Navigating the complicated world of child custody can be overwhelming. We’ve compiled and answered a common list of questions we receive from clients.
How is sole custody versus joint custody decided?
In Texas, each parent gets assigned a label; sole managing conservators or joint managing conservators. These titles indicate the rights and duties that you have as parents, not necessarily how much time you spend with your child. Usually, each parent is appointed as a managing conservator unless it would not be in the best interests of the child by impairing the child’s physical health or emotional development. So, unless there is an abnormal situation, we typically use the joint managing conservatorship model, where each parent is allocated rights and duties. Again, that doesn’t mean that the parties are necessarily going to have equal time with the children, it just means that they’re going to be able to participate in the decision-making process.
Does my child get any say in where they want to live?
There seems to be a misconception that, at some age, children get to choose where they live. In Texas that is not the case. If you’re going to have a court trial and you want the child to be interviewed and express their wishes, you can request the judge interview that child in chambers. If the child is 12 years of age or older, the court is required to interview the child. If the child has not yet reached 12 years old, the court has the discretion to interview or not. Ultimately, the decision about where the child is going to live is primarily up to the court if the parents can’t agree. So, the interview process is one in many factors the court will consider when making their own decision.
How does a joint custody agreement actually work in practice?
It can get a little complicated, but the Standard Possession Order would give the non-custodial parent the first, third, and fifth weekends of every month. The mid-week visit under the Order model would be on Thursday evenings. There’s a rotating holiday schedule and an extended summer possession contained within the Stand Possession Order. More frequently now, parties are electing to have possession schedules that try to equalize the amount of time that each parent has with the child. There isn’t a secondary model possession schedule for that, so the parents can be as creative as they want to be.
Other factors that are considered when determining schedules are the age of the children, the distance between where each lives, where the children go to school, what their activities are, and both parents’ work schedules.
Is the “best interest standard” the primary criteria for determining custody agreements?
The best interest standard is very broad, meaning the courts will consider a whole host of factors in determining where the children should live primarily. Often, these cases focus on the history of each parents’ role within the family. Is there a parent who has assumed the primary role of raising these children, waking them up in the morning and feeding them, getting them to school or doctors’ appointments or extracurriculars, and participating in parent/teacher conferences? In some families, there in naturally one parent who will assume the role as the primary caretaker and the courts will take that in to account. They also look at any issues like mental health problems, substance-abuse problems, or criminal history. There’s a very broad spectrum of topics and issues that a court can consider as they determine what is in the best interests of the kids.
What happens regarding child custody and support if the parents are not married?
In Texas, if the identification of the mother and the father has been determined, the Family Code treats unwed couples the same as if they were married. Their marital status doesn’t provide any more benefit, so it’s essentially the same type of case as a regular divorce.