My Long Distance Visitation
In April of 1996, Stevenís mother moved with him from
St. Louis, MO. to Houston, TX. Instead of driving to see Steven on
weekends, I now had to fly 2,200 miles round trip. From that time
through April 2000, I made 65 weekend flights to exercise my visitation
time. We became regulars at a Residence Inn hotel, which was a
convenient accommodation for us. They have an outdoor sports court,
pool, and we prepared meals together in our roomís kitchen. It was also
close to both his motherís apartment and his school.
Every other Friday during the school year, I left
Sioux City, IA on a 5:30AM flight and arrived in Houston five hours
later. I usually picked up Stevenís hot lunch at McDonalds with french
fries for everyone at his table. I brought my laptop computer so we
could play his favorite educational games, and things like
walkie-talkies, snorkel sets, Nerf balls and a Frisbee. We visited
parks, museums, and attractions, and took road trips to places like
Kennedy Space Center, San Antonio, and Galveston Island.
I attended all Parent Ė Teacher meetings which were
scheduled for Fridays after school, and on Saturdays I sat in on his
basketball games and art lessons. His mother and I took him to the same
church on Sunday mornings. I always gave Stevenís mother the name,
address, and phone number of our hotel and drop off times in advance. My
commitment to being with him strengthened our father-son relationship.
If you are apart from your children, do whatever you can to stay
connected and see them as much as possible. A continued involvement in
their lives gives them a stronger sense of security and self esteem, and
theyíll appreciate the time with you. It also shows a court that you are
an actively involved and interested parent.
Staying in Touch
Between our weekends together, I called Steven
every 2-3 days. His paternal grandparents and several other relatives
called frequently as well. 8:00PM was our usual evening call time. We
sent him emails, cards, "care packages" with snacks, photos, Scholastic
magazines and comic books. I also gave him stamped and addressed
envelopes to use. The office machines that I had on hand were a fax
machine, copier, scanner, (to share drawings, artwork, schedules, etc.)
and a computer with internet access. If you donít have one already, get
a toll free phone number. Your kids can call you from most anywhere.
Phonecards are inexpensive and convenient for them as well.
Major Winning Factors
In September of 1999, Steven asked me, "Hey Dad, can
you call a lawyer and make it so I can live with you in Iowa?" Was I
ever surprised! He had always asked about the possibility of moving back
someday, but not like this. I assured him that Iíd look into the
possibility. A month later I hired a very effective custody attorney in
Houston, TX, and went to work.
The attorney informed me that our timing couldnít
have been better. The Texas legislature had just dropped the age at
which a minor could select a "Managing Conservator" from twelve to ten.
Steven turned ten just one month before the law went into effect.
I was now modifying a 1993 order from our case in St.
Louis. I was going to fight for custody of an only child from a mother
with no drug or alcohol addictions, or mental problems. She did have
deep pockets, though. The busy months that followed were filled with
gathering supporting information, records, depositions, even a video
tour of our hometown, and pulling it all together.
Stevenís legal declaration of his desire to live with
me was the substantial change of our circumstances. This is a childís
right at age 10, subject to the discretion of the court, in Texas.
Stability of home life was another important part of our case. I
continue to reside in the home we purchased before Steven was born. His
mother made five residential moves between 1990 and 2000. Since 1990,
his mother, a Brazilian national, had six different nannies living in
her home to take care of our son. I work out of my home office. If
Steven were to be ill and home from school, Iíd be here to take care of
him around the clock. In our hometown, Stevenís grandparents live four
blocks down the street, and a cousin and his family are two blocks away.
The availability of blood relatives and extended family living close by
for support is a definite plus.
The continuity of life I have to offer Steven is very
stable and certain. My business is based here and I have had no plans to
move in the future. In our hometown, Steven has friends that he has been
playing with since preschool, we attend the same church where he was
baptized, and heíll stay in the same school system until he graduates.