Child custody arrangements are much like families themselves: no two are the same. Some child custody cases can be resolved quickly, as both parents agree or mostly agree on the terms. Others are more complicated, as can happen when parents need help from family court to determine how to best split custody between them. Child custody laws are different from state to state, so even if you’re familiar with the process in other states, you may not know what to expect from a child custody case in Texas. Take a look at some of the things that you need to know about navigating child custody in Texas.
Conservatorship, Possession, and Access
The first thing that can help you navigate child custody in Texas is understanding the legal language used in the state. Child custody is called child conservatorship and the parent who has custody of the child is called the conservator. The conservator has the right to get information about the child’s health, welfare, and education, consent to medical treatment, talk to doctors and school officials about the child, and have access to medical and educational records.
Two other words you should know are “possession” and “access”. Possession is referred to when talking about who has physical possession of the child. Access is what you probably think of as visitation. Noncustodial parents usually have a right to have some level of access to the child, unless the court believes them to be unfit for some reason.
The Best Interest of the Child
When the family courts in Texas are called on to make decisions about child custody, their guiding principle is whatever is in the best interests of the child. Unlike criminal or civil courts, family court judges aren’t necessarily concerned about figuring about who is right or wrong or what is most fair to either of the parents involved. Instead, their concern is what is best for the child involved, even if that’s not necessarily an equal division between the two parents.
However, it’s important to note that family court judges tend to presume that it’s best in most cases for the child to grow up with both parents involved in their life as much as possible. So if you’re attempting to win sole custody or limit visitation with the other parent, you can expect to be asked to explain why doing so is in the child’s best interest and to provide evidence for your claim.
Some of the factors that judges consider when determining the best interests of the child include the relationship and history of contact between each parent and child, the health, safety, and welfare of the child, the health of the parents, the living arrangements of the parents and the distance between them, parental finances, and any history of abuse, either to the child or to one of the parents by the other parent.
Joint Custody and Visitation
Presuming that both parents are fit, the family court usually decides that some type of joint custody is ideal. In Texas, this is called joint managing conservatorship, while sole custody is called sole managing conservatorship. Joint custody doesn’t necessarily mean that the child will spend equal time with both parents, however. Typically, one parent will assume physical custody, meaning that the child will live with them, and the other parent will have visitation.
Visitation can take many forms. Some common arrangements include visitation on weekends, visitation on alternate weekends, and summertime visitation. Texas outline two different possession and access schedules, but parents don’t necessarily have to agree to these standards. They can agree on a different schedule or the judge can order a different schedule if they believe it to be in the best interest of the child. Possession and access schedules spell out who will have the child when and will address special circumstances like holidays and birthdays as well. Visitation schedules can and often do change as the child ages. Parents of a baby might need to split time differently than parents of a school-aged child, and visitation schedules for an older child or teenager may need to take into account the child’s own activities, work schedules, and preferences as well as the parents’ wishes.
Supervised visitation is a variation that can occur when one parent poses some type of harm to the child’s physical and emotional wellbeing. If you want to convince the court to order supervised visitation, you’ll need to show that the child is at risk of being harmed during visitation with the other parent.
Child custody issues can be complicated, but most parents are capable of advocating for their rights in family court if they’re adequately prepared. A legal resource group like National Family Solutions can help you understand your rights as a parent and prepare to present your case in family court.