Ultimately, if you are involved in a Texas family law case that involves your children nothing else matters by comparison. We can talk all day and all night about how to divide up the equity in your home when it is sold but if you are not comfortable with the frequency with which you get to be with your children then you will not be happy. Over and above the time that you are able to spend with your kids we also have to be aware that your ability to make decisions for your children and impact their daily lives is just as crucial to their long-term success as citizens.
If yours is a divorce case then it is possible that some issue related to your children led to the breakup of your marriage. I don't mean to say that something your children did or said caused the divorce to occur. What I do mean is that you and your spouse may have fundamental differences in how you want to raise the kids or the values that you believe to be important. Situations, where you and your spouse cannot communicate effectively about these issues, means that disagreements can fester and ultimately lead to your filing a divorce.
The other thing to keep in mind is that family law cases involving children can be filed until that child turns eighteen or graduates from high school, whichever happens later in time. This leaves you and your spouse many years to deal with one another while attempting to raise a child as best as possible considering the circumstances.
What are the main issues at stake in your family law case which involves children?
Before we go any further, let's lay out those issues that are going to be discussed in the midst of your family law case. We have already touched on a few of them. Most important to your family case is the ability for you and your spouse to be able to make decisions on behalf of your child. These are commonly referred to as the rights and duties of parenting a child. Determining where your child is going to live on a full-time basis, what school he/she will attend, what sort of religious practices he/she will be involved with as well as what sort of medical treatment he/she can receive is just the tip of the iceberg as far as rights and duties are concerned.
Next, possession of your child will be considered in the context of your divorce or child custody case. Possession is just a legal term that refers to when your child will be with you and when your child will be with their other parent. In typical cases, one parent will be designated as the parent with whom the child will reside primarily and the other parent is granted visitation rights. This is the most fundamental area of dispute that attorneys see in family law cases- which one of you should be the one to care for your children during the school week?
Finally, family law cases will involve the twin issues of child support and medical support. Child support is a contentious topic no matter if you are the parent who will be paying child support or the parent who will be receiving the child support. From the perspective of the parent who will receive support, yours is likely the opinion that the amount of support you stand to receive is not near enough to care for a child on a nearly full-time basis. If you are the parent who will pay child support, then you may hold the opinion that the child support you pay is too much considering how much you already pay for the child when he or she is with you. For that reason, child support tends to be a pretty highly contested issue in family law cases.
Drawing a distinction between custody and conservatorship
Child custody is a term that judges, attorneys and people that don't live in the legal world refer to quite a bit. Generally speaking, this term is intended to draw attention to the relationship between parents and children and the time that each parent is allotted to spend with their child. Since it is so commonly used in our society it may come as a surprise to you that this word does not appear in the Texas Family Code even once.
The word that you will see used in family law contexts is "conservatorship." Conservatorship refers more so to the ability of a parent to receive information and make decisions on behalf of their child. Many parents start off their family law case thinking only about time with their children being all that important. However, the ability (the right) to make decisions about your child's well-being is arguably more important. The limits of your ability to parent your child can be as much of a change after the conclusion of divorce then the limits of your ability to spend time with your child.
Some of these rights and duties you will have only when your child is physical with you, such as being able to direct their religious training and upbringing. Other rights will be ones that stick with you regardless of whether your child is physical with you- such as being able to access information about their medical treatment or schooling. Every divorce or child custody case is different and yours may see these rights and duties divided between parents in a fairly unique fashion.
Joint Managing Conservatorship explained
The end result of most Texas family law cases is that a Joint Managing Conservatorship of your children will be set up. This means that you and your child’s other parent will share fairly equally in the parenting rights and duties that we have just finished introducing. You and the other parent would need to agree to allow your child to marry before the age of 18, enter the military before age 18, have a surgical procedure that was not an emergency, etc.
As far as the rights associated with raising a child are concerned in the context of a joint managing conservatorship, they are pretty well spread out between the two of you in equal fashion. However, there are two exceptions that jump off the page if you were to go down a list of them. Namely, the right to determine the primary residence of your children as well as the right to receive child support is where the rights under a joint managing conservatorship can begin to differ.
The right to determine the primary residence of your children means that your kids will live with you primarily throughout the year, but most notably during the school year. Thus, there is a built-in advantage as far as time with the kids is concerned. The school year is nine months long and therefore having the kids at home during the week bumps of the percentage of time that your kids get to be with you. Since you have the children more often and are responsible for providing food, shelter, clothing and other essentials during this time it is typically ordered that the other parent pay you child support in order to ensure that your children are well provided for. The flip side to each of these rights is the duty for the other parent to pay child support and receive visitation time.
Sole Managing Conservatorships
A sole managing conservatorship is the other option that is available for parties and courts to divide up the rights and duties associated with parenting a child. A sole managing conservatorship is entered into when one party has displayed an inability, unwillingness or other deficiency in terms of parenting a child. Sole managing conservators have most of the rights associated with raising children and typically do not need the agreement of the other parent to move forward with decision-making responsibilities. The parent who has possessory rights to the child typically will only be in possession of that child for limited periods of time during the year.
Child support examined in greater detail
As I mentioned earlier in today’s blog post, child support is an issue that is much discussed within the context of a family law case. The concept is pretty simple: one parent pays child support and the other one receives child support. The big issue that comes up when discussing this subject is how much has to be paid and how current can the payor of the support stay over a period of time?
The Texas Family Code lays out a chart that acts as the guidelines that courts will refer to when establishing the monthly amount of child support that has to be paid. This is only a starting point, however, for courts to begin to consider what is necessary for the child. For example, if your child is one with special needs that require assistance from a therapist or doctor on a regular basis then you may be ordered to pay more than a guidelines level of child support.
Determining child support amounts requires basic math skills
Let's walk through how child support is determined in Texas. Suppose that you will be the parent who is on the hook to pay child support. Your gross monthly income will be considered, subtracting income taxes, social security taxes, health insurance premiums and other things of that nature in order to arrive at your net monthly income. The total number of children that are before the court in your current case will be used to assess a percentage of that income that goes towards child support.
Those percentages start at 20% for one child and can go up to 40% if you are responsible for the support of five or more children. Keep in mind that if you are responsible for the care of other children that are not before the court you can receive “credits” for those kids. For example, if you have one child before the court in this divorce case but have another child from a prior relationship you would only be expected to pay 17.5% of your net monthly resources in child support, as opposed to 20%.
Finally, even if you do not have a job your net monthly resources can be considered by looking at the separate property that earns you income (like a rental property that generates a monthly amount of money). Also, if you earn a significantly higher monthly income than does your child's other parent, you may be ordered to pay a higher than guidelines level of support as a result.
For high-income earners, there is a cap for child support when it comes to income of yours that is considered. Currently, any amount of your net monthly resources that exceed $8,550 will not be considered for the purposes of establishing child support. That cap can be disregarded by a judge if he or she believes that doing so would be in the best interests of your child.
The Office of the Attorney General and Child Support- tomorrow’s blog post topics
We will continue to discuss the important topic of child support in tomorrow’s blog post. Specifically, the relationship between family cases and the Office of the Attorney General will receive some focus. We appreciate your willingness to share some of your time with us today and hope you will join us again tomorrow.
If you have any questions about the information that we discussed today, then I recommend that you contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan. Our licensed family law attorneys work on behalf of families just like yours and we take a great deal of pride in doing so. A free of charge consultation is available to you six days a week. In a consultation, you can ask questions and receive feedback from an experienced family law practitioner.
Our attorneys practice in every court in southeast Texas and have achieved results for clients in a wide array of cases. Contact us today to learn how we can put our staff to work for you and your family.