Successful Co-Parenting - Part I

This is the first of many blogs to come regarding successful co-parenting. Whether you are going through a divorce in Texas involving children or whether you are modifying the terms of a Texas custody order, co-parenting is fundamental when raising a child in two homes.

Effective communication between parents is essential in a co-parenting relationship. In this age of technology, most parents communicate schedules and activities pertaining to their children via e-mail and/or text message. While lawyers advise their clients to communicate with their ex in writing, emails and text messages are not an appropriate forum to have discussions and dialogues regarding your child. All too often, messages and tone can be misinterpreted in an e-mail or text message.

The Huffington Post recently had an article entitled “The 1 Email Successful People Never Send.” The article discusses super-successful people and the fact that those people never send a long email. After reading this article, I could not help but think how beneficial this information would be to all my clients struggling to co-parent with their ex-spouse.

This article suggests three tips when it comes to drafting an e-mail:

“1. People don't need as much background information as you think they do. It might seem essential to you, but it actually seems superfluous to the email recipient. They'd rather you get to the information and request more quickly, and then they can ask you to fill in any holes in their knowledge later.

2. Don't waste your subject line. In many email services, including Gmail, just the subject line and first line or two is visible in the recipient's inbox. Why make the subject "Hi" when it could be "Dinner on Thursday?" Give the recipient an idea of what the email contains and a good reason to click on it.

3. Just because your email is short, that doesn't mean it has to be rude. "No matter how short your emails, there is a way to inject a friendly, cheery note, and don't forget to do that. Short doesn't mean that it's okay to go around barking orders," Schwalbe says.”

Another Facebook no-no: Don't call your child an asshole on Facebook

Okay, really, you shouldn’t call your child an asshole ever.  But, one Mom in New York used Facebook to insult and demean her child, who was 10 years old at the time, by calling him an “asshole” among other things. She defensively felt this was appropriate because “that’s what he is”. She thought it was important for her friends (HER friends?) to know that about her child.  The Father sued for sole custody of all three of the parties’ children.  Based on the Mom’s inappropriate use of social media regarding her children, her lack of insight as to the effects of her behavior on the children, as well as some allegations of physical abuse, the Judge granted the Father sole custody.  The Judge also issued an order prohibiting the parents from posting any communications to or about the children on any social network site. 

I’m sure there is much more to this story than just one instance of bad behavior.  It sounds like, from the opinion, that the Mom was inappropriate in many ways, including physical abuse, verbal abuse, and failing to attend to the child’s health needs.  So, it should come as no surprise that she lost custody.  The real take-away here is that the Judge’s decision to restrict the Mom’s “freedom of expression” on social media in consideration of the best interest of the child was upheld by the appellate courts. We often think that we can say what we want, when we want, and where we want, especially if it is true (as this Mom says, it is what he is).  But, when it comes to a Judge presiding over the best interest of the children, that freedom of expression can be limited.  A judge can limit a parent’s ability to post on social media.  A judge can limit a parent’s ability to speak disparagingly about the other parent in front of the child.  A judge can limit a parent’s ability to speak to the child’s teachers, doctors, or other providers in a way that interferes with the child getting help.  All of these limitations may be in a child’s best interest.  And, they are not in violation of the parent’s “right” to free speech. 

Read about the New York case in Neil Cahn’s blog post Here or the actual court opinion In the Matter of Melody M v. Robert M here.


Completing Your Social Study Questionnaire:

There are many aspects to a social study evaluation. You can expect a typical social study evaluation to take from 8 to 18 months to complete. During this time period, the social study evaluator will review information provided by each party, including but not limited to collateral witnesses and documentation (this could include review of medical records, school records, police reports, etc.), references and reference letters, personal history questionnaires, and other written information. In addition to written information, the social study evaluator will also interview and observe both parents and the children, separately and with each parent.

During the social study process, you will be asked to complete written documentation and provide the same to the social study evaluator. You will be asked to provide information regarding your childhood upbringing, educational history, medical history, parenting strengths and weaknesses, concerns regarding the other parent, and other relevant information requested by the social study evaluator. You will also be required to disclose your prior criminal history, medical history, and substance abuse history. It is important to be candid when providing this information to the social study evaluator. If you have a “past” to disclose, regardless of how distant it may be, you should err on the side of disclosing too much rather than too little. My advice is that when completing your social study questionnaire, you should be the person to disclose any “skeletons in your closet.” It is better for this information to come from you rather than the other party. No one has had perfect past.

I generally advise clients to complete the questionnaire by themselves initially. At some point prior to returning this information to the social study evaluator it is best to have your attorney review the information for any errors, etc. Keep in mind that this is your opportunity to provide the social study evaluator with information relating to the support system, including family and friends that will be assisting you with your journey as a “single parent.”

This is also your opportunity to indicate to the social study evaluator your desires regarding parenting time with your children. If you desire to be the primary conservator of the children and/or if you desire to have equal parenting time with the other parent, then now is the time to tell the social study evaluator. In doing so, you must have a solid plan for how you intend to provide your child/children with a stable and consistent home environment while in your care. You need to have a plan for how you are going to provide for the children financially, emotionally, and mentally. Tell the social study evaluator how you plan to get them to and from school/extracurricular activities on a daily basis. Additionally, you should provide the social study evaluator with information relating to how you plan to meet their medical and educational needs. It is not enough to say that you want to be the primary conservator or share parenting time with the other parent. You must have a plan and be prepared to discuss it. This means knowing your children’s medical, educational, and emotional needs.

Breaking Down the Sanders Divorce: Conservatorship in Texas

On March 12, 2013, the Texas jury in the Deion and Pilar Sanders divorce ruled that Deion Sanders would have Sole Managing Conservatorship of the couple’s two boys and that Deion and Pilar would be joint managing conservators of the couple’s daughter with Deion determining the daughter’s primary residence.  What does this mean and how does this ruling impact each parent’s ability to raise their children?

I always tell my clients to think of conservatorship as being two pronged: The first prong has to do with rights and duties to a child and the second prong deals with possession schedules – who is going to see the child when.  Today I am only dissecting the first prong of conservatorship as it relates to parents rights and duties to their children.

In Texas, there is a presumption under the law that it is in a child’s best interest for two parents to be named Joint Managing Conservators.  Joint Managing Conservators means that two parents have equal decision making in a child’s life from medical, to psychological, to educational decisions as well as the ability to manage a child’s property, if there is property to manage.  When you hear that a parent is the “primary conservator” in a joint managing conservatorship, it deals with one thing and one thing only; the exclusive right to designate the child’s primary residence. 

The jury in the Sanders divorce trial ruled that Deion and Pilar are joint managing conservators of their daughter with Deion designating the daughter’s primary residence.  Deion is considered the “primary conservator” of their daughter in that he will determine where she will live primarily.  Texas law presumes that it is in a child’s best interest that a child’s primary residence be restricted to a certain geographic area so that each parent will have continuing contact with the children. 

In order to receive Sole Managing Conservatorship of a child, you must rebut the presumption that a Joint Managing Conservatorship is in the child’s best interest.   It is very difficult to rebut this presumption and you must show some form of child abuse, harm, or neglect or domestic violence in order to be awarded Sole Managing Conservatorship as well as demonstrating that it is in the child’s best interest for one parent to be the Sole Managing Conservator

What differentiates Sole Managing Conservatorship from Joint Managing Conservatorship is that the Sole Managing Conservator has sole decision making ability when it comes to all major decisions in a child’s life from medical, to psychological, to educational decisions as well as the ability to manage a child’s property, if there is property to manage.

Deion Sanders being named the Sole Managing Conservator of the two boys is very significant in that he will be making all major decisions regarding the children’s lives (as discussed above) and will not even be required to have Pilar’s agreement prior to making those decisions.  Deion will still have a duty to inform Pilar of these decisions but he will have sole decision making ability.  In order for the Texas jury to have made this ruling, the jury must have found that it was in the children’s best interest for Deion to have Sole Managing Conservatorship of the boys.

Stay tuned for my next blog where I will discuss possession schedules for parents in Texas and the Judge’s ruling on the Deion and Pilar Sanders’ respective periods of possession of their children.


Use of Electronic Communication to Supplement Periods of Possession with Children:

Although many families reside within close proximity to one another, there are a lot of families where the non-primary conservator lives a great distance from the primary residence of their children.  This distance can make it more difficult for the parent to consistently exercise their possession with the children.  It can also make it more difficult for that parent to maintain a meaningful relationship with their children.  Advancements in technology can make it easier to maintain consistent communication with children, regardless of the distance between the parent and child.  

Electronic communication provisions in child custody orders allow parents the opportunity to see and speak to their children more frequently.  Many Texas courts are willing to order electronic communication between the non-primary parent and the children to supplement a parent’s periods of possession of and access to children.  This electronic communication can be in the form of telephone access, email access, Skype or Face Time.  As technology continues to develop and improve it becomes easier for courts to accommodate a parent’s request for additional access with their children.  Most Texas courts are unwilling to order electronic communication on a daily basis, but most will consistently order every other day or at least 3 times per week.   Generally, electronic communication is to occur for up to 30 minutes on each day that it is ordered by the Court.


The Company You Keep Could Have an Effect on Custody and Divorce in Texas

The effects of domestic violence, alcohol abuse and adultery have come into the spotlight with the recent Houston, Texas celebrity divorce involving hand surgeon, Michael Brown of the Brown Hand Center, and his Wife, Rachel Brown.   

As documented by Page Six of the New York Times, Page Six, Rachel Brown has made allegations against Michael Brown of domestic violence.  These allegations have resulted in criminal assault charges of which Michael Brown was acquitted in 2010 

Mr. Brown has also testified during the divorce to paying for the company of women up to “three at a time.”  Mr. Brown testified that he would not expose his children to his dating or other adult activities. The allegations of domestic violence and adultery have had long lasting effects on the Brown divorce.  The Divorce Court has ordered that Michael Brown should only have supervised possession and access of the children at this time.   

Rachel Brown is currently in a romantic relationship with former Houston Astros baseball player, Jeff Bagwell, who she says she plans to marry.  Jeff Bagwell has become a player in the divorce action due to his relationship with Rachel, his interaction with the Brown children, and his alcohol abuse.  Rachel Brown has previously testified that she is in a relationship with Jeff Bagwell and that Bagwell recently went to rehab for alcohol abuse but did not complete the rehabilitation program. 

A Court has the ability during and after a divorce action to order parents to not allow certain people to be in the presence of the children if the Court finds that it is not in the children’s best interest to be around said people.  If the Court were to find that prior or potential alcohol abuse by Jeff Bagwell is not in the children’s best interest, the Court could order Rachel Brown to not have the Brown children in Bagwell’s presence on not only a temporary but permanent basis.  This could have serious ramifications for the pending divorce and her eventual marriage to Bagwell.  The Court has not enjoined Rachel Brown from allowing the children to be in the presence of Jeff Bagwell at this time.  Additionally, the Court could order Michael Brown to not allow the children to be in the presence of certain people including the company of certain female companions due to his prior testimony regarding his payment for the company of certain women.

 The next hearing in this divorce is scheduled for February 7, 2013.


Are you my Father?

Are you my Father?   In Texas, there are many ways to become recognized as the father of a child, regardless of genetics and biology. Although biology is an important aspect of parentage in Texas, it is possible to find yourself in a position where you become the “father” of a child based solely on the relationship that you have with the child’s mother.  

Texas law defines “father” in the following ways:

1. Presumed Father: In Texas, a man becomes a father if his paternity is presumed.   A man’s paternity is presumed in the following situations:

a.         The man is married to the child’s mother, and the child is born during the marriage;

b.         The man was married to the child’s mother, and the child is born within 300 days after the marriage was terminated. 

c.         The man married the child’s mother before the birth of the child in apparent compliance with the law (regardless of whether the marriage is or could be declared invalid), and the child is born during the invalid marriage or within 300 days after the marriage ended.

d.         The man married the child’s mother after the birth of the child in apparent compliance with the law, he voluntarily asserted his paternity of the child and (1) the assertion is in a record filed with the Bureau of Vital Statistics, (2) he is voluntarily named as the child’s father on the child’s birth certificate, or (3) he promised in a record to support the child as his own.

e.         He continuously lived in the same household with the child during the first two years of the child’s life, and he represented to others that the child was his own.

2.  Acknowledged Father:  A man becomes a father if he and the mother sign an acknowledgement of paternity with the intent to establish the man’s paternity. An acknowledgement of paternity is filed with the Bureau of Vital Statistics. The signing of a valid acknowledgement of paternity adjudicates parentage and therefore, the acknowledged father has all of the rights and duties of a parent.

3.  Father by Adoption: A man becomes a father if he adopts a child.

4.  Father by Adjudicated Paternity: A man becomes a father if his paternity is adjudicated. 

5. Father by Consent to Assisted Reproduction: A man becomes a father if he consents to assisted reproduction by the mother.

6. Father by Gestational Agreement:  A man becomes a father if he is adjudicated to be the father of a child born to a gestational mother under a validated gestational agreement.

*graphic courtesy of


Necessary Custody Information for Temporary Orders Hearing in Dallas, Texas


As discussed in my blog two weeks ago, at the time of filing for divorce or a suit affecting the parent-child relationship or anytime during the pendency of a lawsuit involving children, a party can request a Temporary Orders Hearing. The purpose of the Temporary Orders Hearing is for the Court to make custody orders regarding conservatorship, rights and duties to the child, possession and access for each parent with the child, and child support that will remain in place during the pendency of the lawsuit.

What makes a person the “primary parent” as opposed to the other parent is that the primary parent is awarded to be the “person with the exclusive right to designate the primary residence of the child.” There are a number of factors the Court considers when deciding who should be given the temporary exclusive right to establish the primary residence of the child at a Temporary Orders hearing. 

Assuming both parents are fit and there has not been any child abuse, harm or neglect, the Court first and foremost is going to examine which parent has been the primary caretaker of the child. If both parents shared in this responsibility, it is ok to acknowledge this fact. However, if you believe you were the primary parent presently and leading up to the lawsuit, the following are actions (if applicable) you need to show the Court you performed for your child a majority of the time:

  • You fed your child;
  • You bathed your child;
  • You got your child ready for school;
  • You took your child to school or daycare;
  • You picked up your child from school or daycare;
  • You scheduled, attended and took the child to and from doctors’ appointments;
  • You attended school activities and parent-teacher conferences;
  • You participated in the child’s extracurricular activities; and
  • You helped with the child’s homework.

Please understand that this list is not all encompassing and there are multitudes of ways that you can prove that you are the child’s primary parent. Documents such as homework logs, attendance records, report cards, reading logs, and daycare logs are very helpful in aiding the Court when it comes to deciding which parent shall have the temporary exclusive right to establish the child’s primary residence at a Temporary Orders hearing.


Attorney's Fees - Who Gets Them and When: Part 3


In addition attorney’s fees in a divorce, the court has authority under Texas law to award attorney’s fees to one side or the other in a Suit Affecting the Parent-Child Relationship (or “SAPCR”).

A Texas court can enter temporary orders for payment of reasonable attorney’s fees and expenses in a SAPCR (including divorce cases with children and modification cases). But the fees must be for “the safety and welfare of the child”. Attorney fees for the safety and welfare of the child can also be awarded as temporary orders during an appeal.

Texas courts have the ability to award attorney’s fees in SAPCR cases as “necessaries” for the child and in suits to adjudicate parentage. 

In a modification case, you can request attorney’s fees from the other side if the court determines that the modification suit was filed frivolously or designed to harass the other party. Likewise, attorney’s fees can be ordered against a party who knowingly makes a false allegation of child abuse or neglect in a SAPCR.

Finally, attorney’s fees can be ordered in suits brought for the enforcement of prior orders for child support or of possession of or access to a child. 

Check back next week for part 4 where I will focus on awards of attorney’s fees as sanctions.


Drug and Alcohol Use: What You Should Know Before Filing A Suit Affecting The Parent-Child Relationship In Texas


Over the past several weeks I have provided you with information regarding the most common methods of drug and/or alcohol testing used by courts in Texas in divorce and child custody matters. This week, I will discuss the method of drug testing known as “nail testing.” 

Nail testing is the newest form of drug testing being used by courts in Texas in divorce and child custody cases. Either fingernails and/or toenails can be tested to detect drug use. Like hair testing, nail testing has a longer detection period than a urinalysis drug screen.  Nail testing can detect drug use for a period of 3 months up to 8 months.  

When submitting to a nail test the nail is either clipped or shaved/scraped.   You must remove all nail polish and/or acrylic nails prior to submitting to a nail test.  Nail testing is generally used in cases where a person has no hair to test and/or if use of shampoos or other products that intend to alter hair or urinalysis test results are suspected. There are not many products on the market that claim to assist someone with passing a nail test. 

If you are considering filing for a divorce and/or a child custody matter in Texas, be sure that you could pass any method of drug testing commonly utilized by the Courts. Since hair testing and/or nail testing are the methods of testing used by courts in Texas that have the longest detection periods you should make sure that you could pass either a nail or hair test prior to filing a family law matter in Texas. Depending upon the drug consumed, the duration of use, and quantity consumed it could take as long as 9 to 12 months before you test clean on either a nail and/or hair test.

Testing positive on any kind of drug and/or alcohol test will have a negative impact on your divorce and/or child custody case in Texas. You will likely be awarded only supervised visitation with your children for an extended period of time. The Court will likely require your visitation to be supervised until you can demonstrate to the Court that any issues with substance abuse have been resolved. You could be required to submit to random alcohol and/or drug testing for an extended period of time.

Next week I will discuss some specific consequences associated with testing positive for drugs during the pendency of a divorce and/or child custody matter in Texas.






Another common method of drug testing used by Texas courts during divorce matters and custody matters is hair testing. Generally, a 5-panel hair test is conducted by the testing facility unless other drugs are specifically requested to be tested. 

A 5-panel hair test will test for use of the following substances:

1.     Cocaine;

2.     Methamphetamines, amphetamines, ecstasy;

3.     Heroin, morphine, codeine;

4.     PCP; and

5.     Marijuana.

The main difference between a urinalysis drug test and a hair test is that a hair test can test for a longer period of use. Hair tests are generally used to test for use with someone that you believe has used drugs for a longer period of time rather than occasional use. Generally, a standard head hair test can detect use for 90 days or 1.5 inches of hair closest to the scalp. Therefore, there are people that can test negative on a urinalysis drug screen that generally tests for use up to 5 days for most illegal drugs and prescriptions and 30-40 days for marijuana, but will test positive on a hair test.   

Just like there are myths about how to “beat” a urinalysis drug test there are also myths regarding how to “beat” a hair test as well. A common method of attempting to avoid having to take a hair test is to shave off your head hair, cut your hair extremely short, and/or to color or bleach your hair prior to submitting to a hair test. It is important to be aware that if you shave and/or cut your head hair, then your body hair can be tested instead. Head hair generally tests for use for 3 months. The growth rate of the head hair is approximately ½ inch per month. Body hair however can test for use from 7 to 12 months because the rate of growth for body hair is much slower, and then the hair is dormant. So, it is not wise to cut or shave your head hair in an attempt to avoid a hair test because testing the body hair is likely the next alternative, which can detect use for a much longer time period.         

A common method of attempting to “beat” a hair test is to use shampoos that claim to reduce or remove any signs of drug use from the hair and/or to bleach and/or color your hair prior to a test. It is important to note that some of the shampoos can reduce the level of drugs in your hair, but they generally do not reduce the level enough to test negative. Coloring and/or bleaching your hair can reduce the level of drugs in your hair, but will not reduce the level enough for you to pass a hair test.

Some interesting things to be aware of when facing a hair test:

  • On average it takes roughly 100-150 strands of head hair to perform a test.
  • Marijuana is more difficult, but not impossible to detect in a hair test.
  • If your hair does test positive in the initial test, the hair is tested again to confirm the initial positive by confirming with another methodology.

Next week I will discuss part III of a IV part series. Next week will focus on nail testing.







          Urinalysis drug and/or alcohol testing is a form of testing that is frequently ordered by courts in Texas in cases involving children. Urinalysis drug and/or alcohol testing can detect a broad range of drugs. Urinalysis drug and/or alcohol testing can detect use from 3 days up to a week depending on the frequency and/or quantity of use. Also, the type of substance consumed can also impact the detection window. For example, if a person consumes marijuana on a daily or regular basis, a urinalysis drug and/or alcohol test could detect use up to 40 to 45 days. A person’s body type can also impact how long a substance remains detectible in a urine sample. For example, there are certain drugs, like marijuana that remain detectible for longer periods in individuals that weigh more because the THC in marijuana sticks to a person’s body fat.   A substance like cocaine is usually only detectible in a urine sample for a much shorter time period, generally 3 to 7 days.

There are many myths regarding how to “beat” a urinalysis test. There are many products on the market that purport to guarantee that you will “pass” a urinalysis drug and/or alcohol test. There are also some home remedies that also claim to help you “pass” a drug and/or alcohol test. It is important to be aware of that when you take measures to tamper with and/or alter the results of a urinalysis drug and/or alcohol test the test results themselves can illustrate that the test may not be accurate because of an attempt to alter the true results. The most common methods that many people attempt when it comes to urinalysis drug and/or alcohol testing is to consume excessive amounts of water, to mix household ingredients such as bleach with the water that is being consumed, or by consuming products that are sold by companies that claim to be able to assist you with “passing” your test. Some people even attempt to use someone else’s urine when submitting a sample for a test. 

Below are some points to be aware of prior to attempting to alter your urine sample:

  • Many drug and/or alcohol testing facilities used by courts in Texas have personnel that supervise the urinalysis testing. Therefore, attempting to use another person’s urine sample will likely not be successful and you will more than likely be “caught in the act.” 
  • Consuming excessive amounts of water and/or other products will more than likely cause your creatinine level to be extremely low.  Creatinine is metabolic waste found in urine.  When you consume excessive amounts of liquid your creatinine levels decrease drastically.  The normal range of a person’s creatintine level differs for men and women.  However, the general rule of thumb is that if the creatinine level is below 20 mg, then the sample is considered to be diluted.
  • Most courts in Texas consider a diluted sample as the equivalent of a “positive” result. 

The best way to test negative and “pass” a urinalysis drug and/or alcohol test is to stop using all substances that could be tested at least 45 to 60 days prior to filing for divorce and/or a suit affecting the parent-child relationship in Texas.

Over the next several weeks I continue to provide helpful information regarding the impact that illegal drug use and/or substance abuse issues may have on your case. Next week I will discuss part II of a IV part series. Next week will focus on hair follicle drug testing.





Deciding between two disputing parents as to who should have custody of a child can be a challenging undertaking for any judge. Although it may seem intrusive to people involved in the court system, it is important for the judge to have as much information about the parenting qualities of each person to make the best decision for the children. One issue that parents should be aware of that may come into play during their case is the issue of consumption of alcohol and other drugs.   In a large number of family law cases, one of the ways to differentiate between the capabilities of the parents is to present evidence that a parent is using illegal drugs or is excessive with their consumption of alcohol. 

It is very common in Texas for the Court, either on its own motion or the motion of either or both parties, to order drug and/or alcohol testing of one or both parents. Generally, an alcohol and/or drug test is requested at the time of the temporary orders hearing (typically the first hearing held) in a suit-affecting the parent-child relationship, which includes a divorce action. A motion for drug and/or alcohol testing can be requested instanter, which means that you may not have any advance notice that the Court or the other parent is requesting that you submit to a test prior to the temporary orders hearing. Therefore, whether or not you are the parent that may be using alcohol excessively/using illegal drugs there are things that you should know about this issue prior to filing a Petition or Counter-Petition in a suit affecting the parent-child relationship. 

The first point to be aware of regarding this issue is that if you are using illegal substances, you need to stop immediately and seek professional assistance if you believe that you have a substance abuse problem. You should not file for divorce until such time that you believe that you could pass a random drug/alcohol test because you could be ordered to submit to a random drug and/or alcohol test by close of business on the day of the initial temporary orders hearing.

There are many myths to drug/alcohol testing to be aware of no matter what side of this issue that you may fall. Over the next several weeks, I will be providing you with information regarding the common types of drug/alcohol testing that you may be ordered to submit to, including common methods to try to “beat” a test. 

Over the next several weeks I will be providing helpful information regarding the impact that illegal drug use and/or substance abuse issues may have on your case. Next week I will discuss part I of a 4 part series, which will include:



  • ·        ALCOHOL
  • ·        DRUGS



  • DRUGS 

o       HEAD HAIR

o       BODY HAIR






Please feel free to contact us if you have questions for a Texas divorce or family law attorney.