Child Custody and Time in Texas Family LawChild Custody and Time

The term “reasonable” appears at least once in virtually every order involving children in a Texas Family Law divorce or child custody matter. So what does “reasonable” mean?

In Texas Family Law, “reasonable” is considered to be what an ordinary person would think it means, without considering the emotional motivation of a parent involved in a Texas Family Law divorce matter.

This is a delicate situation that arises with child custody and we offer this article to help parents understand how Texas family courts operate so parents can be better prepared to make decisions in their best interest and in the best interest of their children.

Here are two areas where the question, “What is reasonable?” often arises.

Reasonable telephone access to your child while he or she is with the other parent  tends to be considered about one time per day and, to some, it could mean less frequently. Why is this? Primarily, it is because  Texas family courts believe that each parent is entitled to uninterrupted time with their children during the time that courts refer to as “period of possession.”  That said, some children, especially young children, need contact with both of their parents more frequently than do older children.

Reasonable notice is another area where “reasonable” is frequently used in Texas Family Law.  What is reasonable notice? Reasonable notice is usually very situation specific. If you plan to take children for a vacation out of the country that requires the other parent to take some action (i.e., deliver passports, get medications filled so that they do not run out on the trip, prepare themselves for the children to be gone for a period of time where contact with them may be sporadic, etc.), then a few days is not generally considered reasonable notice, whereas 21 days likely would be considered reasonable notice.

In other cases, such as extra-curricular activities, reasonable notice would generally be when the parent learns of the activity. If that is a month ahead of time, then reasonable notice would be about a month. If one parent doesn’t learn about an event until 48 hours before, and if it appears that they could not have reasonably learned of it until about two days before the event, then reasonable notice would be as soon as that parent learned of the event.

The time a party could have reasonably learned of something that should prompt notice to the other party is an important concept in cases involving children and divorce. When a judge thinks that a parent had a pretty good idea there was going to be an upcoming event but intentionally did not try to pinpoint the date and time so that they could claim ignorance until a few days before its occurrence, that judge is likely to find that the parent did not give reasonable notice and could issue sanctions (punishment). Those sanctions could include reimbursing the other party’s attorney’s fees or even paying a fine. Sanctions may also include giving the other party some make-up visitation time. If the judge is sufficiently concerned that one parent is attempting to exclude the other parent from participating in the children’s activities, the judge may consider changing primary custody to the other parent.

The moral of this story is that, if a parent becomes so emotionally invested that it is hard to get a handle on what is “reasonable,” consult an attorney. A court order is not something to be flippant about. Judges want their child custody orders followed and if they think someone is creatively interpreting its language to spite the other party to the detriment of any child’s best interest (i.e., in a judge’s view, following the court order) then a judge has a wide variety of remedies, none of which the offending party is likely to find pleasant.