Family Law Cases in Texas: Conservatorship for Grandparents and Custody Determinations

The nuclear family of the 1950s is no longer the norm in the United States if it ever was in the first place. In today’s world non-parents (including Grandparents) play larger roles in their family’s lives than in previous generations when parents are not able to fulfill their duties as providers.

If you are one of those persons and are interested in pursuing conservatorship rights over a child in your life today’s blog post is for you.

Conservatorship for nonparents

In some circumstances, very limited to be completely honest, nonparents of a child can pursue and be granted conservatorship rights over a child. Let’s examine those circumstances in some detail right now:

Non-parents in general who have had actual care, control and possession of a child for at least six months continuously can pursue a conservatorship case in the Texas family law courts. The legal term for this ability to do so is called “standing”. The one catch is that six months of continuous possession and control must not have ended more than 90 days prior to the beginning of your conservatorship case.

If you are a foster parent, you can file for conservatorship over your child if that child has been in your home for at least one year with the same requirement as above that the one year period must not have ended more than 90 days prior to the beginning of your conservatorship case.

Finally, grandparents can file for conservatorship of a child in the event that there is sufficient proof in the eyes of your judge that your grandchild’s present living conditions will present a serious risk to their physical health or well-being.

The alternative to this standard would be that both of your grandchild’s parents, or whichever parent is currently living if one is deceased, has filed a petition requesting you be named a conservator or has consented to your petition and request to do so.

Suits Affecting the Parent-Child Relationships

Suits Affecting the Parent-Child Relationships (SAPCR) are the type of lawsuit that is filed in this type of situation where you are seeking conservatorship rights in regard to a child. Conservatorship, visitation, possession, access and child support are the issues that a SAPCR takes into consideration. These issues are also decided, for what it’s worth, in divorce cases. The only difference is that the rules of community property are not applicable in a SAPCR like they are in a divorce case.

If you are in a position where the father of the child in question is not known, parentage may be an issue that is raised in the SAPCR as well. Genetic testing would be ordered of the child and any potential father if a man does not acknowledge paternity on his own volition.

Parentage is obviously an important issue as any awarding of conservatorship rights is dependent upon being the legal parent to a child. Outside of an acknowledgment of paternity being signed or the child being born to a married couple, there is no way outside of a parentage suit to determine paternity of a child in Texas.

Married persons: How can you sue for conservatorship of your child?

If you are married to your spouse then there would be no prior orders in place in regard to the conservatorship of your child. This means that you and your spouse share equally in the rights and duties associated with rearing your child.

In order to establish rights and duties in a court of law, a lawsuit would have to be filed, likely in the form of an Original Petition for Divorce. Occasionally a SAPCR can be filed if the marriage is still desired but orders are sought in regard to issues like child support, possession and/or access to the child.

If you are concerned, for example, that your spouse may attempt to take your child with him or her to another country or anywhere without your permission it may be wise to file a SAPCR in order to alert the court to this potential outcome and to seek orders that do not allow your spouse to travel without prior permission. This is especially relevant in an international city like Houston where many parents have roots outside Texas or even outside the United States.

Unmarried parents: How can you sue for conservatorship of your child?

As opposed to persons who are married to one another while a child is born, if you are the father to a child who was born to un-wed parents you must prove that you are the father in order to be granted parental rights. I’d refer you back to the section of this blog that discusses that topic for additional information.

You can sign an acknowledgment of paternity at the time your child is born and have that filed with the Bureau of Vital Statistics in Austin. This will provide you with the legal rights and duties that you would normally have to seek through a SAPCR or paternity suit in court.

If you are a mother who is seeking to formally establish a man as the father of your child you can do so through the filing of a Suit to establish parentage. In that suit, you can request child support and the process of legally determining the father of your child could be initiated.

Drama and SAPCR: What if you’re a man who has a child with a married woman?

A dramatic situation that you may, unfortunately, find yourself in as a man is what happens if you have a child with a woman who is married to somebody else? When the mother is married to another man that man is legally presumed to be the father of your child. Her husband, and not you, would have the rights and duties to the child that normally would go to you in most situations.

First and foremost you must acknowledge paternity and have that paperwork filed with the Bureau of Vital Statistics. If your child was raised by the mother and her husband you have until your child turns four years old in order to file a lawsuit objecting to the husband having conservatorship rights over your child. Genetic testing would be ordered that would show the biological father of the child.

In the event that you are proven to be the biological father of the child, you would earn those rights and duties for your child. At that stage, you would have the standing you need in order to sue for primary conservatorship or anything else related to your child.

Obviously, your chances of success in such a case would depend on the contact that you have had with your child, which is likely little to none. In that case, it may be a better move for you to simply seek to have visitation, possession and access rights granted to you so that you may establish a relationship with the child.

Once you have had an opportunity to establish continuous and lasting contact with your child you can attempt to go back to court in order to be awarded more visitation time with your child or, in the alternative, or be named outright as the primary conservator of your child if your goal is to have him or her reside with you primarily.

Details of the SAPCR to be discussed in tomorrow’s blog post from the Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC

If you are interested in bringing your own SAPCR then tomorrow’s blog post will contain information on the ins and outs of a SAPCR case including lesser known steps and processes that you may not be aware of. Please come back to go through that important information with us.

As always, if you have questions about family law in Texas please do not hesitate to contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC. A free of charge consultation where one of our licensed family law attorneys can answer your questions is only a phone call away.

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