Child Custody Lawyers serving Bell, Denton, Dallas, Collin, and Tarrant Counties and the cities of Allen, Argyle, Belton, Carrollton, Colleyville, Coppell, Dallas, Denton, Denton, Flower Mound, Fort Hood, Frisco, Grapevine, Harker Heights, Irving, Keller, Killeen, Lake Dallas, Lewisville, Little Elm, Mckinney, Nolanville, Plano, Prosper, Roanoke, Salado, Southlake, and The Colony.
What is Child Custody?
Ilarraza Law understands the emotional nature of cases involving children. Custody lawyers are committed to providing compassionate and zealous advocacy for our clients through every stage of their child custody case. The Texas child custody process can be complex and overwhelming. Our goal is to provide some general information about child custody in Texas and to answer some common questions that our clients have.
Types of Custody in Texas
The state of Texas awards either sole or joint physical custody and either sole or joint legal custody of minor children.
Most Texas courts favor joint custody whenever possible. However, in cases where one parent is unfit due to alcohol or drug abuse or dependency or if there’s a history of family violence, or some other fitting reason then the court may award sole physical custody to one parent.
As the preferred option of the court, when possible, joint or shared custody helps encourage a parent-child relationship between both parents. This is typically accompanied by a parenting plan. Shared custody is awarded when parents divorce, separate, stop living together, or never lived together.
Physical custody is the right of a parent to have their child live with them. If the child spends time with both parents, then the court will generally award joint physical custody. In cases of sole primary custody, the child typically lives with one parent and the other parent has visitation except in certain circumstances where it is not in the best interest of the child.
Legal custody is the right of a parent to make significant decisions regarding the child’s life including decisions about school, religion, and medical treatment. When parents are awarded joint or shared legal custody then one parent has the right to take the other to court if they attempt to exclude them from the decision-making process.
In the event that parents aren’t able to make important decisions together, one may file for sole legal custody. They will have to prove that sole legal custody is in the child’s best interest.
Factors Determining Outcome of Custody
In every child custody case, the courts operate based on the standard of what is in the best interests of the child. In general, this means the following factors come into play:
- Each parent’s role in nurturing the child since birth
- Each parent’s situation going forward
- Concerns regarding personality or behavioral traits of each party
- The preferences of the child
The goal of the court is to help facilitate a stable environment in which the child can grow or thrive. They believe that, unless there are extenuating circumstances, both parents should be involved in raising the child.
What Are the Duties of a Conservator?
The duties of a conservator are set forth in the Texas Family Code. Generally speaking, a conservator has the right to determine the primary residence of the child, to consent to medical and psychological treatment for the child, to receive information from the child’s school, and to make decisions about the child’s education. A conservator also has the duty to support the child financially.
How are Conservatorships Decided in Texas?
The court will always make conservatorship decisions based on the best interests of the child. In making a determination about what is in the best interests of the child, the court will consider a number of factors, including:
- Wishes of the child’s parents
- Wishes of the child, if the child is 12 years of age or older
- The child’s interactions and interrelationships with parents, siblings, and any other person who may significantly affect the child’s best interests
- The child’s adjustment to home, school, and community
- Mental and physical health of all individuals involved
- Any history of domestic violence or child abuse
- If the conservator has been convicted of a crime involving family violence
- If there is any evidence of substance abuse by any party
- Any other factor the courts deem relevant.
What if the Parents Cannot Agree on the Custody of Children?
When parents have difficulties agreeing, then mediation is the next logical step. Family mediation often occurs during a divorce case, but it’s also common for parents who have never been married and are trying to settle custody disputes. The mediator acts as a neutral third party who has the child’s best interests in mind.
If the parents cannot reach an agreement, family court will appoint one or both parents as conservators. The court may also appoint a third party, such as a grandparent, as a conservator. The court will always make its decision based on what is in the best interests of the child.
The Best Interest of the Child
When any custody issue arises, Texas courts will always consider the best interests of the child first and foremost. This includes everything from custody to visitation, living arrangements, and who is named as a conservator of the child or children.
What is Possession and Access?
Possession and access is essentially the schedule that the court orders for when each parent will have physical possession (physical custody) of the child. The standard possession order in Texas provides that the non-custodial parent will have possession of the child on alternating weekends, from 6 p.m. Friday to 6 p.m. Sunday, and on Thursdays during the school year from 6 p.
What is Child Support?
Child support is the financial contribution that each parent makes to support the child. In Texas, child support is calculated using a formula known as the “guidelines.” The guidelines take into account the incomes of both parents, the number of children, and whether either parent has other children from a previous relationship. The court will always order child support in an amount that is in the best interests of the child.
Modification of Child Custody Cases
As life situations change for the parents and the child or children, there may be instances where you need to legally modify your custody and support arrangements. When parents request a change of custody, it is still advised that you speak with a child custody lawyer. They are able to offer legal advice and guidance regarding the process.
Even if the mother and father both agree to the changing child arrangements, it is a good idea to have something in writing and approved by a judge in order to prevent complications down the road. However, your case may need to meet certain requirements before you’re able to modify the court order.
Paternal Laws in Texas
While most people expect the mother to gain custody of the child, this isn’t always the case. Custody rulings are based on the child’s best interest and sometimes the mother having custody does not fulfill this requirement. Depending on the circumstances, it’s entirely possible that the father can:
- Get full physical and legal custody
- Keep the marital home
- Receive child support from the mother
- Provide a better home and be more qualified to care for the child
If you’re a father seeking custody of his child, then reach out to Ilarraza Law and speak with a child custody attorney about your case. Even if you haven’t filed for divorce yet, we’re happy to discuss your situation and evaluate the strength of your case.
How Does Domestic Violence Affect Child Custody in Texas?
The state of Texas requires the custodial parent to provide information regarding any history of domestic violence or family violence. The law states that a custodial parent must advise the other parent if:
- They establish a residence with someone who is subject to an active, final protective order at the time they establish the residence (no later than 30 days after they begin living with the person)
- They live with or allow unsupervised access to a child by a person subject to a final protective order (90-day requirement)
- They are subject to a final protective order issued after the conservatorship is established (30-day requirement)
Any failure to notify the other parent of these circumstances results in a Class C misdemeanor.
Complexities of Contested Custody Cases
Contested child custody cases involve several components. This may include collateral witnesses, mental health professionals, and establishing what’s in the best interest of the child or children. At Ilarraza Law, we work with you to identify your interests, strengths, and weaknesses. In addition, we look for ways to accentuate and enhance them for presentation or to mitigate any problems.
We’ll also work with you to identify other people involved in your child’s life. We’ll consider both the benefits and risks of retaining a mental health professional to provide supporting information in regard to the child’s best interests.
Custody impacts the relationship between parent and child as well as the child’s development for years to come. As a result, once a judgment is finalized it’s often difficult to modify the child custody order. Hiring a qualified and experienced custody attorney early on is the best way to ensure your case is handled properly from the very beginning.
Important Factors the Court Considers for Child Custody
As previously mentioned, the Texas court’s first priority is determining what is in the child’s best interest. This is what ultimately decides the custody and visitation arrangements, child support, and more. In order to decide this, the judge takes the following factors into consideration to varying degrees:
- If the child is 12 years old or older then they are permitted to meet with the judge to discuss their preference on who they wish to live with. It should be noted that the child does not have the right to choose where he or she lives. This is just one of the many factors taken into consideration by the custody judge.
- Texas family court also hears the wishes of the parents. This is particularly true in situations where both parents agree to abide by the wishes in advance. However, if they are unable to agree on custody and visitation, they will need to provide evidence to support their side of the case.
- The court also considers both the mental and physical health of all involved parties. If a parent’s mental or physical health prevents them from being able to provide a healthy, safe, and secure environment for the child or if the child has physical or emotional needs one parent is better suited to handle, then the judge will also look at this information. In addition, the judge will evaluate any other parties living in or visiting the household who may pose a threat to the child.
- If the child is struggling to adapt to their changing environment at home or in school, then the judge will take these issues into consideration. This may happen when custody and visitation are originally established or during a custody modification hearing.
- If either parent has a history of violence, then the judge will likely take this very seriously. In fact, the judge may limit or even terminate that parent’s access to the child or children.
- The courts also consider the relationship between parent and child. Texas courts generally believe that it is in the child’s best interests to have a relationship with both parents. However, in cases where there’s a threat of physical and/or emotional abuse, the court may decide it is not in the child’s best interest to continue the parent-child relationship. It is important to keep in mind, that just because a child is closer to one parent than another, that doesn’t mean that the judge won’t push for joint custody if they believe that is in the child’s best interest.
- Texas courts also evaluate the home environment of each parent. It’s important that the home is clean and safe, and that the child has access to healthy food. The judge will also evaluate if there are any parties that could pose a threat to the child who are allowed access to the home and if the neighborhood is safe and kid-friendly.
- The court may also seek out the recommendation of an expert witness. In some cases, the court may appoint an amicus attorney or attorney ad litem to help determine and protect the child’s best interests. An amicus attorney will conduct a home visit, interview parents, children, and other relevant parties, and provide the information to the court. Whereas attorneys ad litem perform similar investigations but rather than doing it for the court, their loyalty is to the child.
It’s not uncommon for other facilitators and coordinators to also be involved in the process. They may conduct interviews, assess the living situation, offer co-parenting guidance, testify in court, and keep their findings confidential.
In certain cases, expert witnesses such as medical professionals or mental health professionals may also play a role in determining the fitness of each parent.
You Don’t Have to Tackle Child Custody Alone – Custody Attorneys Can Help
It’s your responsibility as a parent to care for your child. However, parental responsibility doesn’t end there. In addition to caring for your child, you must protect their best interests in the present and the future. Often that includes working with your former partner to create shared parenting plans. However, this process isn’t always easy, especially for those dealing with the recent sting of separation or divorce.
Remember that there’s no shame in hiring a lawyer to help you with your child custody battle and visitation rights. Lawyers have an in-depth understanding of local and state laws. They also understand what judges are looking for throughout the process. An attorney can even help you through negotiation and mediation. Find a skilled lawyer or firm with experience in child custody and child support practice areas to help you through the proceedings.
Child custody attorneys allow you to focus on your child or children while they and their teamwork to navigate the complexities of family law to reach a decision in your child or children’s best interests when it comes to joint or full custody, visitation, child maintenance or support and any other specific issues applicable to your situation. Reach out to a custody lawyer or a law firm experienced in matters of child custody.