Divorced or separated parents often have concerns about who will get custody of their children. Every state handles custody issues differently, so it is essential to understand how child custody in Texas works. Knowing what to expect can help you feel less anxious about the procedures and help you and your ex work together to determine what is in your child’s best interest.
Try to Work It Out Together
Depending on your child’s age, you and your ex might have years of co-parenting ahead of you. One of the most significant decisions you’ll need to make now is where the child will live, how often they will be with the parent who does not have primary custody, what holidays will look like, and who will make educational and medical decisions the child. If you can work together to make these decisions, then in almost all cases, your agreement is what the court will sign off on.
Some of the considerations that you will want to keep in mind are the age of the child, where he or she goes to school, where each parent will be living, how much time each parent has to be with the child, and whether there are extenuating circumstances, such as drug addiction, abuse, or a history of neglect that must be considered. Mediation can help you both determine where you agree and where you disagree. You can then compromise and reach a consensus about who will be caring for the child.
The Best Interest of the Child
If you and your ex cannot work this out, a judge will need to decide. Although the judge will ask questions and take all of the facts into consideration, realize that he or she is not living your day-to-day life and will not get a complete picture of how each parent and the child interact and live together. The judge might assign a guardian ad litem (GAL) to help him, or her make some tough decisions.
The GAL will meet with each of you, your child, and possibly daycare providers, extended family members, and other individuals who know you and your child. The goal is to decide what is in the best interest of the child. When it comes to child custody in Texas, the judge might ask a 12 or older child which parent they’d prefer to live with. Their preference will be considered, but the judge might not choose to have them live with the preferred parent.
How Does Joint Custody Work?
In most cases, it is considered in the child’s best interest to allow the parents to share joint physical custody. The parenting plan will also be based on what is deemed best for the child, so parents may have a different time to spend with their child. For example, if one parent lives near the child’s school and the other lives 20 miles away, it might not be feasible to allow overnight visits on school days. The age of the child might also be a consideration; nursing babies will, in most cases, spend more time with their mother than with their father.
In general, though, joint custody allows both parents to spend a significant amount of time with the child. Joint legal custody is also usually shared. This allows both parents to decide which pediatrician to use, whether the child will have optional procedures done, where the child will go to school, and which religion the child will be raised. If both parents can work together to make these decisions, that is usually best for the child. If not, a judge might give one parent legal custody or might make one parent a “tiebreaker” if there is a situation where an agreement is impossible.
When One Parent Loses Custody
There are some instances where one parent will lose custody. This might be due to an untreated severe mental illness or substance addiction, a history of abuse, or one parent’s inability to keep the child safe. Even if you lose custody of your child, you still might be able to have visitation. In some cases, overnight visitation will be possible. In others, you might be limited to supervised visitation. Rarely, when there has been documented abuse or another extenuating circumstance, a parent might not be allowed to see their child at all.
It is important to remember that you might be able to regain custody or graduate to unsupervised visitation if you meet conditions set by the court. These conditions might include finding adequate housing (if you are currently homeless or living in an unsafe situation), going to rehabilitation treatment for substance addiction, or taking parenting classes. If this is the case, you will want to talk to your legal counsel to find out exactly what you need to do and when you will approach the court with the proof that you have done it.
Since most parents in the State of Texas get joint custody of their children, it is essential to learn how to co-parent effectively, even if you and your spouse no longer get along. Realize that raising your child is something that both of you need to do, and it will be easier for everyone if you can find a way to work together civilly and without causing stress to your child. Open communication, setting personal boundaries, and refusing to use your child as a go-between is all-important.
You might want to talk to a family counselor if you are having trouble finding a way to work with your ex. Do not vent your frustrations to your child, as this is stressful to him or her and can be seen as parental alienation in some cases. National Family Solutions is a legal resource group that can help. Contact us to determine how we can assist you as you go through child custody in Texas.