Parents have the option to request court ordered electronic communication with their child. This can be done through an original custody suit or through a modification suit. Communication can be by phone, email, or other ways, like FaceTime. If your court order does not include electronic communication, the other parent does not have to allow the communication.
What is electronic communication?
Electronic communication is a form of access to a child. It includes communication through telephone, email, instant messaging, videoconferencing, or webcam. See Texas Family Code 153.015(a).
FaceTime, Zoom, Google Duo, Google Meet, Skype, Facebook Messenger, Marco Polo, and similar programs are all types of electronic communication.
How do I know if I can have electronic communication with my child?
You must read your order to determine if you have electronic access with your child.
Not all court orders are the same. Some court orders will say if a parent can talk to their child when the child is not in their physical possession. If your order does not say when you can talk to your child, then the other parent does not have to allow it.
Parents should be flexible and allow the other parent to speak with the child. This allows the other parent to have meaningful contact with their child.
When would a parent get electronic communication with their child?
Parents can agree to include electronic communication in their court ordered parenting plan.
When parents do not agree, the judge can award electronic communication. The communication must be reasonable. The court will consider:
- if including electronic access is in the child’s best interest,
- whether all parties have the necessary equipment/devices to have electronic communication,
- and any other factor the court thinks is appropriate.
Is electronic communication ordered instead of physical possession of my child?
Electronic communication is not a substitute for physical possession of a child. Usually, it adds to, or supplements, a parent’s access to their child.
In some cases, electronic communication may be an appropriate substitute for physical possession. Some examples of situations where electronic communication may be appropriate are:
- Family violence cases, including if a parent has supervised visitation. See Texas Family Code 153.015(e).
- Any other situation where the child’s safety is an issue when they are with a parent.
Courts cannot consider electronic communication in determining a parent’s child support obligation. Texas Family Code 153.015(d).
What would "reasonable electronic access" be?
The court will consider the child’s age, needs, and the parent’s ability to make sure the child is available. The court will also consider what the parents agree is reasonable.
Generally, the following times may be unreasonable:
- early in the morning or before school,
- late at night, past a child’s bedtime, and
- any time during the child’s school.
The court may limit how many times a day a parent can talk to their child. The court may also limit how long the child can be on the phone. Too many or too long phone calls could interfere with the other parent’s time with the child. Also, most children do not have the attention span to talk on the phone for long periods of time.
It may also not be reasonable for a parent to call their child every day the child is not with them. This could infringe on the other parent’s time if they have to make the child available at the same time every day. Courts usually will order time for the parent to call a few times during the week or weekend.
Parents should not use this time with their child to relay messages to other parent. It is not good co-parenting to involve the child in adult conversations. Parent should use this time to maintain a bond with their child when the child is with the other parent.
Does the other parent have to share contact information with me?
Parents will share the information where a parent can reach the child. This includes email addresses, phone numbers, or a child's screen name. This allows parents to reach the child. The parents must also notify each other of any changes to this information. Parents should share the new information at least 24 hours after the change happens.
Your order will say if you must update your contact information with the other parent. Not all orders are the same. Generally, parents must share and update their current home and cell phone number. See Texas Family Code 105.006.
You must follow your order if it requires you to share contact information with the other parent. If you do not share your updated information, you may be violating your court order. One result of violating court orders is contempt of court. Talk to a lawyer about the consequences of violating a court order. You should also talk to a lawyer if there are safety concerns in sharing new information.
Some orders may have a nondisclosure clause. This means you do not have to share your contact information with the other parent. You should speak to an attorney if you are unsure about your order. A lawyer can also help make sure that certain parts of your order are not conflicting.
Can I listen to my child’s conversation with the other parent?
Parents should not listen to the child’s conversation with the other parent. If there is a concern for the child’s safety and wellbeing, you should speak with a lawyer. Parents should give their child privacy when the child is talking to the other parent. See Texas Family Code 153.015(c). If the child has trouble with the device or the internet, then the parent can help the child fix the problem.
Does the child also get electronic communication with me?
The Texas Family Code only discusses electronic communication by a conservator or parent. See Texas Family Code 153.015. But, parents can agree to include times that the child can reach out to the other parent. If parents do not agree, then a parent can ask the court to include times when the child can call the other parent.
Courts encourage parents to be flexible when their child asks to talk to the other parent.
What if the other parent does not let me have electronic communication?
If parents agree to electronic communication, it is up to the parents to follow the agreement. Often, courts do not enforce agreements between parents that are not part of the court order.
Parents can sign and file their electronic communication agreement. This written document is called a Rule 11 Agreement. For more information, read about Rule 11 Agreements
If you have a Rule 11 agreement, then it is an enforceable contract relating to your lawsuit. If a party to a valid Rule 11 agreement breaches the agreement, they can be sued. A lawyer can help file the suit and can tell you what remedies are available.
My current order does not include electronic communication for the parents. What can I do?
A parent who wants electronic communication can file a modification lawsuit. If the court changes the current order, the new order will have the terms for when parents can talk to their child.
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