For parents, one of the most difficult aspects of getting a divorce can be the uncertainty of child custody. After all, how can you possibly get a good night’s sleep, when you have no idea where your child will end up, or with whom?
There’s no denying the validity of these fears and worries; however, it may help alleviate some of your stress to know that these concerns are equally important to child custody judges.
Indeed, your child’s welfare is so important, that in Texas, any case involving a minor child will be decided by applying the “Best Interest of the Child” standard. This principal looks at all the facts in a case and requires judges to choose an outcome that will serve the child’s long-term health and welfare the best.
Here’s how the Best Interest of the Child standard works in Texas, and what the Neal Ashmore team can do to help you navigate these important issues.
“Best Interest of the Child” Standard: 101
The “Best Interest of the Child” is a legal standard that requires a judge to choose the verdict that will uphold a child’s long-term health and wellbeing the best, essentially making a child’s welfare the driving force behind every decision.
This is a fairly universal standard in the legal arena, acting as the governing principle in family law courts across the United States states—including Texas, where it is used any time a minor child is involved in a case.
When applied, the Best Interest of the Child standard ensures that—no matter what happens—the outcome of a case will be the one that gives that child the best chance of success, overall.
But what does that mean, exactly? Isn’t “what’s best” kind of subjective? And why do judges get to decide what’s best for your child?
We’re glad you asked.
Texas’s Child Custody Policies
Before we get into exactly what factors go into deciding a child’s best interest, we first have to review some of Texas’s long-standing policies—namely the ones that have to do with parental rights and child custody.
These policies act a lot like goals, offering a backdrop against which case facts can be applied, and a child’s best interests, analyzed.
To this end, the Texas Family Code requires judges to make decisions that will:
- Ensure a child has frequent and continued contact with both parents, whenever possible.
- Ensure a child has a safe, stable home that is free from abuse, neglect, and violence.
- Enable both parents to share custodial rights and responsibilities, once they are divorced or separated.
What these policies tell us, is that a child’s best interest is served when they are allowed to have a relationship with both parents, whenever possible. And that can’t happen without time and the physical space to do so, which is why Texas courts traditionally favor joint custody over sole, in the large majority of custody battles.
Using these policies as a guide, Texas courts will weigh the facts of your case, and choose the outcome that will serve your child the best.
Determining a Child’s Best Interest: Analyzing the Facts
When determining custody, some of the facts a Texas judge might consider include:
- The child’s wishes;
- The child’s physical and emotional needs;
- The child’s relationship with each parent;
- Any history of emotional or physical abuse;
- Each parent’s ability to care for their child;
- Each parent’s ability to provide a stable home; as well as,
- Each parent’s attitude towards upholding the other’s visitation and custody rights.
As you can see, nowhere in that list are a parent’s wishes considered—and that is purposeful. Because when it comes to custody, Texas courts don’t care what you want; their only concern is what’s best for your child.
That being said, just because the court won’t consider your wishes, doesn’t mean you can’t have a bigger say if you want to…
You’re the Parent, You Can Decide
If you’re frustrated by this “best interests” chatter—wondering why you, the parent, don’t get to decide these things for your child—we want to point out that you are not required to use the court to solve your problems.
Indeed, when it comes to determining the best of your child, you, as parents, are always free to draft your own agreement—either on your own, or through an alternative method of dispute resolution, such as mediation, or collaborative divorce.
Not only are these options more flexible (giving parents more power over the eventual outcome), they are also a lot faster and less expensive than traditional divorce litigation. In addition, they also bypass much of the emotional toxicity and stress of a formal trial, making them much better options, overall.
The only time judges have to step in, is when parents can’t—or are unable to—agree on their arrangement, at which point, there is no other option but for a judge to step in (unless you want to just stay married, that is.)
However, so long as your mutual agreement meets certain state minimums (such as child support requirements), your judge should have no problem approving your settlement agreement.
Do You Need Help with Child Custody in Texas?
Child custody disputes are hard. As a parent, you want what’s best for your child, and not knowing how or where they’ll end up after divorce can be excruciating. Luckily, Texas courts want what’s best for them, too, so it doesn’t have to be as stressful as you might be thinking.
For more questions about the Best Interest of the Child Standard, and how Texas courts apply these guidelines during custody disputes, we want to hear from you. Call the Neal Ashmore team today at (972) 402-6367, or schedule a consultation online, and let us help ensure your child’s best interests are met.