There’s no getting around it, when it comes to divorce, one of the most difficult aspects is determining child custody. While divorcing couples don’t often agree on much, the one thing they usually can harmonize on, is how precious their children are. Which, of course, means that some of the most ferocious, and emotionally-charged battlefields of divorce happen over custody.
At Neal Ashmore, we understand that this can sometimes feel like a no-win situation. Wanting to protect your child from emotional fallout, while at the same time fighting for their best interest can be a difficult balancing act no parent wants to find themselves in. And the truth is, that while it is impossible to completely shield a child from the effects of divorce, it is possible to lessen the blow.
Here are a few things to know about how Texas handles child custody, and how our experienced team of Lewisville child custody attorneys can help you prepare for this challenging aspect of your divorce.
Best Interest of the Child Standard
To begin, Texas courts do not take matters regarding child welfare lightly. During divorce proceedings, all decisions involving a child are made by applying the Best Interest of the Child Standard. Under this law, it is the child’s best interest—not the parents’ wishes—which dictate how each disagreement gets resolved.
As this applies to custody, the presumption is, that the child’s best interest is to have a loving, healthy relationship with both parents whenever possible. If you believe this would not be in your child’s best interest, it will be your responsibility to present the facts as to why. Any proof you can offer your attorney will help strengthen your case, and help clarify which custodial plan will be in your child’s best interest.
Legal and Physical Custody in Texas
In Texas, custody is broken down into two main categories: legal custody, and physical custody.
Legal custody refers to a parent’s decision-making power, which can include a child’s day-to-day activities, but also covers broader topics, such as education, medical choices, and any religious preferences the parents might have. Baring unusual circumstances, courts typically prefer to divide this decision-making power equally between parents. When this happens, it is called “Joint Managing Conservatorship.” If only one parent has this power, courts refer to this as “Sole Managing Conservatorship.”
Physical custody, on the other hand, refers to where the child will physically reside. Sometimes this time is split equally between the parents, other times, judges will divide the living arrangements unequally, based on the child’s best interest.
Usually, even if one parents is granted sole decision-making power, the other parent still has rights to some kind of physical possession over the child—even if it is just visitation. Under these circumstances, the non-decision-making parent is also generally allowed access to medical and education records (even if they can’t make decisions), and has the right to attend activities and events where the child is participating.
Factors Used to Determine Child Custody in Texas
In making decisions about legal and physical custody of a child, Texas courts will apply a number of factors, including:
- The child’s emotional and physical needs (both now, and in the future);
- Health care and medical access;
- The child’s relationship to each parent;
- Financial stability and health of both parents;
- Any history of abuse or neglect; and,
- The child’s age and preferences.
When it comes to the child’s preferences, your attorney can request the court interview any children over twelve, to see what their wishes are concerning custody. This will rarely be the deciding element of a custodial decision, however, the older and more mature the child, the more weight their preference will get.
It’s rare for Texas courts to award sole custody to one parent, and usually only happens in situations of abandonment, abuse, or neglect, which can sometimes be difficult to prove. If this is something you want to pursue, your Neal Ashmore attorney can help determine whether sole custody is an achievable option for your situation.
Custodial Rights of Grandparents in Texas
Child custody is not an issue that is exclusive to parents, but can often arise with grandparents as well. In Texas, grandparents can sue for legal or physical custody in two situations:
- When the child’s mental or physical health would be significantly impaired by living with his or her parents; or,
- If both parents agree that the child’s best interest would be to live with grandparents.
Naturally, both of these two elements present their own set of challenges, and Texas courts are extremely hesitant to take children away from their parents. However, under the right set of circumstances, it would be possible, especially if there was ample proof indicating it would be in the child’s best interest.
Grandparents are also allowed to sue for visitation rights, though again, it is a difficult standard to meet. For grandparents who are grappling with this situation, an experienced family law attorney would be able to help determine if suing for custodial or visitation rights could work for you.
Relocating and Child Custody in Texas
Most custodial arrangements will include some kind of geographic limitations. This means, that if the need to relocate outside those limits ever arises, you cannot simply pack up and leave. Instead, you will need permission from a judge in the form of a court order. Even if your ex knows about the move, it’s critical you don’t do anything until you have this approval, since moving a child away from the other parent without permission could subject you to fines, or even jail time.
If you are concerned your former spouse might move your child away from you without a court order, our Lewisville family law attorneys can help you file a temporary restraining order, which will restrict his or her movements until a hearing can be finalized.
Child Custody Attorneys in Lewisville
At Neal Ashmore, we know that custody disputes don’t end with divorce. Even after the ink has dried on your divorce decree, any number of life changes may arise that require a court to reevaluate custody decisions. Whether you are in the beginning stages of planning your child custody arrangement, or need to adapt a current plan, our Lewisville child custody attorneys are experienced in knowing exactly how to advocate effectively, while still maintaining your family’s equilibrium as much as possible. Call us today at (972) 436-8000, or schedule a consultation online to discuss your specific situation. Right now, your divorce might feel like the end, but it’s also a beginning, the start of a new life for you and your family. And it’s one Neal Ashmore would like to help you get right.