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The "Right of First Refusal" in Family Law Matters

Posted by James Victor Esh | Dec 04, 2023

Navigating the intricacies of family law can be daunting, especially when it comes to safeguarding your parental rights. One aspect that often arises, particularly in custody arrangements, is the concept of the "Right of First Refusal." Understanding this provision is crucial in ensuring your role as an involved and caring parent remains steadfast.

What is the Right of First Refusal?

In the realm of Texas Family Law, the Right of First Refusal (ROFR) serves as a mechanism to prioritize a parent's time with their child when the other parent cannot fulfill their custodial duties during their scheduled parenting time. This provision enables you to step in and care for your child rather than defaulting to alternative childcare options.

How Does ROFR Work in Practice?

Typically outlined in custody agreements or court orders, the ROFR stipulates that if the custodial parent is unable to personally care for the child during their designated time, they must offer that time to the other parent before seeking external childcare solutions. This provision aims to promote the child's best interests by maximizing their time with both parents whenever possible.

Key Considerations for Implementing ROFR:

  1. Clarity in Legal Documents: Ensure that your custody agreement or court order explicitly defines the conditions triggering the ROFR, including the duration and method of notice required when invoking this right.

  2. Communication and Cooperation: Open dialogue between co-parents is fundamental. Keep each other informed about changes in schedules or unexpected circumstances that might trigger the ROFR.

  3. Flexibility and Reasonableness: Approach the ROFR with a mindset of flexibility and reasonableness. This provision should not be a tool for control or inconvenience but a means to foster the child's bond with both parents.

Cons of the Right of First Refusal

While I am generally personally in favor of the Right of First Refusal when properly balanced between the parties, it is also my experience that these provisions in Family Law orders can create additional tension and litigation if they are put in place for the wrong reasons or improperly tailored.  The underlying reason for these provisions is to provide the other parent the opportunity to parent their children in the event the parent who has the kids cannot keep them for a period of time for some reason.  For example, Dad may have the kids for an extended weekend but must work on one of his days of visitation.  Instead of Dad leaving the kid(s) with a babysitter, the ROFR allows the other parent to step in an parent the child during that short period of time.  When used in these instances, it makes sense.  Frankly, parents who are strong in co-parenting do not need an order to allow these minor changes in the custody arrangement.  By putting the ROFR in an order, it imposes an obligation on the parties.  The ROFR is a good tool to help parents get into the mind set and begin the learning process of co-parenting. 

However, if the ROFR is put in place as a way to 'control' the other parent, it is a trip wire for litigation.  For example, I have seen ROFR where the parties agreed and an order is entered where there is a 2 hour window, the ROFR kicks in.  Or, a provision where if anyone other than the biological parent would be watching the child, the ROFR kicks in.  There may be very good reasons for these provisions due to the specific family dynamics (e.g. domestic violence concerns with the new extended family).  However, if they are put in orders just to prevent the new extended family (e.g. new stepmom/stepdad) from watching the children when bio mom/dad have to run errands and no real factual concerns with the new extended family, it has moved from a useful 'co-parenting' tool to a potential legal weapon against the other parent. 

Empowering Your Parental Role:

Understanding and exercising the Right of First Refusal can significantly impact your involvement in your child's life. By embracing this provision, you reinforce your commitment to nurturing a strong and loving relationship with your child, fostering stability and security.

However, navigating the complexities of family law requires guidance tailored to your unique circumstances.  Remember, the aim of the Right of First Refusal is not to create conflict but to prioritize the well-being of your child. 

About the Author

James Victor Esh

Victor understands the struggles of families.  It is at the core of how he practices.  When a family must be reshaped, he understands the emotional struggle this causes.  He seeks to resolve conflicts in the most efficient way by reaching agreements where they can be made.  When an agreement can'...

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