If your child is under 3 or if you have not previously spent much time with the child, your parenting plan may gradually increase the time you spend with your child. Your order may contain a “step-up” visitation scheduleA “step-up plan” or “graduated” is a type of possession and access schedule or parenting time schedule that requires the noncustodial parent’s time with the child to start off being more limited than it would be under a Standard Possession Order and step up to add more time. This also may be called a graduated or stair-step plan. The noncustodial parent gradually increases time with the child before moving to the SPO schedule.. The noncustodial parent’s right to possession of the child will start more slowly than it would be under a SPO. Typically, the noncustodial parent must complete a certain number of “periods of possession” before moving to the next level, where his or her time with the child increases. Parents will move to the standard possession order once all levels are completed or the parents agree to move to the SPO or another expanded schedule.
If you have a step-up schedule, keep records that show each period of possession you completed, including the dates and times. If you and the other parent disagree, a record is the best way to get credit for all of the periods of possession that you successfully completed. Obtain evidence that you were at the right location at the right date and time by taking a witness with you to observe what happened. Another option is to buy a drink or a pack of gum from a nearby store, and keep the receipt to show you were in the area at a certain date and time.
What if one parent isn’t following the order?
There are many reasons parents don’t follow their parenting time orders. Sometimes work schedules don’t align with the standard possession order pick up and drop off times. Some parents cannot control their emotions around the transfer of the child and don’t follow the order to avoid a fight. These and other issues can be worked around. Both parents are required to follow the orders if they cannot agree to another arrangement. If you don’t agree and the SPO does not work, go to www.texaslawhelp.org for forms to help you modify your possession order.
There are other ways to resolve issues before seeking formal enforcement. Here are some good reasons to follow your orders and resolve issues quickly. This section also discusses some ways to get parenting back on track.
Share the Parenting
Children like routine and schedules. Establishing a consistent routine with your child builds security and trust. While a routine is best, there are exceptions. It makes it easier to swap times when a scheduled time has to be missed, such as if you are ill, or suddenly have to help an elderly or sick relative. Being flexible with scheduling conflicts or switching weekends builds good will that may get you through difficult times. If you aren’t able to follow the order, contact the other parent to discuss alternatives. The willingness to swap a time or a day helps both parents manage scheduling emergencies.
Staying involved with your child results in better thinking and brain development among young children, and improved performance in schools among older children. Engaged dads positively affect children’s social, cognitive, and academic behavior. Recent studies show children who have involved fathers are more emotionally secure, have less depression, and fewer behavioral problems in both childhood and adolescence.
- Children of involved fathers do better at school, including better grades, fewer expulsions, and repeating fewer grades.
- Father involvement is just as important for adolescent boys and girls.
- Financial and emotional supports go hand in hand. Fathers who are involved with their children are more likely to pay child support, and fathers who pay child support are more likely to stay involved. Census Bureau data consistently show that parents with court-ordered arrangements are more likely to get their child support.
Children who have involved mothers are:
- More likely to stay in school and attain a higher level of education
- More likely to reach higher social and economic levels
- Less likely to have behavior problems and more likely to have good social skills
Hit the “reset” button on your relationship with the other parent.
This is not your romantic relationship — leave negative feelings in the past.
Co-parenting is like a business relationship. Your business is raising your kid. Try to think of yourselves as business partners who are working together to achieve a “business” goal, raising a healthy, happy child.
You will be in a co-parenting relationship with this person for many years. Keep conversations polite and professional, just like you’d want the other parent to talk with you.
Set some ground rules for yourself — and stick to them.
Make some promises about how you will talk to and about the other parent.
Remember that you only have control over yourself. You can’t control how the other parent behaves, but you can control how you ACT and how you REACT. You have a choice about how you behave in front of your child.
Choose your words carefully.
The way that you talk about your family will change the way you, your child and others think about your family … so choose your words carefully.
Swapping information about your child’s health, shifting interests, and problems or successes helps both parents maintain positive communication about their child.
If tempers flare when exchanging your child, it can help to:
- Detach your emotions from the situation—be hard on the problem and soft on the person;
- Treat the situation like a business transaction;
- Keep the exchange brief and civil;
- Agree to meet in a neutral, public place if this makes it easier;
- Control your comments; and
- Honor your child’s right to a relationship with both parents.
Grandparents and other extended family members who were important to your child before your breakup can be especially important afterward. Extended family on both sides can often be a source of comfort to your child, and may be able to help if parents need a temporary break from picking up or dropping off the child.
If a difficult conversation is coming up with the other parent, schedule it when neither of you is rushed and when the children are not present, such as lunchtime when the children are at school or daycare. Another option is to schedule a telephone call when you know the children won’t be around to overhear the conversation.
Email and texting are not good options because complicated issues can be easily misunderstood without the added benefit of tone and emotion. If you do email or text, try these suggestions:
- Keep one email chain or text message chain going so you can go back to the message before it.
- Send the other parent a picture or two of your child during your time together to keep the other parent informed about what went on.
- Text about adjustments to scheduling pick up and drop off times. This can help parents get the kids together without conflicts, especially around holidays.
- Avoid over-texting – do not text the other parent every few minutes or days about the same subject. For example, text once that you are running late or that there is traffic.
- Do not argue with the other parent via text message or email. It is difficult to read emotions in a text or in an email. Ways to avoid arguments include:
- be specific,
- keep to the facts,
- be brief; avoid adjectives (words like angry, jealous, hurt)
- use a street address when giving a location
- give your estimated time of arrival
- stick to one topic
- If you have teenagers, verbally verify what your child is doing and with whom.
When you talk to the other person, use “I” messages instead of accusing words, such as, “You always” to say how you feel about things you would like to change. Listen to the other person’s point of view. Good listeners don’t think about what to say next. They listen, wait a few seconds, and then thoughtfully respond. Think about what your child is learning from watching how you and the other parent get along.
The transition from one home to another can be difficult. Give your child a quiet time, if possible, before and after an exchange. Your child may feel sad at leaving one parent even though he or she may be excited at seeing the other parent. It’s an emotionally difficult time for your child, who is loyal to both parents. Parents can prepare the child for the upcoming exchange by talking about it and respecting your child’s right to miss the other parent.
Put your child at ease during the drive between homes. At picking ups and drop offs, say something positive about your child to the other parent. Children love to hear their parents brag about them. Compliment your child’s latest piece of artwork or the last sporting event (wait until you hear about the great catch she made!); then watch your child light up.
Talking directly with the other parent keeps your child from being put in the middle. Children feel in the middle when they have to pass messages, verbal or written. Children do not want to hear about adult issues, such as money, child support, and why you broke up. Children of all ages want to stay out of your conflicts. One way children learn to get along with other people is by listening to how mom and dad talk. Children can see when parents are able to work together to sort out a problem, or when they are unable to give a little to make things go smoothly.
Pick your battles. In five years, will it matter that you fought about a missing pair of socks or that the movie let out 20 minutes late? In five years, it will matter if your child did not have both parents around for support.
Create and maintain a schedule of routine contact with the other parent. Talking regularly about your children, especially during emotionally difficult times, allows both parents to focus on what’s best for their child. It gets easier with practice.
Pay your child support. Failure to pay child support is not a reason for the custodial parent to deny access to the child, but it will make an already difficult situation worse. Paying your child support demonstrates your commitment to providing for your child both financially and emotionally.
If things fall apart, ways to enforce the court order.
If you cannot work it out, go here for ways to enforce your current parenting time/possession order. The OAG cannot enforce parenting time (possession) orders, only district or county courts can.
 TalkingParents.com is an email and texting replacement where parents cannot alter what was already said, easy to use files in court, do not need to give the other parent your email address. The app is free but printed records cost $29 each. Social media programs and applications continually change, check for the latest updates.