If you’re involved in a Texas custody battle, it’s important to understand what to expect during the legal proceeding and how to best prepare for Texas Family Code requirements. In Texas, what may be called a custody agreement in other states, is known as a standard possession order (SPO) or agreed parenting plan. Parenting time guidelines, under the Texas Family Code, clearly outline each parent’s responsibilities to their children and how various situations will be handled.
What Texas Parenting Time Guidelines Should Include
Parenting time guidelines include insight, tips and guidance for divorcing parents in creating a healthy parenting plan and visitation schedule. Some important aspects to include would be:
- A list of names for each child whose custody is being decided.
- The parent(s) appointed as managing conservator.
- And/or the parent appointed as possessory conservator.
The parent appointed as managing conservator has the right and responsibility to make decisions about the child. If both parents are managing conservators, they are joint managing conservators. If only one parent is a managing conservator, he or she is the sole managing conservator and the other parent may be a possessory conservator. Possessory conservators have visitation rights, but may not have the right to make decisions about the child.
There is also the possibility of split managing conservators, which happens when each parent is the sole managing conservator of one or more children. For example, when there are two siblings and both parents have split custody of one sibling each. This is rarely awarded, as courts prefer not to split up siblings. Parenting time guidelines should also include specifics about how parents will split decision-making abilities, such as:
- Responsibility for the child’s physical care.
- Child custody and visitation schedule.
- Who will pay child support and how much.
- Plans for limiting disruptions to the child’s education and routine.
Creating a Parenting Agreement and Plan
There are a couple of ways for a parenting plan to develop. You and your child’s other parent can jointly submit one parenting plan to the court if the two of you can agree on the provisions and division of rights and responsibilities together. You can do this on your own or you can use an outside neutral third party, like a professional mediator, to help the two of you negotiate a plan that both of you can agree on.
Generally speaking, under the Texas Family Code, family court is likely to accept an agreed parenting plan. However, if you don’t have any outside parties helping the two of you negotiate and making sure that each person is represented fairly, a judge will want to study it closely and may ask questions to make sure that no one has been coerced.
If the court finds nothing coercive or harmful to the children in the parenting plan, they’ll make it a legally enforceable court order. If you and your child’s other parent can’t come to an agreement, either with or without a mediator or other outside help, some family courts will ask each parent to submit a proposed parenting plan.
After hearing any evidence and testimony, the judge will either choose one of these proposed plans or reconcile the two plans in some way, make any changes they feel are necessary, and that will become the court-ordered parenting plan. Even if your local family court does not ask each parent to submit their own proposed parenting plan, creating one that can be entered into evidence can help your case.
The Benefits of Co-Parenting
Why are parenting plans superior to other types of custody arrangements? The beauty of a parenting plan is in the details. Parenting plans not only spell out each parent’s rights and responsibilities, but they’re also typically meant to address contingencies, for example:
- If circumstances require a child to miss their scheduled time with one parent, how will make-up days be handled?
- If one parent wants to move a great distance away from where the other parent lives, what rights does the other parent have to ensure that they’ll still be able to exercise their parental rights?
- What process does the parent who wants to move have to follow?
- What happens if one parent becomes disabled or chronically ill?
- What happens when parents disagree about a decision that should be made jointly, like whether a child should receive a certain type of medical procedure?
- Who will have the final say?
Having these details spelled out in a legal document means that parents don’t have to guess what their rights and responsibilities are, especially during an emergency or unexpected event. It also means that co-parents who are no longer together and may not get along well, don’t need to confer about every single event and decision in their child’s life.
Of course, it’s better if divorced or separated parents can discuss their child’s needs without arguing, but when that’s not possible, having the details spelled out in a legal document can prevent unnecessary conflict.
Texas Parenting Time Guidelines and Custody Support
If you’re facing a custody battle and wondering how to submit your parenting plan to court, you have a few options:
- You can hire a family law attorney to help you create a legally sound plan, but that can get expensive and typically unnecessary.
- You can use a template online to create your own parenting plan, but one small mistake will damage your case.
- You can consult with a legal resource group, such as National Family Solutions.
A legal resource group is not a lawyer and can not represent you in court, but can help you prepare for court, gather evidence, provide legal guidance for self-representation, and even connect you with trusted outside resources and mediators.