Modifying Texas Child Custody Orders for Vacations and Holidays

School is back in session now, and parents around the state are breathing a sigh of relief. The sigh is likely much more pronounced for parents who dealt not only with their children's at-home rambunctiousness during the summer months, but also with custody and parenting plan disputes brought about when custodial or non-custodial parents want to take a vacation with the children.

Since the kids are back in school now, there is less need for parents seeking to make modifications for lengthy intrastate, interstate or international vacations, but smaller trips - like those taken during school holidays like Thanksgiving or winter break - still warrant formal or informal changes to parenting plans.

When a couple separates or divorces and children are involved, a schedule of custody and visitation known as a parenting plan is drafted. The parenting plan handles such issues as:

  • Physical custody - where the child will live (which parent will designate the primary residence of the child)
  • Legal custody - who has the right to make decisions that relate to the child, like those involving medical care, education, psychological treatment and decisions of substantial legal significance concerning the child
  • Parenting time - most often called "visitation," parenting time is an arrangement by which the parent not granted physical custody spends quality time with the child. To modify a visitation schedule, the parent asking the court to modify the previous order must prove to the court that there has been a "material and substantial change" in circumstances.

If a couple remains cordial and civil following a separation, then informal modifications can be made to a parenting plan to accommodate the changes involved with trips or vacations. Because of the flexibility between the parents, they are able to make informal, mutual agreements between themselves that are oftentimes not written.

On the flip side, though, if a couple's relationship is more volatile in nature, then even the most minor of parenting plan modifications might require outside assistance. The assistance does not necessarily need to come from a family court judge or even an attorney, but can involve a trained parenting facilitator or a parenting coordinator if one was appointed in the case. The Parenting Facilitator or Coordinator can work with the parties to find a workable solution.

If a modification suit is necessary, the parties with their attorneys can go to a mediator who can help the parties reach a settlement. If the parties cannot reach a settlement and court intervention is required, then the decision will be left in the hands of a family court judge who will hear information from both parents and make the ultimate decision about whether a modification - even a temporary one - is in the child's best interest. If that is the case, you will want to present the best argument possible for the judge to find in your favor.

Modifications can be made to existing orders for custody, visitation and child support, so if you are interested in making a modification to an existing parenting plan or child support order, consider seeking the counsel of a skilled family law attorney in your area.