempts to be valid in an enforcement case in Texas, you must have met the following as minimum:
- Physically arrive at the place where you are supposed to meet/pick up your children as reported in the court order, at the correct time ordered by the court
- Knock at the front of the building
- Wait and see if anyone will answer
- Once it is apparent that the other parent will not let you see your children, or the children are not there, then there is a violation.
Here are some things that can invalidate a visitation enforcement case:
- Not physically showing up because the other parent tells you over the phone that you cannot have the children.
- If you did not pick up the children at the correct place and time (as listed on the enforcement case), you have not followed the order so nothing is enforceable.
One option that many parents should do is to start their visitation enforcement case by first sending a demand letter to the other parent. This can sometimes be the quickest and simplest way to get visitation going again.
This letter can either be written by the parent or an attorney representing the parent. Usually, the letter will:
- Notify the parent denying visitation of the denied parent’s intent to see the children as ordered in the visitation order
- Address the parent’s plan to be at the pickup location at the time listed in the visitation order
- State the the children should be ready for visitation as listed in the order and that the children will be returned as required in the order
- Describe the parent’s plan to continue visitation going forward as required
- Notify the other parent that if the visitation is not proceeded as is, court intervention will follow by filing an enforcement and asking the parent denying the visitation be held in contempt, pay court cost, and other penalties
Witnesses can be a large piece of evidence if your case goes to court. If you bring someone with you during the scheduled pick-up time of your children:
- They will be available to testify in court if it proceeds to that step
- They can prevent your other party from making anything up about you.
It would be better to use someone other than your boyfriend or girlfriend. The less relationship to the witnesses, to you, or your ex, the more credible they will appear in court and the less bias there will be to use as a counter-argument.
When moving your children from one parent to the other parent, avoid:
- discussing conflict
- sending someone else to pick up the children without notifying the other parent
- bringing your new girlfriend or boyfriend (this could cause tension or upset the other parent)
- using the kids as messengers to pass information between the two parents
- Irrational behavior if your visitation is denied
- confronting the kids for information about what happened when they were with the other parent.
If there is a chance the other party might make something up about you, such as being physically violent, it is highly recommended to bring a witness along.
Follow the Order
If a parent does not follow the order, they face the possibility of being held in contempt. It is not uncommon for parents to schedule things such as doctors’ appointments or activities like baseball or scouts deliberately so that it interferes with visitation.
In many instances, one parent does not like the child’s activities because it is interfering with their visitation. In the eyes of the law, these scheduled activities are not a reason for skipping a parent’s visitation and a judge could order someone in contempt for not following the order as originally planned.
Filing a Motion to Enforce
This motion will tell the court:
- The parties that are involved in the case
- The child or children involved
- Which order you are asking the court to enforce and review
- The violations that were done against the order
- What resolutions you are seeking (jail time, makeup time, fines, etc.)
Setting a Hearing
Once the paperwork if put in place, you or your lawyer will need to get a court date set for the hearing. This can be done by calling the court and getting a date.
Serving the Other Parent
You must give the other party legal notice, which usually includes:
- A copy of the paperwork you filed
- When the hearing date is for the case
Once the parent is served with the documents and the hearing date, the citation showing the party was served will need to be filed with the court at least 10 days prior to having the hearing.
Preparing for the Hearing
You and your attorney will want to:
- Talk with any witnesses in regards to the case that could help your argument
- Review and prepare the questions that will be asked in court
- Review the documentation that shows the judge your visitation has been denied, including the records that you have kept
- Go over any local rules for your county, these can vary by county
- Review the documents to make sure it is correct
Preparation for the Hearing
On the day of the court hearing, follow these steps to ensure that everything goes smoothly and so that you do not arrive and face surprises:
- Arrive early, get situated
- Arrive at the courtroom
- Wait for the judge to call your case
- You and the other parent will be sworn in
- Your attorney will be told to proceed the hearing
- Your attorney will ask you and the opposing party questions
- The other party will have their chance to testify and/or present evidence
- Once the judge has finished hearing testimony from both parties and reviewed the documentation, they will make a decision.
If you have any questions about Child Visitation Enforcement in Texas, please contact a Top Houston Divorce Lawyer. Texas family law attorneys provide free consultations in our office or over the phone. A consultation provides you with an excellent opportunity to ask questions and receive feedback about your situation. We hope to hear from you if you have any questions.