Originally published by The Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC Blog.
Whether you are a parent going through a
divorce or a
child custody case in Texas, you need to be familiar with how a court will view your
case if you and your child’s other parent cannot settle in mediation.
The fact is that as long as you are not in a courtroom, what you and your
opposing party can agree to is pretty much how your case will be decided.
Meaning: if you all can settle on an arrangement for child custody a court
is likely to honor it because there is a presumption under the law that
as your child’s parents, you both have his or her best interests in mind.
On the other hand, if you cannot settle your case then it will head to
a courtroom where all of the power as far as decision making is taken
from you and your child’s other parent and placed in the hands of
a family court judge. This judge, while well meaning and bound to make
decisions based on the law in Texas, does not know you, your child or
the opposing party in your case. He or she will have a limited amount
of time to learn the facts and circumstances of your case and then apply
the law in a fair manner.
Best interests of your child
It is presumed that naming you and your child’s other parent as
joint managing conservators is in the best interests of your child. This is the starting point that
your judge will being their analysis from when it comes to awarding a
particular schedule of possession. However, once evidence begins to be
presented in a trial a judge can make different decisions regarding what
is actually in your child’s best interests.
What sort of evaluation does a judge make as to what is (or is not) in
your child’s best interests? First of all, the judge would likely
want to do a review of the home environments of both you and your child’s
other parent. This often times meaning have an amicus attorney or attorney
ad litem conduct a review of the home environments and to compile a report
for the judge so that he or she can make a more informed decision.
Next, what your strong-suits when it comes to parenting and what are your
weaknesses? What are those of your child’s other parent? Do you
and your child’s other parent work well when it comes to co-parenting
or are you unable to stand the sight of the other? Your jobs and your
financial stability are also considered, although to a lesser extent when
yours and that of the other parent are similar.
What a court will look to when making its ultimate determination as to
Judges in Texas are empowered by the Texas Family Code to use their judgment
to a great extent when making this decision. The law will guide him or
her but in large part your judge’s own notions and opinions on the
subject will be key.
I will note that if your child is over the age of 12 and you file a motion
to have him or her speak to the judge about their own wishes as to where
they want to reside primarily a judge must consider their opinion. How
much the judge considers it is left up to that judge.
The current and future needs of your child (emotional, educational, financial,
etc.) are considered along with your and your opposing party’s abilities
to provide for your child’s needs. How stable is the home that you
are living in and what do your habits and past actions in the realm of
parenting indicate as far as your ability to provide the sort of environment
that is conducive to raising a successful and happy child in today’s world.
There are other factors that will present themselves in your trial, but
since they vary significant on a case to case basis I won’t attempt
to discuss them here. Suffice it to say that a judge will consider a great
number of factors when determining custody and conservatorship issues.
Sole custody of your child
A judge can award you or your child’s other parent a
sole managing conservatorship. This means that your child would live primarily with that parent. This
is how it would work under a joint managing conservatorship as well, but
the major difference is that the sole managing conservator would be in
the driver’s seat as far as making decisions for your child in regard
to important subjects like education and health care matters.
Joint custody of your child
Joint custody is much preferred by judges and, as we just finished discussing,
is the presumptive choice for judges to order in a child custody or divorce
case. Not only does it encourage parents to both have a long lasting and
committed relationship with their child but it also allows parents to
split the responsibility of sharing rights and duties as to that child.
I think in my years of practicing family law that this is most underrated
aspect of parenting. Most parents focus on time and de-emphasize the rights
and duties aspects of parenting. Ask any parent who feels left out of
the conversation when it comes to making important decisions and that
person will tell you how hard it is to be an effective parent without
Drawing a distinction between rights/duties and time with your child
As a parent there are really two, main aspects to your ability to parent
your child. The first is being able to spend time with your child and
have him or her in your possession. Quality time is what most people like
to call this. Evenings spent watching a movie in the living room, early
morning breakfasts enjoying a sunrise together or playing catch in the
backyard. These are familiar images for a lot of families and are what
I think most clients in a family law case think about when considering
what it means to be a parent and what is being fought for and over in
a family law case.
I will again emphasize, however, just how important it is to have the legal
right to make decisions on behalf of your child. Where your child attends
school, what kind of religion he or she practices, the sort of medical
care he or she receives and many other decisions are just the sort of
life changing issues that I am talking about when I talk about rights
and duties of parenting.
While you or I may commonly refer to this as legal custody of your child
it is actually called conservatorship in the Texas Family Code. Ironically
enough, despite how frequently it is used by the general public and attorneys
alike, the word custody does not actually appear in the Texas Family Code
even one time.
Using the parenting class as an opportunity to learn more about your child
and your family
Most Texas counties will require you to go through a mandatory course on
parenting. It may seem a little demeaning for a court to demand that you
attend a course on parenting after you have been a parent for years. I
understand this may seem like a waste of your time, but I have had more
than a few parents tell me that it really did open their eyes on how to
resolve conflict, work with the other parent after a family law case and
how to maximize the time that you do have with your child.
More on the subject of child custody will be posted in tomorrow’s blog
If you are interested in the information contained in today’s blog
post then you will want to stick around until tomorrow when we conclude
this mini-series of
child custody issues in Texas family law cases. If you have any questions in the meantime
I suggest that you contact the
Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC. One of our licensed family law attorneys can meet with you six days a
week for a free of charge consultation. We can answer your questions and
address your concerns in a comfortable and pressure-free environment.