Divorce and Your Kids: What to Know about Child Custody in Texas

Child on a swing, inbetween her divorced parentsThere is a lot to consider when going through a divorce. Not only is there a mental and emotional strain on the parents, but on the children as well. During this time, there are many uncertainties that the divorcing couple and their children have to face.

Child custody and divorce laws in Texas are designed to create the best possible outcome for any children involved in the process. Understanding the laws surrounding child custody can help the parents process what is happening and learn how to best talk with their children about what to expect in the future. Fostering that sense of understanding can also help mitigate the stress of uncertainty your child may feel. Here are the 6 things you need to know about child custody in Texas.

1. Texas Courts Prefer That Both Parents Stay Involved

Unless there is a clear threat to the child or another reason for why one parent should not remain active in their child’s life, courts are reluctant to give custody to a single parent. Joint custody or conservatorship is far more common and considered healthier for the child. Both parents are expected to play an active role in the child’s life and continue to work together to promote the child’s best interest.

How Does Joint Custody Work?

Parents share responsibilities concerning the raising of and decision-making for their child.

Joint custody was created to ensure that both parents have an opportunity to maintain and grow a healthy relationship with their child. It also protects the child by giving them a stable environment to learn and grow.

2. You Must Have Lived in Texas for 6 Months

Under Texas State Law, to file for custody of your child, the child must have lived in the State of Texas for at least 6 months. This means that families who have just moved into the state cannot file for custody. If the child’s other parent is living in a different state, then that parent has to be notified of the proceeding. For parents who have only lived in Texas for 6 months, they will need to provide names and contact information for every person that the child has lived with in the past five years. This includes all of the child’s previous addresses.

Possible Additional Requirement for Custody

Oftentimes, Texas courts will require divorcing parents to take a mandatory parenting class, especially if the child is under the age of twelve. This is often mandatory for parents to be granted a divorce. The purpose of the parenting class is to help parents talk to their children about the divorce and handle the trauma of the separation.

3. Custody Orders Can Be Modified

Child custody can be modified, if needed, to provide better support, stability, and security for the child. The parent requesting the modification must go before the court. The court will determine whether modifying the custody order is in the best interests of the child. Circumstances and the needs of the child change over time, which is why Texas Law allows for either parent to file a petition to seek the change of the custody order. If there is an agreement between both parties about the proposed modification, then generally the petition is passed quite swiftly. However, if there is a conflict between the parents, it may take longer as the court will carefully review the needs, wishes, and safety of the child. Both parents will be required to appear before the court if there is a conflict.

What Circumstances Might Result in the Modification of the Custody Order?

The following circumstances will often result in the need to modify the custody order:

  • The child (12 years or older) wishes to change the primary caregiver
  • There has been a change in circumstances of either parent, whether material (such as the parent has lost their home or car) or substantial (the parent has lost their job.)
  • The proposed change is in the child’s best interests
  • There is a change in the marital status of either or both parents
  • Job relocations
  • Unemployment
  • Medical conditions
  • One parent is abusing or neglecting the child
  • One parent is abusing substances

4.Child Custody Is a Conservatorship in Texas

Texas views child custody as a conservatorship. There are two types: joint managing or sole managing.

Joint managing allows for both parents to make legal decisions regarding their child. This includes any decisions about what school or church the child will attend, as well as any financial or medical decisions that have to be made on behalf of the child.

Joint Managing conservatorship will be granted under the following circumstances:

  • Both parents display the ability to make the child the priority. This allows them to make shared decisions regarding the child’s best interest.
  • Both parents encourage and accept a positive relationship with the child and the other parent.
  • Both parents have, up to this moment, played an active and healthy role in the life of their child.
  • The distance between both parents’ places of residence will not put an unnecessary strain on the child, such as forcing them to change schools mid-year to be with one parent.

Sole Managing gives the right to make decisions for the child to one parent. The other parent may visit their child, but they no longer have the right to make decisions on behalf of the child concerning schooling, religion, finances, and medical care. Sole managing conservatorship is usually granted if:

  • The other parent has a history of family violence or neglect.
  • The other parent has a history of substance abuse.
  • The other parent has been convicted of criminal activity that relates to violence.
  • The other parent has been absent in their child’s life.
  • There is a history of extreme conflict between both parents.
  • One parent wants to give up their rights to make decisions on behalf of their child.

5. The Best Interests of the Child Are Always Put First

Any decisions, orders, or plans involving custody of the child are always based on what is best for the children. Courts will evaluate the home environment of each parent, the distance between the parents’ residences, and the ability of each parent to provide for their child’s physical and emotional needs.

6. Children Get a Say

Children that are over the ages of 12 get a say in what happens regarding child custody. The court considers their opinion and preferences along with the evidence gathered about both parents to determine the right course of action.

A Texas Child Custody Attorney Can Help

If you are considering divorce or have already separated and have kids, it is essential to have a family law attorney on your side. The next few months will be critical and will have a big impact on your and your children’s lives and future. Contact Alison Grant, Attorney at Law to ensure you have a child-friendly team working on your behalf and to gain the best possible outcome for your and your kids as you go through the divorce process.