When a couple decides to end their relationship, it is an emotional process. This is true for the ending of any relationship whether the couple is dating, in a serious relationship, engaged, or married. When a married couple decides to divorce in Texas, they often have to work through splitting the life they had together and deciding which assets belong to which party. Should the couple share children, they often have to go through the emotional and frustrating process of deciding Texas child custody. In the state of Texas, child custody is guided by the best interests of the child.
Deciding Child Custody in Texas
When dealing with a Texas child custody case or visitation order, Texas judges are legally bound by the guidance of the best interests of the child standard – this means that the judge must strive to make a custody determination best serving the child’s mental, physical, and emotional needs. The court has a number of options to choose from when making a child custody in Texas decision, and this choice is based on the specific circumstances surrounding the case. Some examples include:
- Granting one parent both sole physical and sole legal custody (sole conservator)
- Granting one parent sole physical custody, but both parents have legal custody (joint conservator)
- Both parents share physical and legal custody
In these situations, the parent or parents named conservator have the right and responsibility to make important decisions about their child’s upbringing, such as decisions about medical needs, education, religious upbringing, and extracurricular activities. The end goal for the Texas family law court system is to provide the child with an agreement that keeps both parents actively involved in their child’s life while also encouraging the parents to work together and provide stability for the child.
Factors That Determine the Best Interests of the Child in Texas
When it comes to determining the child’s best interests, the court needs to consider a number of different factors to make the best possible decision. Some considered factors include, but are not limited to:
- Emotional needs of the child
- Physical needs of the child
- Both parents’ ability to care for and raise the child
- Stability present in each parent’s home
- Future plans each parent has for the child
- Each parent’s willingness to support a healthy relationship between the child and the other parent
- Adjustments the child needs to make to a new community and/or a new school
- The relationship between the child and any siblings or other family members
Additionally, the court also takes a look at any factors that may be potentially harmful to the child, including but not limited to:
- Likelihood of abuse or harm to the child from either parent
- Evidence of any inappropriate relationships between the child and either parent
Should the child involved in the case be over the age of 12, it is also possible for the court to consider the child’s preferences when it comes to the Texas child custody arrangement.
Creating a Parenting Plan in Texas
Before the parents go to their conservatorship hearing or custody hearing, the court encourages them to work together and create their own visitation and custody plan. This plan should outline which parent the child will live with during which times including the work week, weekends, school vacations, holidays, and other special occasions. In agreements where there is a custodial parent and a noncustodial parent, it is important that the noncustodial parent’s visitation time is also outlined – the court looks for an agreement that allows an ample amount of visitation time.
Should both parents agree to the parenting plan and it is in within the child’s best interests, the court adopts the plan as the custody agreement and makes it legally binding. Should there be only a few issues they cannot agree upon, the parents have the option for the judge to help them make a determination. An example of this is if parents cannot agree who will have the child on a specific holiday and the judge helps them make a fair decision. Should the parents be cooperating, even if they do not agree, the court is more likely to work with them to set a schedule that works for everyone.
Child Custody Modification in Texas
Once a Texas child custody agreement has been put into place, it is the general rule that it cannot be changed and that the order is legally binding. In most cases, the only way this agreement can be modified is if both parents agree to the changes or a significant change in circumstances has occurred that warrants a change to the agreement. When both parents agree to the changes needing to be made to the current agreement, they present their changes to the court and should they be within the child’s best interests, in most cases, they are approved by the judge.
However, in cases when the parents do not agree on the proposed changes, the parent requesting the changes is burdened with proving why the modification needs to be made for a valid reason. Family courts try to limit custody modifications in order to keep stability and routine in the child’s life – it is believed that too many changes to a child’s life can be detrimental to mental and emotional development. Because of this, the parent needs to prove without any doubt that a change to the custody agreement needs to be made in order for it to happen.
Custody and Relocation in Texas
In Texas child custody agreements where there is a primary custodial parent and a noncustodial parent with visitation, the issue of relocation can be a difficult one. In some cases, the custodial parent wants to move away from a current residence for one reason or another, which may make it more difficult for the noncustodial parent to travel to see the child or may take away from visitation time. When this happens, it can often cause a very heated and emotional battle in the courtroom to stop the custodial parent from moving a distance away with the child.
With relocation issues, the parent wishing to move is burdened with proving that move is in the child’s best interests and that the relocation is necessary for some valid reason. A judge deciding on a Texas child custody and relocation issue needs to look at some of the following factors:
- The reason given for the relocation by the custodial parent: better employment, more educational opportunities, closer to supportive family members
- The reason given for denying the relocation by the noncustodial parent
- What changes need to be made to the current custody agreement
After reviewing these and many other factors, the judge determines whether or not the relocation is allowed and the types of changes that need to be made to the current custody arrangement.