There is something about being in the military that causes many people to believe that there are different rules that are applicable for folks who serve our country. It may be that there is a distinction drawn between civilians and military service-people in other areas of our lives that we would naturally believe that there are different rules for military service-people as opposed to civilians.
The reality is that the rules for military members trying to get divorced are the same for civilians. The Texas Family Code does not draw any distinctions between civilians and military members who are trying to get divorced. Your circumstances as a military member or military spouse may be very different from your civilian neighbors, but the requirements for a divorce in Texas draw no distinctions between your family and your neighbors. You must fulfill the same requirements as everyone else to complete your divorce. This is both a good and a bad thing. It’s a good thing from the perspective that you do not have to complete any additional steps to get divorced. It may be a bad thing for your family from the perspective that your circumstances may make it more difficult to get divorced as a result of your being deployed or not otherwise living in Texas.
This is probably the main way that your divorce may look different from your neighbors. If you are living overseas then it is obvious that you will not be able to proceed with your divorce as you would if you lived down the street from the courthouse. If you are deployed to a foreign country then it is not as if you can pop into your lawyer’s office whenever you want, either. This makes a divorce more difficult but it doesn’t make it impossible. What it does do is make it more important for you to be able to plan and act intentionally in connection with your case. You do not have the luxury to sort of drift along in your case and hope it all turns out ok in the end.
Acting intentionally, having a plan is essential for military divorces
Have you ever gotten behind the wheel of your car and just started to drive without really thinking about where you are going? I’m willing to bet that you have. I’ve done it from time to time myself. You may jump in the car and just start cruising. Maybe you’re headed to a destination you’ve been to multiple times. You are so comfortable with where you are going that you don’t even really think about where you are going.
This is something that everyone going through a divorce should avoid, whether or not they are in the military. You as a military member or military spouse should certainly avoid situations where you are on autopilot in your divorce. You may think that because you have a really “good” attorney, have little property to be concerned with, or have a custody arrangement figured out with your Co-parent before your filing of the divorce even begins. Therefore, you may assume that your divorce will be a walk in the park and that you can essentially take your foot off the gas pedal as it pertains to your case.
No matter how or why you may feel like this, I can tell you that it is a mistake to go into your divorce as a military member being anything less than extremely focused on achieving goals and doing what is best for your kids. Of course, to achieve a goal you must first have a goal. I find that writing down your goals, making sure that they have a deadline to achieve them by, and then making them measurable are all important. Putting your goal down and riding does something to make you more accountable to yourself into your family. A goal not written down is at best an aspiration and at worst a thought. You do not want to go through your divorce with only thoughts of achieving positive things in your divorce. Rather, you want to have goals that are meaningful to you and your family.
Next, you want those goals to be your goals. What I mean by that is that I do not believe you should develop goals after having spoken with your attorney or your family. Those folks are good places to get ideas for goals but the goals that are the most important ones to you will almost certainly be the goals that you have created out of your own experiences and wishes. Once you have developed goals that are your own you will care much more about them and will do more to achieve those goals. Think about your high school car. If you worked to purchase that car then you are more likely to be careful with how you drive. A vehicle that you have because your parent purchased it for you just will not mean the same thing. Create your own goals and you will have a more streamlined and effective divorce.
Next, I highly recommend putting time requirements on each of your goals. If you have certain custody or divorce goals that you want to see acted upon in your case and you are best off in telling yourself that you have X amount of time to complete those objectives. Languishing in a divorce for months or even more than a year to achieve a goal that is not readily accessible is a mistake. However, you should talk to your attorney about having manageable goals in a manageable amount of time. I have seen people wait around in a divorce to accomplish goals that are not only unreasonable but unachievable. This will leave you unsatisfied, frustrated have less money in your pocket, and have devoted more time to frustrating activities.
The other aspect of goal setting is that you should have forward-thinking goals. Do not set goals for the short term but rather envision where you want your life and that of your children to be five years into the future. This will allow you to completely change how you approach your divorce and will likely allow you to be more content with the goals that you have set for yourself and your family. The more forward-thinking you become the less stuck on particular issues you will be. Allowing yourself to back off on certain goals in favor of focusing your energy on the more important goals for you and your family is an important aspect of your case.
What are custody considerations within a military divorce?
When it comes to a trial on custody issues in your divorce you should be prepared to understand that a judge is likely to take the status quo and apply that to the future of your family. This means that you all should expect a judge to maintain parental roles as much as possible. For example, if you are a deployed service member who is rarely at home then you should not expect your judge to name your primary conservator over a spouse who has spent the better part of your child’s life caring for him or her period this does not mean that you are a bad parent or are negligent it just means that this has not been your role in the family.
If you only court judge will never learn enough about your family throughout a trial to make better decisions than you and your spouse will. Even if you and your spouse are at a point where you agree on very little about your family you all will still know the logistics of family life for you all better than a judge will. This is especially important in conjunction with a divorce for military members. For example, you do not necessarily want to put yourself in a position where you and your spouse are having to live by logistical issues from a judge who does not understand your family dynamics. With that said, you all need to consider the most important issues of your divorce before going to a trial period you may be at risk of a judge making decisions for your family that are in no one’s best interests.
One important aspect of child custody for your family is that the younger your children are the more topics like preparing and planning meals, bathing, grooming, and dressing as well as basic house or the activities will become much more important period if you are not able to be at home as frequently as your other parent or actually on deployment it would be unlikely that you could be named as primary conservator of your children. In that case, the best you could probably hope for would be to have a relative placed in that position rather than you while you were on deployment. Even then, that is likely only in a situation where your Co-parent is unfit to act as primary conservator of your kids.
This is to say nothing about the ability for a parent to teach basic skills like reading, writing, and math even while your child is in school. The lessons of a school day have to be reinforced at home for them to take. While you may be defending this country and performing your duties as best you can in the military that does not necessarily mean that you are also equipped to fulfill these basic responsibilities to younger children. You may be able to do so in the future but now may not be the time 2 push for primary conservatorship especially for your younger children. A good rule of thumb is that if you cannot be with your kids every night at bedtime and every morning when they wake up it may not be for the best in terms of you asking for primary Custody.
Do family court judges discriminate against fathers when it comes to assigning conservatorships rights?
One of the many concerns I hear from military members with some frequency is that judges have a reputation for preferring to name others as primary conservators. These military members who are men have concerns that their sex and job responsibilities will prevent them from ever having a fair shake when it comes to being named as a primary conservator. You will even see some attorneys advertise themselves as being fathers’ rights or Men’s rights attorneys. What we need to discuss here is whether or not there is any basis to this thought that judges prefer to name mothers as opposed to fathers as primary conservators of children.
The Texas family code does not explicitly prefer fathers to mothers or mothers to fathers in any conservatorships role. However, we have just discussed a multitude of factors that show why well there’s more often than fathers are named as primary conservators. First of all, if you are a military member and a father then you are likely not in a position to be there for your children when they wake up, when they go to school, when they get home from school and when they need to go to bed. This does not make you a bad dad but does put you in a position where you may not be able to fulfill the obligations of a primary parent as easily.
Another issue that we’ve already talked about which plays into this discussion is that a judge is more likely to name a mother as opposed to a father’s primary Conservatory because that is the role that you and your spouse of likely failed so far in your marriage. This does not make either of you better or worse parents but it is just more likely that you are spouse as the mother has been fulfilling these obligations to this point. You can try to switch the rolls around as much as possible once your case is filed but it is unlikely that a judge will Sydney significantly alter the custody situation for your family based on recent changes to your parenting structure.
What are your strengths versus those of your parents in terms of raising your children? If your strength to this point has been earning the living for your family through your military service and your spouse has displayed a willingness and ability to raise the children on a primary basis then that is most likely the role that a judge will continue to uphold for you and your family. While this may be frustrating it is not that a judge will discriminate against you based on your sex or gender. However, the judge will make decisions that are in the best interest of the children in maintaining current parenting roles as much as possible is one way for the judge to ensure that this occurs.
Does your child get to provide their opinion to the judge about custody?
The question of a child’s ability to weigh in with their opinion, generally speaking, comes down to age. If your child is over the age of 12 all you and your attorney need to do is file a motion to have him or her be able to talk to the judge. At that point, a judge must speak to your child about their thoughts on conservatorships in primary custody roles. The judge will not play counselor or family therapist but will ask basic questions about the home environments for both you and your spouse and will likely ask about their preference as to which parent should be named as primary conservative.
On the other hand, if your child is under the age of 13 then it is likely that the judge will take up whether or not to speak to your child on a case by case basis. I would think that the age of your child would make a difference in this regard in his or her maturity level. A 3-year-old child likely isn’t able to offer much in the way of an opinion for a judge to consider when it comes to primary custody. However, an older child is likely better suited to be able to provide an opinion for the judge. As with anything in a family law case, this will likely be considered on a case-by-case basis.
If you plan to have your child speak to the judge you should discuss this with your attorney early in your case. He or she can help guide you and prepare you for this part of a case you can talk to you about what it means to put your child in the middle of a contested divorce. It may not be for the best to have your child provide their opinion and as a result, it could be something where you want to strongly consider your options before filing a motion like this.
Questions about the material contained in today’s blog post? Contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan
If you have any questions about the material contained in today’s blog post please do not hesitate to contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan. Our licensed family law attorneys offer free of charge consultations six days a week in person, over the phone, and via video. These consultations are a great way for you to learn more about the world of Texas family law as well as about how your family may be impacted by the filing of a divorce or child custody case.