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How a judge will view your high school aged child during a Texas child custody case

The final age group of children that we need to consider in our series of recent blog posts is teenagers. Your high school-aged child may look, sound, and act like an adult in many respects but the truth is that he or she is not an adult- no matter how strongly they may protest to the contrary. While they may ask (not so politely) that you treat them as an equal, the fact is that they need a similar degree of care and nurturing as a younger child.

A difficult part of the process of examining how a judge is likely to view a teenage child is that teenagers are more mobile than their younger counterparts. Once your child turns 16 he or she can drive themselves to school, extracurriculars, or their other parent’s home. Visitation schedules are often not followed, and a more flexible arrangement is followed based on the needs and schedule of your child.

On top of everything else, disciplining a teenager can be difficult as well. Teenager understands that they can, very soon, be on their own. This can cause them to feel like they do not have to operate by your rules because they will soon be able to create their own.

Not an adult, but still a child

Teenagers can feel caught in the middle of childhood and adulthood. They can have aspirations for college, independent living, and other goals that younger children simply cannot envision or are not aware of at all. However, it is not uncommon to find that your child experiences days where he or she feels like they can take on the world, only to find him or her the next day coming to you for solace or comfort after a hard day at school.

Such is the life of raising a teenager. The highs can be higher, and the lows can be far lower for your teenage child in comparison to the emotions of their younger lives. On top of all this, if you are bringing a divorce or child custody case into their lives it can be even tougher for teenagers to manage their emotions productively. If your teen feels rudderless and adrift during the divorce this could damage your case and hurt your ability to put forth a compelling case that you should become the primary conservator of your teen.

Your teenager is beginning to find out who he is

A teenage child has made it past the hard times of middle school and finds himself in a high school environment where he can seek his interests rather than attempt to conform to the norms of a particular group of peers. The decisions that your child will make can not only affect their academic selves but can affect the rest of their life on into adulthood. Many children of this age become interested in the world around them much more so than in prior years. The world around them certainly includes you and your spouse’s divorce case. Expect your teenager to be more involved in your case than the younger children based on this reason.

Discipline is a must when it comes to managing the behavior of teenagers but can prove difficult in that you may not have the time to spend with your child during your case like you had in years past. The groundwork that you laid from the birth of your child through the current date in things like discipline, compassion, academics, and extra-curricular will either come to your aid during a child custody case or will come back to haunt you.

Understanding the situation and being more empathetic

Younger children can place blame on one parent or the other with greater ease when it comes to a divorce or child custody case because they do not understand the nature of marriage or how it can break down. The benefit of having a teenager be a part of the process is that he or she is likely better equipped to understand how and why divorce may occur and is less likely to place the blame squarely on the shoulders of you or your spouse, individually.

With that said, this doesn't mean that your child will not struggle in terms of their dealing with the divorce case. Like younger children, a teenager's mind may fixate on the subject leaving them hard-pressed to focus on things like school or extra-curricular activities. Also, teenagers have access to activities that are typically not as available to younger children- namely, drugs and alcohol. These are tempting activities to engage in that your child could see as a viable outlet for their hurt feelings and frustrations. You should be as vigilant as possible to make sure that your children do not travel down this path. Foremost for their safety and well-being, but also the health of your case.

What the judge will seek to do in your case regarding your teenage child’s best interests

Judges understand that teenagers are to be handled in a somewhat different fashion than younger children. It is not that a separate set of rules apply to them or anything like that, but the fact that teenagers are typically more mature and better able to handle flexible and changing possession schedules means that standard visitation schedules are not always necessary in cases that involve teens.

Many parents will file motions that ask a judge to allow their child to meet with him or her behind closed doors to express their preference regarding subjects like which parent should be able to exercise primary possession over him or her. The specific law is that children over the age of 12 shall be given this opportunity if a request is filed. Children under 12 can do so only if a request is filed and the judge approves of the request.

What a judge decides to discuss with your teenager is up to the judge. There is nothing in the Texas Family Code that demands that he ask certain questions or discuss certain topics. I think generally but a judge will do is make sure your child feels safe, and taken care of and will also ask about school. Their interests, extra-curricular and ultimately who he feels would be best served to act as the primary conservator could and probably should be asked of your child as well.

However, keep in mind that your judge is not a social worker and is not there to play a counselor. He or she can be sympathetic, but it is not their job to make an emotional decision based on the opinions of your teen. Of course, the judge could make a decision regarding the best interests of your child based in part on your teen's meeting with him but that is not required, either. The bottom line is that just because your teenager tells the judge that he wants to live with you primarily does not mean that the judge has to honor that wish.

Judges need to look past the words and demeanor of your child when assessing best interests

It is always a good practice for a judge to listen to the words of your child, if allowed to do so, but should also understand that teenagers experience emotion on a spectrum that is constantly moving and changing. If your judge sees your child on a Monday, he or she may have changed their opinion about the subjects they discussed by Wednesday. Anger and sadness may cause your child to change their minds frequently about what is in their best interests or what their preferences are. For this reason, judges are not apt to only consider what your child has to say and will instead give plenty of weight to your child’s words as well as the other evidence presented in your case.

Finally, your judge should not focus solely on the younger children and forget about the needs of the teenage child. The simple fact is that your teenager is closer to adulthood than your other children, and any detrimental effect your family law case has on your teen is more likely to lead to negative experiences that your child has in the real world rather than in the comfort of your home. If your six-year-old has a bad day, you can pour a glass of chocolate milk and have a chat with her. If your seventeen-year-old has a bad day it could wind up getting her fired from her part-time job.

Do not be afraid to discipline your child

Many parents will choose to let down their guards during the divorce because they believe that their child needs some space to grow and figure things out on their own during the difficulties of a divorce case. However, I would recommend that you not do so. A judge will look to you and your spouse and will judge you based on your ability and willingness to discipline your child during a difficult time like a divorce.

Teenagers will often express a desire to live primarily with the parent that has the fewest rules and allows him or them to act however they please. This is not in your child's best interests and I have always had the belief that judges may get suspicious of the parent who the child very much wants to live with primarily, especially if the child has had disciplinary issues in the past.

A judge would show respect for your teenager can speak with him or her

I do not want to dissuade you from a desire to have your child speak to the judge in your case if that is something that you are interested in. Judges are typically very respectful of teenagers and will go a long way towards showing respect for their independence and choice of where he or she wants to live primarily. If a judge asks your child to walk her through a typical day in their life what do you think your child would tell her? Would you be proud to have your child speak honestly to the judge about a day in their life? What can you do to help improve your child’s perspective and/or well-being? Do you encourage and support your child in their activities, despite what is going on in your daily life?

Finally, you should help your child to develop plans and goals for their future. Whether that means applying for college, developing a plan to find work after high school, or just helping them maintain or improve their grades in school, you can impact your child’s life in dramatic ways. It is not always easy to do so, especially during a divorce, but your teen wants you to be a part of their life even if he doesn’t always show it. You should expect the judge to show an interest in your child’s future. Your actions can impact this discussion positively, both for your child and for your case.

Issues related to parenting will be discussed tomorrow

We have spent a great deal of time in the past week discussing how a judge is likely to view your child and their role in your family law case, depending upon their age. Thank you for your interest in this important subject.

If you have any questions regarding the information contained in today’s blog post please do not hesitate to contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan. We offer free-of-charge consultations six days a week with one of our licensed family law attorneys. We would be honored to answer your questions and address any concerns you have in one of these comfortable and pressure-free meetings. We represent clients from across southeast Texas and would be honored to talk to you about how our attorneys and staff can help you and your family, as well.

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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 custody lawyers in Houston TX are skilled at listening to your goals during this trying process and developing a strategy to meet those goals. Contact the 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 custody cases in Houston, Texas, Cypress, Klein, Humble, Kingwood, Tomball, The Woodlands, the FM 1960 area, or surrounding areas, including Harris County, Montgomery County, Liberty County, Chambers County, Galveston County, Brazoria County, Fort Bend County, and Waller County.

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