An Anatomy of a Texas Divorce Decree – Part 2
This is the second part of a general overview of a Texas Divorce Decree.
As I mentioned in my last post, the Decree is the order that the Judge signs, at the end of your divorce, which grants your divorce. Every decree is different, but most are made up of similar sections. The purpose of this article is to give a very general overview of these sections to begin an understanding of what can be a very complex document.
A Decree could consist of any number of sections not described in this post. Much like people, and marriages, every one is different and particular to the folks getting divorced. However, in my previous post, I discussed the sections likely to be found in the Decree for a divorce without children. In this post, I talk about the sections most likely to be also included in a Decree in a divorce with children.
The Conservatorship section of the decree sets out each parent’s rights and duties with respect to the children. These include basic rights, like the ability to review medical records and attend school functions, to very specific rights, like the right to establish the child’s primary residence or make educational decisions. How these rights and duties can be shared between the parents is a long discussion best suited for another post, but, in Texas, the presumption is that most parents should be appointed as Joint Managing Conservators of their children. This means that both parents share in these conservatorship rights and duties. Another topic for a later post is a discussion of the right to establish the primary residence of the children. This is the right most people are talking about when they talk about having “custody" of their child or children. This is also the right in dispute in a “child custody fight".
Finally, one of the hottest areas of child-related family law litigation is the issue of a geographic restriction. This involves whether the parent, who has the right to establish the child’s residence, must do so within a certain area. The primary goal of a geographic restriction is to keep the children close to both parents. However, this can often present difficulties when the parent establishing the residence of the child needs to move for work, family, or some other reason. Because of the significant legal issues involved, these cases are often hotly contested and frequently result in a trial.
The Possession section of the Decree sets out the schedule of time that the child spends with each parent. This section is also often referred to as the “Parenting Time" section. The Texas Family Code sets out a Standard Possession Order that is to be used in most cases. However, because Texas law permits agreed divorces, parents can vary from this Standard Possession Order, and often do, to set up a schedule that they believe is in their child’s best interest. As this is a general overview of the Texas Divorce Decree, I’ll discuss the Standard Possession Order, and variations on that Order, in a later post. However, most parents in Texas have friends or family members, who exercise possession of their children under this Order and are somewhat familar with the 1st, 3rd, and 5th weekend schedule, with extended summer possession and alternating holidays, that these folks are using.
The Possession section of the Decree will often contain many other details, including where the children will be exchanged by the parents, provisions for long-distance travel or international travel, and so on.
One of the most often modified sections of a Court order related to children is the Support section. This section of the Decree specifies which, if either, parent will pay child support and how much is to be paid. It also will set out the details about whether this support will be paid directly or through wage withholding and often contains provisions related to payment for other expenses (extracurricular activites and big ticket expenses like a car for the child). We are working on separate posts, which will appear in coming months, regarding Child Support, how Child Support is calculated, how to modify Support – increase it when the paying parent is making more money or decrease it when, for example, the paying parent loses their job – and Child Support Enforcement issues.
This section of the Decree specifies how health insurance will be provided for the child, who will provide it, and how it will be paid for by the parents. Most commonly in Texas, the parent who pays child support also pays for the cost of health insurance and provides it through their employer. However, there can be many variations on this and, because of the high cost of health insurance, parents will often work together to obtain the best coverage for their children at the least expense. The Medical Support section of the Divorce Decree generally also contains provisions for the payment of uninsured medical expenses, like copays, prescriptions, dental and orthodontic expenses, which are commonly shared equally by the parents.
The Child Support and Medical Support sections of the Decree are usually very specific and contain a lot of detail about how the support and medical expenses are to be handled. This is necessary because, should it become necessary to legally enforce these provisions, the law requires that level of detail. However, parents are often surprised that their Divorce Decree can end up being 40-50 pages long, or longer, and that so much of the Decree is taken up by these sections.
As I said in my last post, this is a very, very general overview of the Texas Divorce Decree. As we continue to provide information about divorce in Texas, we will address various aspects of each of these sections, the issues involved, and common (and not so common) problems folks face when going through their divorce.