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Child Custody in Texas: What you absolutely need to know

When an attorney refers to a child custody case in Texas what he or she is actually talking about is called a Suit Affecting the Parent-Child Relationship (SAPCR). The purpose of this case is to appoint a conservator or conservators to a child, as well as to establish some amount of child support. A SAPCR case can also terminate someone’s parental rights or restrict them depending upon the circumstances of that particular case.

Parents will either be named as joint managing conservators of the child or a court will name one parent as the sole managing conservator. There is a presumption in Texas law that it is in the best interests of a child that his or her parents be named their joint managing conservators. This means that, for the most part, the time available to spend with the child will be split in a fairly even fashion along with the rights and duties to the child. One parent will be named as the managing conservator of the child and will be able to determine the primary residence of the child and receive child support from the other conservator.

Other than paying/receiving child support and determining the primary residence of the child the rights and duties that relate to a child in Texas can be shared in even fashion by parents in most child custody cases. Making decisions about education and health care are two of the biggest areas that I can think of that you may be concerned with when it comes to a child custody case. Divorce and child custody cases are not meant to create acrimony between parents. On the contrary, parents should be able to co-parent and work together to raise a child after the conclusion of one of these cases. No matter how difficult it may be.

Who else may be involved in a SAPCR?

In most cases it is two parents who become involved in a SAPCR case. However, there are instances where other people may have the right to intervene into a SAPCR case. Grandparents and other relatives would need to show a judge that he or she has what is known as “standing” in order to enter into the case. If you or another relative has had actual care, custody and control over a child for at least six months (this is the exact wording in the Texas Family Code) prior to the filing of a family lawsuit then you most likely have standing to be a part of a case.

What happens in the case of a divorce?

Child custody cases are also part of many divorces where children are involved. The same judge that is overseeing the divorce and the division of your marital estate will also put orders regarding conservatorship, possession, visitation and support of your child into place within the divorce’s final orders. What are the principles that a court will use to guide its decision making in a situation where a divorce has been filed?

Unless shown otherwise by sufficient evidence to the contrary, it is presumed that every child in Texas should be able to have frequent contact with their child on a continuous basis. This is the case so long as that parent has shown the ability to act in their child’s best interests. Children are thought to benefit from contact with both of their parents. This is why a Standard Possession Order (SPO) offers even the parent with whom the child does not reside with primarily a great deal of time with the child.

Next, a court will look to the environment that both parents offer as far as conservatorship is concerned. Which parent, as they stand today, is better equipped to primarily care for a child. The home itself, the parents’ schedules, their history of taking an active and involved role in raising the child are all relevant factors to consider.

As we stated earlier, parents who are divorcing are still expected to share in the responsibility for raising their child together. Just because the bonds of matrimony are no longer in place does not mean that your bond to your ex-spouse in the form of your child has been eliminated as well. Despite how tough it might by to co-parent with your ex-spouse you are expected to be able to do so. What’s more- if you show throughout a trial or temporary orders hearing that you are incapable of fulfilling this responsibility then you are less likely to be named as the primary conservator of your child. This is due to the fact that this parent has more time with your child and therefore greater responsibility as far as encouraging and allowing your child to have a relationship with both of his/her parents.

What exactly is a conservator?

While most people (attorneys included) refer mainly to child custody cases when discussing the possession, rights and duties of parenting of a child- the Texas Family Code does not actually contain the word “custody.” Conservatorship is the legal word that is used in its place. We’ve used it ourselves a number of times so far in today’s blog post but we have not yet explicitly defined it.

Conservatorship does not have a tried and true definition that is set forth in the family code, but when you think of conservatorship you ought to consider rights and duties primarily. These are the rights and duties that two parents share in a child. The likeliest outcome of your divorce or child custody case is for you and your child’s other parent to be named as joint managing conservators of your child. Another alternative is for you or your spouse to be named as a sole managing conservator with the other parent being named as a possessory conservator.

What factors are in play when a judge considers whether or not to name parents as joint managing conservators of a child?

We discussed at the very beginning of today’s blog post that the law in Texas presumes that parents in a child custody/divorce case should be named as joint managing conservators of a child. The odds are good that you and your spouse will away from your divorce as joint managing conservators. How exactly would a court reach that decision, though? Let’s walk through some factors that a court would likely consider in this regard.

First off, will your child’s physical, psychological or emotional needs be bettered by you and your spouse being named as joint managing conservators. Next, are you able to put your child first on your list of priorities? We’ve already discussed the next factor that a court will consider: whether or not you are able to encourage and accept a role as a meaningful part of your child’s life. Parental alienation is a huge issue in divorce cases. If you have shown a propensity for disrespect of the other parent or outright encouraging your child not to engage with their other parent this will not bode well for you if your case makes it to a trial.

Other concerns exist in regard to where you plan on living after your divorce. Parents that live more than 100 miles from one another present logistical concerns in regard to transportation. We live in Texas so we know that driving is a big part of our lives. However, if you decide to move out of your family home and live in a town 120 miles away because you were offered a new job it may not make sense for you to have the same possession schedule as a father who lives only 20 miles from their child.

More questions about child custody and conservatorship in Texas? Contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC

If you have any additional questions about these topics then stay tuned until tomorrow’s blog post. We will continue to address relevant and timely issues in the areas of child custody and conservatorship in Texas. Any immediate questions or concerns can be addressed to the attorneys with the Law Office of Bryan. We offer free of charge consultations six days a week with a licensed family law attorney who would be honored to sit with you and address your questions directly.

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