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Different factors are involved when assessing what is your child’s best interest based on their age

Suppose that you and your child’s other parent are going through a difficult child custody case. Your little one is now six years old and in the first grade at the elementary school in your neighborhood. She is happy, you are happy, but her father is not. He moved out of the house a few months ago and has been splitting your daughter’s time with you. Things have been ok, but you could tell that he was wanting more and more time. He lives across town and has started dating someone else. Your daughter comes home from weekends with her dad talking about how her daddy wants her to live with him and his new friend. Your ears perk up at the sound of this, understandably.

The next thing you know you are coming home from work one day to find a process server standing on your driveway with a child custody lawsuit in hand. You’ve been served. You have twenty days to file an Answer with your response. Are you going to allow him to have primary custody of your daughter? That means she will live with him during the school week and you would be left with the weekends and some extended time in the summer. You’ve put her to bed every night of her life up until a few weeks ago when you started splitting time with her dad. What can you do?

I don’t mean to intimidate or scare you by proposing this hypothetical scenario, but the reality is that many people that come into the Law Office of Bryan Fagan face similar circumstances to the fictional situation I laid out above. Many people live in households where the mother and father are not married. In fact, depending where you look, there is evidence that more children reside in households where their parents are not married than are. Certainly more households are headed by single parents than ever before in the history of our country. So, the reality is that your situation may not be as dissimilar in comparison to the above scenario as you would like to think.

Choose an age for your child- it doesn’t have to be a six year old like I described above. What if your daughter was 10 years old? Or your son was a new-born? Or what would happen if your daughter was sixteen? How would a judge likely decide issues related to custody for your child? Depending on their age the factors that a judge would use to determine what is in your child’s best interests could change dramatically. If you don’t know ahead of time what your judge will look to as guideposts when making important decisions like this you are at a severe disadvantage.

Today’s blog post from the Law Office of Bryan Fagan will discuss this topic in greater detail for you. In yesterday’s blog post we took introduced this topic by laying out what factors your family court judge would likely look to when making a decision about the best interest of toddlers and infants. We will pick up where we left off and take note the factors that a judge would look to for elementary, pre-teen and teenaged children.

Elementary aged children

This is the age where your kids really start to get involved in sports, clubs, activities, scouting and things of that nature. With that said a judge would look to whether or not your children are involved in activities like these and if so, how involved you have been with them. Do you coach on their teams? Do you drive them to practice? Do the coaches and other parents know you well?

What about religious education, if in fact you are religious? Do you take them to worship services each week? What about mid-week activities after school. Churches frequently provide social functions that have more to do with fellowship than religious teachings so even for those who are not overly involved in church it is common for children to be involved in activities like this. Do you take your children and involve yourself in them?

Next, a judge would be concerned with whether or not you make your child available to social outings and encourage friendships with other children. This is the old question of: can you name five of your children’s friends? Can you name the parents’ names of your child’s school buddies? The inability to do so is not uncommon, but in a situation where you find yourself in a “close matchup” with your spouse on many of these issues it can be significant to be able to show your involvement to this extent.

Perhaps most important is your child’s performance in school. Obviously a six year old isn’t going all that in depth with their studies but your child should be attending class consistently unless he or she is ill, should be reading and should be able to write their name and other simple words. If your child’s grades are not where they should be that will be an issue in your divorce, without a doubt. If your child’s other parent believes he or she could do better than you at addressing educational issues then you should be prepared to defend yourself in this regard.

In this same vein, how well you communicate with teachers, coaches, and the other parent will be examined. If your child has had to deal with your inability to communicate well with a teacher regarding the reasons for a particularly low mark on an assignment or has failed to tell your child’s father about changes in their schedule then this, too, will hurt you. So much of what we commonly refer to as “co-parenting” involves communication- even when you don’t want to. If it appears that you will struggle to facilitate information with the other important people in your child’s life then you will struggle in this regard.

Finally, for a child at an impressionable age it is integral to their success that they be able to live their lives without having to pick a side between their mom and dad. Your child likely feels conflicted already in terms of how to show love and affection to both parents during a difficult child custody case. If you add to that by pressuring him or her to show you loyalty or affection that can make matters worse. Allow your child to love both you and their other parent and this will prove far more beneficial for him or her.

Middle school aged children

As your child transitions into middle school and the pre-teen years, their needs are changing but they are still far from fully formed humans. We sometimes perceive their larger vocabulary, greater desire for independence and more adult looking bodies to be signs that they are ready for us to take a step back and let out metaphorical foot off the gas for parenting purposes. This could not be further from the truth. Children at this age are still children and still need your guidance.

Your children are now able to understand much more fully the disagreements and hostility that may be in place between you and your child’s other parent. This means that if you voice your displeasure or act irritated with him or her your child is more likely to notice. With this in mind it should be your goal to act as respectfully toward your child’s other parent as is possible. Biting your tongue should be an activity that you try your best to become very good at. Keep in mind that your child will pick up on this hostility and can then try to work you against their other parent in an attempt to get what he or she would like.

Some judges are very keen to speak out against parents who do not encourage their children well or are generally speaking very negative towards their children. I have seen parents who speak poorly about their children have those actions come back to haunt him or her in court when called out by their spouse. Do your best to make sure your child understands that he or she is loved and cared for no matter what you and their other parent are going through.

Predictability is an underrated part of parenting. I have unfortunately seen children who are exposed to a great deal of turmoil at home due to changing schedules and family dynamics.

My own perception of those situations is usually that the children are not as well-adjusted as other kids and for some reason seem to become ill and more school. If you can help your children weather the storm as far as parenting on a consistent schedule is concerned you can do a great deal of good for your children in this regard.

High school aged children

For older children, a judge would likely be looking towards what role you play in your child’s school activities. Now that he or she is older they are likely more independent and able to take advantage of activities that align with their interests. Their interests do not necessarily have to be the same as your own. Even if you are not interested in the clarinet, you should be interested in your daughter playing the clarinet in the marching band. Attend these activities not because you care about how well the high school looks when marching but because you care about your daughter.

Next, you should consider how well you and your child discuss stressful situations and problems that he or she is experiencing. Teens need a great deal of support because their lives are changing regardless of what is happening at home. They are experiencing new interests, emotions and desires. If they cannot come to you for answers and guidance regarding these changes they will seek those answers elsewhere. Their first line of defense against the world and its temptations and negative outlets for their new found interests should be you.

One area where you are expected to be able to help guide your child is in making sure they are making good decisions regarding dating and the activities that are associated with dating. These are not always easy discussions to have but they are necessary, especially in today’s world. Nobody is in as good a position as you are to provide guidance along these lines. Again, if you are not an available source of guidance on this subject then they will seek guidance elsewhere.

Finally, the extent to which you are helping your child prepare for life after high school will be of interest to a judge who is making a best interests determination for your child. Are you lending a hand when getting ready to send in college applications? Are you having meaningful conversations about what to study in college and where? How are your child’s grades in high school and what are you doing to help him improve his grades if that is needed?

These factors are crucial when trying to get an advantage in a closely contested child custody case. Any advantage that you can gain may prove to be important so do not leave it to chance. Learn the lessons that we have provided you with in the past couple of our blog posts and pick your family law attorney carefully.

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  8. Custody and Visitation Rights of Grandparents in Texas
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Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC | Houston, Texas Child Custody Lawyers

The Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC routinely handles matters that affect children and families. If you have questions regarding child custody, it's important to speak with one of our Houston, TX Child CustodyLawyersright away to protect your rights.

Our child custodylawyers in Houston TX are skilled at listening to your goals during this trying process and developing a strategy to meet those goals. Contact Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC by calling (281) 810-9760 or submit your contact information in our online form. The Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC handles child custodycases in Houston, Texas, Cypress, Klein, Humble, KingwoodTomballThe Woodlands, the FM 1960 area, or surrounding areas, including Harris CountyMontgomery CountyLiberty County, Chambers CountyGalveston CountyBrazoria CountyFort Bend County and Waller County.

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