Parents wanting 50/50 custody in a divorce is a growing desire in Tarrant County and across Texas. Often 50/50 custody is desired by the parents for good reasons. Sometimes 50/50 custody is desired for less noble reasons, such as avoid child support payments or to try to make things difficult on the other parent.
In Tarrant County a proposal for 50/50 custody is not certain to be approved by the family court judge. The judges have wide discretion to approve custody arrangements. Many judges around the state will not even consider signing an order for 50/50 custody. Here in Tarrant County the judges will consider the proposal and often will order 50/50 custody. Today’s post will discuss some of the factors a Tarrant County family court judge will consider for 50/50 custody that you will need to address with your divorce attorney.
What is 50/50 custody in Texas
First, let’s clarify what 50/50 custody means. In a typical 50/50 custody arrangement the parents share equal time with the children and equal rights over the children. Common schedules include alternating week schedules and schedules rotating every set number of days (such as a 5-5-2-2 schedule). Some parents reach a 50/50 time split by breaking up the year so one parent has most weekends and a large block of the summer.
Why 50/50 custody can be good in a Texas divorce with children or custody case
When 50/50 custody arrangements work they can be a real benefit to everybody involved. In a 50/50 custody arrangement the parents have to work closely together. That requires them to put the children first and keep the relationship amicable. It avoids the situation that commonly develops in the standard possession order where one parent ends up with all the responsibility and the other parent gets to be the fun parent on the weekends. The parents also stay closely involved in the children’s lives. They must coordinate to ensure the children have a similar experience from one house to the other.
Why 50/50 custody can be a problem in Texas
50/50 custody requires a high level of cooperation and agreement between the parents. It is not always an easy task. The parents have separate lives and new significant others or jobs can shift the ability for one or both parents to hold up their end of the 50/50 arrangement. The children will also evolve with age and have different interests and relationships with each parent as they grow. The kids may resist having to live in two places and it may make extracurricular activities or time with friends difficult. The travel time between parents each week, or multiple times per week, can also be draining on everybody and lead to problems.
A key problem with drafting a 50/50 custody arrangement into the divorce decree or custody order is that it leaves the parents nowhere to go if the 50/50 custody stops working. If the co-parenting relationship has broken down in a 50/50 arrangement then the parents may not be able to reach an alternate agreement and will have to go to court to modify the court order to a different arrangement. This is often a reason why judges prefer putting the standard possession order in the court order and letting the parties reach an alternate agreement for as long as that agreement can last. The other side of that coin is that having the standard possession order to fall back on allows either parent to unilaterally cancel the agreement without consequence. So there is certainly a balance of interests in drafting the divorce decree or court order.
Likelihood of 50/50 custody in Texas
Here in Texas the judges will consider a number of factors in a 50/50 custody arrangement. Most judges look at the same group of factors although individual judges have their own perspective about what factors are most important and how favorable the 50/50 arrangement must be before they will grant the proposed custody arrangement. Here the judges generally will approve a 50/50 custody arrangement if one or both parties are represented by an attorney, the parties have both signed the order and the divorce or custody proceeding has had little to no conflict. This usually works in an uncontested divorce. A contested divorce that results in an agreement is likely to be agreed to by the court.
When the judge hears a trial there is a greater probability that the judge will want to see most or all of these factors fall in favor of 50/50 custody before he or she will even consider it.
- The extent of conflict in the case. The more the parents have shown the judge there is conflict the less likely the judge is to approve 50/50 custody. If one parent does not want 50/50 time then the judge usually will not approve it.
- Whether the parties have divorce attorneys. The judges are more likely to grant 50/50 custody when a divorce attorney drafted appropriate language in the divorce decree or custody order and the attorney has counseled his or her client about the risks involved.
- The quality of the proposed schedule. The judge is going to question whether the proposed schedule makes sense. Will both parents see the children reasonably frequently? Are the kids spending too much time traveling? Will the schedule work with the school schedule? Is there a good reason for the way parents allocated time?
- Whether the parents have a good co-parenting relationship. The better the parents work together the more likely a 50/50 custody schedule will function. If the parents are hostile towards each other the less likely it will work.
- The age of the children. The age of the children can affect the effectiveness of a 50/50 arrangement in a number of ways. Very young children may struggle with the constant transfer between parents. Older teens may find the schedule makes it difficult to enjoy a little independence.
- The proximity of the parents. This is a major factor for most judges. The further apart the parents live the more travel time everybody will suffer. Judges generally do not want kids spending all their time in the car. If the distance is substantial it can affect where the parents enroll the kids in school and extracurricular activities. The closer the parents live the more likely a judge is to agree to 50/50 custody.
- The individual needs of the child. The judge will also consider the effect on the kids by dividing their time between two households. Extracurriculars and medical issues can create problems. It may not be in their best interests to give up stability of spending most time in a single home.