There’s no getting around it, divorce is a painful thing. Not only is severing ties a heartbreaking process, but the logistical nightmare of splitting up the property and possessions of a joint life together can be downright overwhelming. It also has the tenancy to stir up feelings of nostalgia and raise some pretty tough territorial tenancies—especially when you both treasure the same things. And since children are usually the greatest source of love and devotion in a marriage, this often means that some of the most ferocious, emotionally-charged battlefields of divorce happen over child custody.
That prospect, alone, is understandably troublesome. No respectable parent wants to see their child thrown into the middle of a vicious tug-of-war. However, it’s important to realize that things do not have to be that way. Custody disputes can, and do, get resolved in a respectable manner all the time, and part of achieving that amicable environment comes by simply understanding the process of how custody disputes are handled in Texas. Often, as fear and stress of the unknown decrease, parents are better able to cope and comply with custodial outcomes. So, while every divorce is different, here are a few things to know about how child custody disputes are handled in Texas.
Drafting Your Own Child Custody Agreement
To start off, it’s important to note, that courts aren’t even necessary to decide child custody. Indeed, couples are always free to make and agree upon a plan of their own. This option can go a long way toward helping worried, frustrated parents maintain some semblance of control over their future. Furthermore, individuals who do not feel coerced into a schedule are often more inclined to help maintain the agreement and to keep up good feelings while doing so.
In these types of situations, a judge need only approve the proposal in order to make a custody arrangement enforceable. This is not only a less expensive option (and, arguably less time-consuming) but can also go a long way toward helping maintain a healthy family dynamic for the future. After all, children who see their parents working together—even in the middle of a serious conflict—often feel more secure and loved, thereby helping them cope better with the transitions that follow divorce.
For individuals wishing to pursue this route, drafting can be done by either the partners working together by themselves or under the advisement of a supervising attorney. While drafting, keep in mind that a good arrangement should include:
- Provisions about physical and legal custody;
- Visitation schedules;
- Rules for care and decision making;
- A plan for resolving disputes; and
- A process to make changes to the custody plan.
A thorough agreement will also address smaller things, like whether or not it’s okay to alter the child’s appearance (say, for pierced ears or haircuts), and guidelines about how to handle extra-curricular activities. Itemizing all the decisions that go into raising a child can certainly be overwhelming, which is why it’s helpful to have an attorney handy, who can identify and highlight areas where an agreement might be lacking.
Court Determined Custody Agreement
If couples are unwilling, or simply unable to come up with their own custody arrangement, it then becomes the job of the court to determine how supervision, decision making, and access to the child will play out. This judgment can roughly be divided into two categories, 1) the legal rights and responsibilities of the parents (or, the “conservatorship”); and 2) physical possession and access to the child.
While many underlying factors come into play, at the forefront of every custody decision is not what is most beneficial to the parents, but what will serve the child’s best interest.
Best Interest of the Child Standard
The Best Interest of the Child Standard is the legal precedent driving every decision made in custody disputes. The ultimate goal, of which, is to make sure the final judgment is one that gives a child the best chance at long-term physical health and welfare, happiness, and security. This is done by evaluating a myriad of factors, such as home environment, financial circumstances, abilities, and (if the child is over twelve), even the child’s parental preference.
While verdicts vary widely based on individual circumstances, the presumption maintained by courts is that the best interest of the child includes fostering close and loving relationships with both parents whenever possible.
Joint and Sole Managing Conservatorship
In Texas, “conservatorship” is the term used to describe the legal rights and responsibilities of a parent, and can be awarded as either joint or sole. Joint Managing Conservatorship (JMC) being when both parents share custodial rights and responsibilities, and Sole Managing Conservatorship (SMC), when legal authority falls to just one parent. The general presumption is that, when possible, parents should be named Joint Managing Conservators. Under this arrangement, a judge will divvy up the responsibilities for each parent to keep track of—both as individuals and as a pair.
A JMC does not necessarily mean, however, that both parents will have equal time and access to the child. It simply means that the parents will share the legal decision-making and access to information in regards to health care, education, and overall welfare of the child.
Possession and Access
Logistically speaking, even if both parents are joint conservators, it can be difficult to divide a child’s time exactly equal between them. Because of this, a child will often live predominately with one parent, while the other has a set visitation or live-in schedule. Care and access to a child-like all other custody decisions—are determined based on the child’s best interest. And, as the child grows, it is possible for possession orders to be altered to fit a family’s changing needs.
Custody Attorney in Lewisville
We, here at North Texas Family Lawyers, know that nothing is more important to you than the beautiful children you created. Whether you need help drafting a custody agreement with your partner, or want to pursue a court-decided arrangement, we can help that process run more smoothly. Call us today at (972) 402-6367, or schedule a consultation online to discuss your specific situation. Our Lewisville custody attorneys want to help safeguard your child’s best interests and to give them the best possible chance at a future of emotional and physical well-being.