In some circumstances, a court may order supervised visitation in a Texas custody case if necessary to protect the child’s health and safety. Supervised visitation allows the parent and child to maintain their relationship, while protecting he child’s safety. A father recently appealed a modification order requiring him to comply with certain conditions, including supervised visitation.
In the parents’ final divorce decree, they were both appointed joint managing conservators of the children. The mother was awarded the exclusive right to designate the residence of the children within a specified county. The decree required the father to maintain a Soberlink subscription, attend Alcoholics Anonymous, and have supervised visitation.
The trial court modified the parent-child relationship after finding the father was in contempt of the decree in January 2021. The modification order required the father’s visitation to be supervised in accordance with the conditions set out in the order. He was required to have an “adult assistant/babysitter present” who stayed within line of sight and hearing of the father and children any time he had possession. The assistant/babysitter was required to stay within line of sight and hearing of the father and children. The parties were to mutually agree upon the assistant/babysitter, or the court would designate one. The court stated its ruling resulted from the contempt finding.
Not a Denial of Possession and Access
The father appealed, arguing the trial court’s order effectively denied his right of access to the children.
The father argued the order required the mother’s agreement on a supervisor, and therefore effectively denied his right to possession and access. The appeals court pointed out there was a contingency for the court to appoint a supervisor if the parties could not agree. This case could therefore be distinguished from the cases cited by the father in which one parent’s visitation depended on agreement as to the times or as to a supervisor. The appeals court concluded the father was not effectively denied possession and access to the children because the order stated specific dates and times for his possession and access and because the father’s access was not solely conditioned on the mother’s agreement.
Not Void for Vagueness
The appeals court also rejected the father’s argument the order was void because it did not name a supervisor. In Texas, a person cannot be held in contempt for disobeying a court order if the order does not set forth clear, specific, and unambiguous terms. The appeals court noted, however, that not all orders must be enforceable by contempt. The appeals court concluded the order was “clear, specific, and unambiguous” regarding the father’s possession and access times and required supervised visitation. The court would appoint a supervisor if the parties could not agree. If the mother would not agree to a supervisor, the father’s remedy would be to ask the court to appoint one. Furthermore, Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 157.421 permits the court to clarify an order that is not specific enough to be enforceable by contempt. Because failure of the parties would not result in his possession or access being denied, the appeals court concluded nothing else was required in the order.
No Abuse of Discretion in Requiring Father to Follow Psychologist’s Recommendations
The father also argued the trial court erred in ordering him to follow the recommendations of the psychologist who evaluated him. The trial court ordered a psychological evaluation of the father during the modification proceedings. The court then required the father to follow the recommendations of the psychologist to get a referral for follow up counseling and substance abuse treatment. The court also ordered him to follow all of the recommendations and referrals the psychologist made.
The psychologist pointed out the father had a traumatic brain injury skull fracture and bilateral frontal subdural hematoma resulting from an alcohol-related fall. The father testified he stopped attending Alcoholics Anonymous and therapy for alcoholism after “Covid started.” He admitted testing positive for alcohol in March 2021.
The psychologist testified the father had responded defensively in the evaluation, limiting his ability to read him. The psychologist testified the father said he last drank in 2017, but the Soberlink results and father’s admissions to drinking suggested a higher probability of substance use issues. The psychologist recommended counseling, substance abuse treatment, aftercare, and random drug screenings.
The trial court found the father’s compliance with the recommendations was in the best interests of the children. It also found the psychologist to be “credible and compelling.”
On appeal the father argued the psychologist was biased because the mother retained him and her counsel supplied his knowledge of the case. The appeals court noted, however, that the psychologist conducted a clinical interview and used a number of tools to support his conclusions. The psychologist testified he was neutral and wanted to help the father. The trial court found the psychologist “credible and compelling.” The trial court was in the best position to determine credibility and the psychologist’s testimony supported the court’s finding. The appeals court found no abuse of discretion in the trial court’s finding the psychologist was neutral.
The father argued it was not clear how his compliance with the recommendations affected him because his possession and access were not conditioned on them.
The trial court had found supervised visitation was in the children’s best interest, but informed the parties it wished the father would have unsupervised visitation in the future. The court suggested it might allow unsupervised access if the father followed the therapeutic recommendations and allowed time to pass. The appeals court concluded compliance with the psychologist’s recommendations was required for unsupervised visitation.
The appeals court found insufficient evidence supporting the attorney’s fees and reversed and remanded on that issue, but otherwise affirmed the trial court’s modification order.
Call a Knowledgeable Texas Custody Lawyer
If you are facing a difficult custody dispute, a skilled Dallas child custody attorney can discuss your case and help you pursue a positive outcome for you and your children. Call McClure Law Group at 214.692.8200 for a consultation.