Determining what is in the best interests of your child
As a parent, you likely have the belief that you know what is in the best interests of your child. Under most circumstances, our legal system would agree with you. You can decide what church your child attends, the clothes or she wears to school and the dinner that he or she eats in your home. However, if your child becomes the subject of a family law case then you are ceding the right to make that call to a judge. It is he or she that will ultimately determine what is in the best interests of your child, not you or the child’s other parent.
The law in our state on what is actually in your child’s best interests is incredibly vague. This allows your judge to make a determination on that subject based upon the particular facts and circumstances of your case. A judge may consider the following factors, however:
-What your child would like to see happen
If your child is over the age of 12 he shall have the opportunity to speak to the judge privately about what he wants to see happen as far as determining his or her primary residence. That doesn’t mean that the judge has to place a certain amount of weight on what he or she says but the law allows a child over the age of 12 to state their opinion to the judge if a party to the case requests it.
Children younger than 12 may be able to do the same but it is not open and shut. The judge would have to assess the rationale for the request and determine whether or not to allow a younger child to voice their opinion in this way
-Your child’s current and future emotional/physical needs
Every child is different and every child needs different things to be safe, happy and productive. A judge will need to determine what your child needs from a physical and emotional standpoint in order to thrive. You and your child’s other parent may offer starkly different options for the judge to decide about. If you or the other parent are shown to not be able to provide a strong environment, either emotionally or physically, then the judge is unlikely to name that party as the primary conservator of your child.
This is surely the factor that will cause the greatest uproar amongst the most amount of people. If you are a parent I can say with certainty that you believe that you are a good parent. A parent that listens to your child and does what is best for your child. It’s quite unlikely that you do not believe yourself to be a good parent.
The judge may have a different perspective, however. Your parenting abilities will be judged to determine what living situation is in the best interests of your child. This means that your history of raising this child will be reviewed. If you were largely an absentee parent who now only contributes money to your child every so often for the most basic of necessities it will be shown pretty easily that your parenting abilities are not all that strong.
Finally, one of the most important factors that a court will use to determine the best interests of your child is to evaluate the stability of your home and the home of your child’s other parent. If you are living with another person who would not be viewed favorably by a judge or if it can be proven that you use drugs or any other illegal substance then your home may not be viewed as all that stable. This is sure to work against you in a custody determination.
What does a court do to determine your income if your income is not known?
Suppose that you do not attend a court hearing on child support- or do attend but are not able to show a judge what you do earn- how is it that a court can determine a level of child support that is justified under the law?
The simple answer is that the judge is able to impute a level of child support based off of the income earned by a person who works a minimum wage job forty hours a week. If you earn more than this or earn nothing at all this will be the formula that a court uses to assess your ability to pay child support.
What happens if you want to pay more or less than the guideline levels of child support that are set forth in the Texas Family Code?
You may find yourself in a situation where you feel that it is appropriate to either pay more or less than the amount of child support as set forth in the Texas Family Code. You should voice this opinion to the judge during any hearing in order to allow for a potential modification.
Evidence must be shown which justifies a deviation from the standard amount of child support to be paid based on your net monthly resources as well as the number of children that you are responsible for (both before the court and not involved in this case). Ultimately the judge will need to make a decision based upon what is in the best interests of your child.
A judge may decide not to order you to pay an amount greater than or lesser than the guideline level of child support that is based on the factors I listed a paragraph ago. The age and health of your child will play a role in the judge’s decision making. Also, what child care options are available to your child’s other parent as well as how much time your child spends both with you and the other parent to make a final determination.
Remember- all of these issues can be agreed upon in advance by you and your child’s other parent. As long as the judge believes your agreements to be in the best interests of your child then those agreements will be made into orders from the court.
When does your responsibility to pay child support end?
From the date that your child support order goes into effect until the date that your child turns eighteen or graduates from high school (whichever occurs later) will be the lifespan of your commitment or responsibility to pay child support. Your court order will ultimately determine the expiration date of this responsibility so you are advised to keep a copy of your order handy to be able to refer to it when you need to.
Do you also need to pay medical support for your child?
Medical support and child support are not one in the same. You will likely be required by your court to provide medical insurance for your child in addition to child support. If the custodial parent provides medical insurance then you will have to compensate him or her for doing so. Otherwise, you will either need to provide the medical insurance yourself or compensate the state for providing your child with Medicaid.
What happens if you lose your job and are unable to pay child support? Find out tomorrow
In our final blog post on this subject, I will write about what happens if you lose your job while you are obligated to pay child support. This is a subject that many parents encounter but may not know the answer to. Come back tomorrow to learn more about this subject.
Questions about child support or family law, in general, can be addressed to one of our licensed family law attorneys with the Law Office of Bryan Fagan. Contact us today to set up a free of charge consultation. We can meet with you six days a week.