5 Things You Need to Know About Child Custody in Texas

In the world of Texas family law, a child custody case can take on several different contexts and meanings. For the most part, when you hear about a divorce case in Texas you know what to expect. This will be a case involving two married people and possibly their children. However, a child custody case can also be a part of a divorce. On top of that, child custody cases can be standalone cases, modifications, enforcement cases, and even child support cases which take on components of child custody cases.

As you can see, there can be many moving pieces associated with a child custody case and you need to be able to understand what sort of case you will be facing and the challenges that will come with it. Fortunately, there are avenues for you to take which can prepare you for the challenges which you have upcoming. There is no need to go it alone when you are facing down child custody case. Forming a support system of family and friends is helpful as well as working with an experienced family law attorney. Do not leave your relationship with your children up to chance. Consider hiring that experienced family law attorney to make the most of your experience.

In today’s blog post from the Law Office of Bryan Fagan, we are going to walk through several different circumstances that may come up in a child custody case in Texas. The way that we will do this is by introducing 5 frequently asked questions about child custody cases that we think are of particular importance. We will answer these questions and provide you with a launchpad for you to begin to prepare for your child custody case. Our attorneys and staff know what it takes to be successful in a child custody case and want to help you prepare for your case as best as you can.

While you are getting ready for your child custody case, you can check out our YouTube page for the Law Office of Bryan Fagan. That YouTube page has many videos that we have posted about child custody cases as well as a range of other topics related to Texas family law. We are confident that you will find a great deal of information on this YouTube page that can assist you in your preparations. Importantly, you will have a chance to get to know some of our experienced family law attorneys. These are the same attorneys who work tirelessly on behalf of clients inside and outside of courtrooms in Texas every single day.

Did you know that family law attorneys spend more time in court than probably any other field in the world of Texas civil law? Our attorneys maximize their productivity by working to advocate for our clients both inside and outside the courtroom. We are not afraid of a fight inside the courtroom, but we also understand the importance of negotiation as it pertains to your family law case. We will not go to court unnecessarily but if that is where the direction of your case leads us we can help you to determine what steps our best and then advise you so that you can make wise decisions for your case moving forward.

Do moms have advantages over dads in a child custody case?

This is one of the most widely asked questions in all of Texas family law cases associated with child custody. There is a great deal of belief circulating out in the world that mothers have a mandatory advantage in the context of a child custody case. This could be for any number of reasons, but I think most of it comes back to the idea that mothers are better parents than fathers and that the law simply acknowledges this to be true. As a result, it makes sense for some to believe that mothers rather than fathers should be given preference when it comes to child custody issues in family law cases.

However, this is simply not the truth. There is no advantage in any family law case to be a mother versus a father. The Texas family code specifically states that no preference is to be given to either mothers or fathers in terms of contested issues in child custody cases. Rather, parents are to be judged based on their merits and the specific circumstances of their case. Just because you are a mother, or a father does not give you any particular advantage or disadvantage heading into a family law case. Rather, parents who end up doing better in family law cases usually have a track record of being supportive and present in the lives of their children. In many cases, this ends up being the mother due to the traditional roles of the father being the primary breadwinner and the mother being the primary caretaker of the children.

This is where advantages or disadvantages are determined in a child custody case. Mothers more frequently take on the responsibility of caretaker before the beginning of a child custody case. Therefore, they have a track record of providing care for their children from the beginning of the case. In my opinion, this is the source of many people having the belief that mothers are preferred in child custody settings compared to fathers. This is simply a reflection of parenting roles for most families.

However, this does not mean that a father who has always been present in the lives of his children cannot receive a fair hearing or consideration when it comes to child custody and conservatorship issues. If you are a father who is reading this blog post, you should not feel intimidated or otherwise unworthy of becoming the primary conservator of your children. You have every opportunity in the world to take on as much of a role in the lives of your children as you would like. However, it does mean that planning is crucial to your success, and having a game plan for accomplishing goals is a must.

Can parents agree to no child support payments?

In Texas, parents have to support their children until they reach the age of 18 or graduate from high school, whichever happens later. We see the net effect of this with great frequency in the context of child support cases. Child support is a big part of almost every child custody case for several reasons. In many cases, parents have never received nor paid child support consistently. There may have been informal child support payments made from time to time but certainly nothing has ever been done on a set schedule with expectations of prompt payment and credit for payments made successfully.

Parents cannot agree to no child support being paid in a child custody case. Although parents like yourselves are given a great amount of autonomy when it comes to deciding issues in their case one of the things that they typically cannot agree to is no child support being paid. Judges want both parents to be able to share in the responsibility of raising their children. When a parent who is not the primary conservator has no responsibility to pay child support this puts an excess amount of pressure on the primary conservator to be able to pay bills, care for the child daily, and incur any costs that come up which are unforeseen.

What may be possible in your situation is to have a reduced amount of child support based on the difference in income between you and your co-parent. For example, let’s consider a situation where you and your child’s other parent both split custody meaning that the two of you see your children on a nearly equal basis. Additionally, your incomes are similar, as well. This means that the two of you may be able to work out an arrangement where the small difference in your income is calculated to determine child support. It may be a relatively small number but the way it works out is that both parents will be able to share equally in time with the children and will be able to share equally in the costs associated with the children. No setup is exactly fair to both parents. However, the system of child support brings accountability to the financial parts of raising a child and gives a child consistency in the support that they receive.

What is a geographic restriction?

A geographic restriction is an important part of any set of child custody orders. However, it is also one of the subjects that is most frequently overlooked in the context of a divorce or child custody case. A geographic restriction sets forth the specific geographic area in which a child can reside after a child custody case. A court cannot tell an adult where he or she can live but it can set up rules for a primary conservator to follow when it comes to establishing a permanent residence.

Here is how a geographic restriction works in a practical sense. The primary conservator of your child will have the right to determine the primary residence of your child. However, this sets up a situation where the primary conservator of your child could decide that he or she wants to move to Canada to work and raise the children. This may put you, a Texas native with all your family in Texas, in a position where you need to up and leave your job and your family to chase around your co-parent who decided to live in another country.

What the geographic restriction can do is keep your children in a certain area where you can more easily follow them and stay close to them to maintain a relationship. However, let’s say that you are the non-primary conservator. This means that the geographic restriction applies to your co-parent and that you are the parent who theoretically benefits from the geographic restriction. In that case, if you decide to move in the future outside of that geographically restricted area, then your co-parent can do the same. This places some accountability on both of you to remain in the same place to establish some degree of consistency and stability for your child in that location.

If a geographic restriction is placed in your child custody case, it is possible to have it lifted in the future. This would likely be done through a modification case. However, a judge would need to determine that lifting the geographic restriction was in the best interests of your child and that a material and substantial change has occurred in the circumstances involving you, your co-parent, or one of your children since you were last in family court. This is a relatively high burden to meet and so you should try your best to accomplish whatever goals you have in the context of a geographic restriction during your initial child custody case.

How does a child custody case begin?

A child custody case begins with the filing of a petition in Suit Affecting the Parent-Child Relationship. This is the formal name for a child custody petition. When you are ready to do so, you may file your petition and then attach to it any additional documents that may be necessary in your case like a notice of temporary orders hearing or a request for mediation. In any event, these documents will be filed in a court that has jurisdiction over your case. Typically, this will be the court in which you filed your most recent family law case or the court where your children live.

Once your petition is filed you would need to have it served on your co-parent. This likely means hiring a private process server and having him or her serve it upon your co-parent at a location of your choosing. From there, a citation would be returned by the process server and filed with the court. This would give proof of service and would start the clock on when your co-parent needs to file their response to your petition, known as an answer.

In some cases, you may be able to file your petition and then have your co-parent sign a waiver of service which functions similarly to an answer. By filing a waiver of service your co-parent does not waive their right to be notified of any future court hearings but does waive their right to be served personally with your family lawsuit. From there, you and your co-parent can work to negotiate through any number of issues in your case rather than waiting to have him or her served and then file an answer.

How long does a child custody case take?

This is one of the most important questions a person can ask in connection with the child custody case. As with many issues under the law, the answer to the question is: it depends. There are many moving pieces in a child custody case which will determine the overall length of the case in terms of time. If you and your co-parent only disagree on a couple of subjects involved in the case, then the length of the case may not be that long at all. However, if the two of you find yourself disagreeing on even the most basic of issues in connection with the case, then your case may end up being longer than you ever would have thought.

Attending mediation is a great way to reduce the length of your case. Mediation involves you and your co-parent sitting down with an experienced family law mediator to help work through any issues that have been causing you problems and delaying the settlement of your case. That mediator is usually an experienced family law attorney. This gives you the added advantage of being able to bounce ideas off an attorney who has likely tried cases before the judge in your case.

Contrary to what many people believe, child custody cases are not a foregone conclusion to wind up before a judge. In most cases, parties just like you and your co-parent can settle their cases long before they ever get to a courtroom. However, to do that you need to have a plan and you need to be willing to see the case from the perspective of your co-parent. If you are willing to do this, then you can rest assured that the length of your case will not necessarily be all that long and that you will be able to accomplish many of your goals.

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