A child custody lawyer can help you with child custody cases and a wide array of custody issues. These cases can be emotionally difficult as parents fight over precious time with their children and the right to be a part of their lives. Adding to that difficulty is the often confusing and complicated laws around child custody cases. That is especially true when the custody case is part of a divorce. Whether you seek custody of a child or want to defend your own relationship with your children, it is vital that you consult with an experienced child custody lawyer in Texas.
- Unmarried parents defining custody and child support
- Paternity suit
- Terminating a parent’s rights
- Modifying an existing custody order
- Grandparent and other family members fighting for custody
- CPS removal of a child from your home
Child custody cases can quickly become complicated cases because there is no easy rule applied to custody decisions under the Texas Family Code. Texas courts must decide custody cases based upon the best interests of the child. That standard can lead to varying results due to the facts in a particular case, the positions of the parties involved, the opinions of experts in the case and the opinion of your judge. An experienced family law attorney can help navigate this maze and build a case to advocate for you and your children.
What is child custody under the Texas Family Code?
The term “child custody” has varying meanings for people. The Texas Family Code actually does not use this term. What most people think of as child custody involves two issues:
- Parenting time with the children
Often child custody attorneys and judges distinguish the parents as custodial parents and non-custodial parents in the outcome of a custody case. A custodial parent has the majority of time with the children and the right to designate their residence. A non-custodial parent has less time with the child.
Conservatorship is a fancy word for the right to make decisions about a child’s health and well-being. This includes topics such as medical care, housing, education and legal decisions. It also includes the right to access information about the children, such as medical and school records. A court can divide conservatorship between the parents and other guardians in many ways. Sometimes the parties will share rights, such as mutual rights to access school records, but the court may award some rights exclusively to one parent, such as the right to designate where the child will live.
Under the Texas Family Code the court can award one of two conservatorship arrangements:
- Joint managing conservatorship
- Sole managing conservatorship
Joint Managing Conservatorship in Texas
The most common arrangement in Texas law for parents to divide conservatorship over children is through a joint managing conservatorship. Under a joint managing conservatorship the two parents split managing rights over the children. These rights may be shared, independently held by both, or independently held by one or the other parent.
The division of rights and responsibilities can occur in almost any combination. It may favor one parent over the other or divide rights and responsibilities in an equal manner.
Dividing rights in a joint managing conservatorship must be a careful decision for both parents because the division of rights will affect the parent’s ability to exercise typical parental duties and in turn affect the parent-child relationship. This arrangement is presumed best for the children under the Texas Family Code.
Sole Managing Conservatorship in Texas
Sometimes the child’s best interests means one parent has no managing rights with the other having sole managing rights. This relationship is known as sole managing conservatorship. Rather than both acting as managing conservatorship, all of the rights and duties are in the hands of one parent. The other parent may have some possession or access rights but no other rights over the child. This parent is known as a possessory conservator.
Sole managing conservatorship is generally only ordered when the possessory conservator demonstrated in the past a risk to the health or well-being of the child. That may include:
- A history of domestic violence, abuse, or neglect;
- A history of drug use, alcohol addiction, or criminal activity;
- Absence from the child’s life for an extensive period of time;
- History of parental conflict that risks harm to the child.
The bar for removing a parent’s rights to even access information about their own child is high. If either parent pursues sole managing conservatorship over your child, then you need to hire an experienced child custody lawyer to represent you in that case.
Parenting time, possession and visitation
Additionally, child custody cases deal with how time with the children is allocated between parents. This includes actual possession as well as visitation or access. People often use these terms without specific meaning. Typically possession refers to a custodial parent’s time with the child in which the child lives with that parent. Visitation or access typically refers to the non-custodial parent’s time with the child.
All parents have a right to time with their children. That could be possession or visitation. Visitation may even be supervised. A court may only completely exclude a parent from time with the child if the parent is a danger to the physical or emotional health of the child.
Parenting time between the parents can be divided in a wide range of arrangements depending upon the circumstances of the family, best interests of the children, and what agreement the parents may make. These include:
- Standard possession order
- Expanded possession order
- 50/50 custody arrangements
- Nesting arrangements
- Limited or supervised visitation
Parents often disagree on the right custody arrangement because both want the maximum amount of time with their children. Every hour one parent gets is an hour the other parent has to give up. That can lead to an emotional conflict. Your child custody lawyer can help explain how the law applies to your situation and advocate for a custody arrangement that protects your relationship with your children.
Possession schedules for child custody in Texas
When a court orders possession or visitation schedules, the court must determine how to allocate time between the parents unless they reach an agreement. The Texas Family Code presents several example schedules parents can follow. Judges often use these schedules as default visitation schedules because they are presumed by the code to be in the best interest of the children. Parents sometimes pursue alternative schedules which can become part of the custody order.
The most common of the default schedules is the Standard Possession Order. The Standard Possession Order, or SPO, has been in place for decades. This is the typical schedule in which the non-custodial parent has alternating weekends, alternating holidays and a month of summer visitation. This possession or visitation schedule assumes the traditional family structure of one breadwinning parent and one homemaker parent. Modern families often have two working parents in which both parents shared parenting duties and time in one home and want to continue to participate more equally with the children.
Increasingly parents agree to more balanced 50/50 custody schedules in which the children share time equally or more equally than the SPO. These include schedules like:
- 2-5-5-2 or 4-3-3-4 alternating blocks of days;
- alternating weeks;
- alternating two weeks;
- Nesting agreements.
Many parenting and child experts encourage parents to balance time more equally under these creative custody schedules; however, they are not without their problems. The more complex the visitation schedule the more the parents must maintain a healthy co-parenting relationship. It also requires both parents to participate equally in parenting the children.
Sometimes parents believe they participate more than they really do which can become a problem when the other parent is not there to pick up the slack. Additionally, some non-custodial parents fight for a 50/50 custody schedule to avoid child support. While a 50/50 schedule will affect child support awards it does not always eliminate child support.
Family court judges have differing views on these creative custody schedules and what they will place in a court order. Some judges insist on including the SPO as a failsafe and leave it to the parents to agree to anything else. Other judges leave it to the parents to come up with an agreement. Your child custody lawyer can advise you of your options and how to pursue them in your court. Your lawyer will also talk to you about the risks of different schedules and help advise you on your best course of action.
Grandparent custody rights in Texas
Grandparents and other family members can have a tremendous impact on the well-being of a child; however, they generally do not have rights under the Texas Family Code to either conservatorship or visitation. Either or both parent can generally choose to exclude grandparents or other extended family members from contact or visitation. Grandparents can become conservators or guardians of a child if a parent is absent or the child’s home has become a danger to the child’s well-being. If you believe this is the case, then you should schedule a consultation with a child custody lawyer to discuss your options.
How does a Texas court decide the child’s best interests in a custody case?
The court will decide how to allocate conservatorship and parenting time based upon evidence presented and input from the attorneys and other professionals involved in your case. The standard courts must use in Texas is the best interests of the child. Your child custody lawyer will present evidence that your desired outcome is in your child’s best interests and advocate for you in court.
Your judge may consider an array of factors but must consider a series of factors knows as the Holly factors. The Holly factors give judges a roadmap to determine custody cases but judges can consider other important factors. The Holly factors include:
- The child’s desire to live with one parent instead of the other;
- Ability for each parent to provide for the emotional and physical needs of the child;
- Whether either parent has a history of placing the child in emotional or physical danger;
- Each parent’s skill and experience parenting;
- Programs available to each parent that promote the child’s best interests;
- Each parent’s plan for custody;
- The financial ability of each parent to provide for the child;
- Stability of each parent’s home;
- The existing parent-child relationships;
- Reasons for acts and omissions of each parent.
Although the Holly factors provide judges a roadmap, each judge will balance these factors and facts differently. An experienced child custody lawyer knows the local judges’ preferences and likelihood to order your preferred custody arrangement under the facts of your case.
Hiring a child custody lawyer in Texas
Child custody cases are complex and emotional cases for everybody involved. Sometimes small issues become deciding factors in your case. Having an experienced child custody lawyer on your side can easily be the difference between a fair custody arrangement. You should hire an experienced Texas child custody lawyer as early as you can. The more time you give your attorney to investigate and build your case, the more likely you will have a fair outcome.