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LegalGems, Lawyer
Category: Family Law
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Experience:  Experienced Family Law Attorney
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I am the father of a 9-year-old boy and a 12-year-old girl

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I am the father of a 9-year-old boy and a 12-year-old girl born out of wedlock to the same mother. In 2014 mother and I participated in a mediation to establish a parenting plan. The mediator asked me if I would be willing to support the kids’ “school-related” activities that occurred during my possession periods, a reasonable request to which I agreed. I subsequently signed an MSA that stated: “(father) shall timely facilitate the children’s participation in their respective extracurricular activities during his periods of possession.”
Mom’s attorney drafted the final order, and changed the wording of the MSA to this: ”(father) is ORDERED to timely facilitate the children’s participation in their respective extracurricular activities, whether the activity is sponsored by or otherwise related to the child’s school or not, during father’s periods of possession, specifically including practices, games, competitions and recitals for such activities as gymnastics, baseball, soccer, etc. for (son) and ballet, guitar, gymnastics, etc. for (daughter). In the event that (father) is unable or unwilling to facilitate a child’s participation in an extracurricular activity during father’s period of possession, father is ORDERED to surrender the child to (Mother) prior to the activity in order for (Mother) to facilitate the child’s participation in the activity.”
The modified wording did not reflect my understanding reached during the mediation so I refused to sign the final order. Arbitration was held where our mediator served as arbiter, and the modified wording was upheld. I refused to agree to the arbiter’s decision and a hearing was held where a judge ruled that the final order was in effect as drafted.
The final order also defines my rights as a joint managing conservator, and states that during my possession periods that I have: “the right to direct the moral and religious training of the children.”
Mother now asserts that the children are free to participate in any activity that relates to her Church. So far she has forced me to take the kids to rehearsals for religious plays at her church, also to take my daughter to her Christian Youth Band practices. I have objected to these religious activities but took the kids rather than miss the possession period.
Per the final order, on the first weekend of this October, I was supposed to enjoy possession of both my kids Saturday and Sunday as usual. However, mother informed me my daughter was attending a bible study retreat over the weekend and I would not see her. I objected and asked her to re-schedule the possession period and she has refused.
I do not believe I am compelled to support religious activities that my kids are enrolled in by their mother. Also I believe that mother’s act of denying me possession over the last weekend amounts to contempt of court. I want to take legal action to resolve this issue before mother decides to totally eliminate my possession by enrolling the kids in activities during every possession I am supposed to enjoy.
Any advice would be appreciated. Thanks.

Hello! I will be reviewing your question and posting a response momentarily; if you have any follow up questions please respond here. Thanks!

I am sorry to hear you are having problems with the children's schedule.

When 2 orders are in conflict, the court will generally give priority to the more specific order.

So for example, if a parent is required to facilitate participation in certain activities, yet then the subsequent order specifically states that parent has the authority over the children's religious training during possession, generally the parent's right to make religious decisions during possession will trump the more general extracurricular provision.

Furthermore, whenever a provision makes a statement, and then provides a list of specifics (and even more so when the specifics vary based on the child), the court will often take that as an indiciation that those specifics are the main concern- so for example, the court would require participation in the specifially listed activities, but would have more discretion in non-listed activities. When the non-listed activity is also addressed in another clause, the other clause would generally trump the prior clause.

However, a contempt citation requires a knowing and willful violation of a court order; since the court orders can be interpreted to be contradictory/ambiguous, the judge may find that it was not a willful violation (since one can reasonably construe it either way).

So the most effective approach would be to request clarification from the judge (motion to clarify). Furthermore, if a parent is seen as purposely frustrating visitation (ie scheduling events during the other parent's time) then the court can take that into consideration and that may be a basis for a modification of conservatorship.

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Information provided is for educational purposes only. Consultation with a personal attorney is always recommended so your particular facts may be considered. Thank you and take care.

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