On the emotion-riddled battlefield of divorce, little else gets a feuding couple more passionate than the fate of their child. The deeply rooted desire to love and protect is a great asset for parents who are of one mind. However, during divorce, it can sometimes become a problem for spouses who have drastically different ideas on what a good parenting plan looks like.
A parenting plan, or “custody agreement,” is a legal document that outlines your parenting responsibilities for the time during and after your divorce. It will include provisions on custody, visitation, and any rights you have as a parent regarding your child—all of which will be enforceable as part of your final divorce order.
At Neal Ashmore, we know there’s nothing more important to you than your child. Here’s what you need to know about drafting your parenting plan, and how our firm can help you with this process.
Parenting Plans In Texas
All divorces in Texas that involve children, will require a parenting plan. This ensures that parenting duties are both clearly defined and enforceable, holding each parent equally responsible for the care and well-being of their child, post-divorce. These arrangements can be made either before the divorce is finalized (as agreed upon by the couple, themselves), or as dictated by a judge.
Drafting Your Own Agreement
You and your spouse don’t have to wait for a judge to rule on the terms of your parenting plan. In this regard, couples are always free to reach their own arrangement. So long as your plan covers all the necessary items, a judge should have no problem implementing a strategy that you’ve both agreed upon.
At Neal Ashmore, we encourage our clients—whenever possible—to try to reach an agreement outside of the courtroom. While you may not like your ex or agree with their idea of parenting, it’s a near guarantee you’ll like what a judge has to say even less. Ergo, couples that can cease-fire long enough to construct their own parenting plans will almost always be happier with the end results.
If this sounds like a route you want to pursue, it’s still important to have your family law attorney review your plan before signing. This will make certain you aren’t giving up any essential rights, and help you avoid common pitfalls.
Standard Possession Order
Despite everyone’s best efforts, it’s sometimes not possible for a couple to reach an agreement—and that’s okay. If you are having trouble making a parenting plan with your spouse, the court will apply a standard possession order to your case. This document assigns you with a generalized custody and visitation arrangement, which can then either be implemented as is or modified to fit your family’s specific needs.
In cases with an above-average amount of anger and fighting, a judge may also appoint a “parenting coordinator” to help you and your spouse work through important parenting issues, as well as other family matters. Each of these decisions will be made according to what is in the best interest of the child.
Parenting Plans For Unmarried Couples
Issues of custody, visitation, and support are relevant, whether the parents are married or not. If you and your partner share a child but are not legally wed, you can still implement a parenting plan to help you divide and conquer parenthood.
In these situations, unwed fathers might first need to prove parentage, before being granted parental rights. If this is something you are concerned about, Neal Ashmore is well-equipped to help establish unmarried fathers’ rights.
Parenting Plan Requirements
According to the Texas Family Code, a valid parenting plan must address:
- The rights and duties of each parent;
- Visitation, custody, and access to the child (either by agreement or through a standard possession order);
- Child support;
- A means to develop a good, ongoing relationship between parents and child; as well as,
- A decision-making process for any medical, education, extra-curricular, or other unexpected events that might arise.
Of these items, one of the most important is your child’s custody and visitation schedule. In Texas, “custody” (or conservatorship), is broken down into two main categories: legal custody, and physical custody.
The Difference Between Legal and Physical Custody
Legal custody is your right as a parent to make decisions about your child’s life. Barring unusual circumstances, such as abuse or neglect, Texas courts will usually assign legal custody to both parents as joint managing conservators, dividing the decision-making authority equally.
Physical custody, on the other hand, is generally not split fifty-fifty. Whether because of careers, scheduling, or time constraints, it’s usually in a child’s best interest for only one parent to be the primary caretaker.
Making Sure Both Parents Have Access
Unless domestic violence was involved, however, it’s rare for a Texas court to revoke a parent’s access to their child completely. Even if the physical possession arrangement makes one parent the primary caretaker, visitation is almost always granted to the non-custodial parent—even if it’s supervised.
When physical custody and visitation rights are imbalanced, judges will almost always require the non-custodial parent to pay child support. This money is given to the custodial parent to help alleviate some of the financial burdens that come with raising a child.
In Texas, child support amounts are generally determined based on the number of children you have. For example, if you have only one child, the noncustodial parent would be required to pay twenty percent of his or her net monthly income. For two children, that amount rises to twenty-five percent, and so forth.
Other factors might also affect the bottom line. If you have specific concerns about child support in your divorce, it’s a good idea to discuss these questions with your Neal Ashmore attorney.
You Can’t Withhold Visitation
The terms of your parenting plan are enforceable at all times—even if your spouse is behind on child support payments. Failure to disperse funds does not negate parental rights or give the custodial parent the right to withhold visitation, and doing so could have serious legal consequences.
If your spouse is behind on child support payments, a Neal Ashmore attorney can highlight avenues of relief that won’t jeopardize your own rights under your parenting plan.
Parenting Plan Attorneys in Texas
After a life spent making these decisions together, the process of splitting up parenting responsibilities can be stressful, and overwhelming. At Neal Ashmore, we understand and empathize with your situation, and are committed to doing everything possible to make sure you’re comfortable with your finalized agreement.
If you or a loved one have further questions about parenting plans in Texas, call us today at (972) 436-8000, or schedule a consultation online, and let us make sure your parenting plan is drafted with your child’s absolute best interest in mind.