Saturday, December 05, 2015

How Much Do You Have to Cooperate With Visitation?

Recently, I was asked how much a mother has to cooperate in getting her children to go to visit with their dad.  She says that even though her divorce decree gives the father the right to see the children, they do not want to go with him for visitations and she doesn't want to push them to go.

Each case is different based on the facts of the case.  The age of the children, and the recent events that affect their relationship with the father would change the specific answer I would give.  But generally, I would say that even though the mother's legal obligation may be limited, her moral and ethical obligation to the kids means she should do more than the minimum demanded by law.  The mother's very question is subject to scrutiny and even a little suspicion.  The natural state is that children love their father and want to be with him.  If this is not the case, then something is very wrong and social science has shown that this this broken relationship with the father will have long term negative consequences for the children. The fact that the mother seems unconcerned that the children don't want to see their father- and is more focused on her own legal obligations suggests that she may be engaging in some passive parental alienation.

As far as her legal obligations goes, the Texas Penal Code sets out the offence of Interference with child custody:
      (a)     A person commits an offense if the person takes or retains a child younger than 18 years when the person: (1) knows that the person’s taking or retention violates the express terms of a judgment or order of a court disposing of the child’s custody; or (2) has not been awarded custody of the child by a court of competent jurisdiction, knows that a suit for divorce or a civil suit or application for habeas corpus to dispose of the child’s custody has been filed, and takes the child out to the geographic area of the counties composing the judicial district if the court is a district court of the county if the court is a statutory county court, without the permission of the court and with the intend to deprive the court of authority over the child.  (b) A noncustodial parent commits an offense if, with the intent to interfere with the lawful custody of a child younger than 18 years, the noncustodial parent knowingly entices or persuades the children to leave the custody of the custodial parent, guardian, or person standing in the stead of the custodial parent or guardian of the child. (c) It is a defense to prosecution under Subsection (a)(2) that the actor returned the child to the geographic area of the counties composing the judicial district if the court is a district court of if the court is statutory county court, within three days after the date of the commission of the offense. (d) An offense under this section is a state jail felony.
[Tex. Penal Code 25.03]

There if very little case law on this subject but one court attempted to set out some guidelines:  In Ex parte Morgan, 886 S.W. 2d (Tex. App—Amarillo 1994, no writ), this court ruled that a parent could not be held in contempt where she passively failed to insist that her children visit their father, but not seek to impede the visitation or encourage the children to resist it.  The court stated that if “a parent has encourage minor children to resist court ordered visitation with the other parent, the line has been crossed between passivity, which is punishable by contempt, and overt conduct, which would be punishable. Again, the well-being of the children is served by both parents’ encouragement to the children to love and respect the other parent.”

Within the spectrum of visitation disputes, there may be instances in which: (1) a parent actively discourage or impedes visitation; (2) a parent passively fails to insist that a child comply with visitation; or (3) a parent is legitimately unable to compel a child to comply with visitation.  The courts have held that the defense of involuntary inability to comply applies only to the third alternative, and not to the first two.  Ex parte Rosser, 889 S.W. 2d 382, 386 (Tex. App.-Houston[14th Dist.], 1995, no writ). 

While I see nothing in the law that says the mother is required to drag a child to his father’s car and put him in the front seat, the mother should do everything to encourage the visitation within reason as this is best for the child and make the child available at your front door at the designated time.  The mother has an obligation to put her own feelings aside and do truly EVERYTHING as a parent she can to foster a positive relationship and get the children to go with the dad.  The Court in the Ex Parte Morgan case clearly stated this obligation: "It is imperative that both parents recognize that their personal feelings must be submerged in cary8ing out their responsibility to obey the law and, by doing so, demonstrate to their children that they should do so as well." ( 831).

If you need more information on these issues, please visit our website at