Divorce is a difficult enough situation, but is made that much more emotional when children are involved in the divorce agreement. Each parent wants an equal say in the raising of the child and regular access to the child, which can sometimes be difficult depending on outside circumstances. If you are currently going through a divorce or contemplating a divorce, do not hesitate to contact an experienced family law attorney who can advise you on all child custody-related issues.

In some cases, parents are able to come together and create an agreement for a shared custody arrangement. There is no one standard shared custody arrangement. Some parents set up a visitation schedule in which they have equal time with their children. Still others divide the children’s time unequally, but in a manner that meets the needs of that particular family. Under certain circumstances, even if the parties have an agreement, that agreement is subject to the Court’s approval. You should also keep in mind that the terms of any shared custody agreement will likely remain in place for several years.

Under the Texas Family Code, each parent has the following rights and duties:

  1. The right to receive information from the other parent concerning the health, education, and welfare of the child.
  2. The right to confer with the other parent to the extent possible before making a decision concerning the health, education, and welfare of the child.
  3. The right of access to medical, dental, psychological, and educational records of the child.
  4. The right to consult with a physician, dentist, or psychologist of the child.
  5. The right to consult with school officials concerning the child’s welfare and educational status, including school activities.
  6. The right to attend school activities.
  7. The right to be designated on the child’s records as a person to be notified in case of an emergency.
  8. The right to consent to medical, dental, and surgical treatment during an emergency involving an immediate danger to the health and safety of the child.
  9. The right to manage the estate of the child to the extent the estate has been created by the parent or the parent’s family.
  10. The duty to inform the other parent in a timely manner of significant information concerning the health, education, and welfare of the child.
  11. The duty to inform the other parent if living with a registered sex offender.

During their respective periods of possession, the father and mother, as conservators, each have the following rights and duties:

  1. The duty of care, control, protection, and reasonable discipline of the child.
  2. The duty to support the child, including providing the child with clothing, food, shelter, and medical and dental care not involving an invasive procedure.
  3. The right to consent for the child to receive medical and dental care not involving an invasive procedure.
  4. The right to direct the moral and religious training of the child.

The following rights can be allocated exclusively to one parent, independently to both parents, or jointly between the parents:

  1. The right to designate the primary residence of the child.
  2. The right to consent to medical, dental, and surgical treatment involving invasive procedures.
  3. The right to consent to psychiatric and psychological treatment.
  4. The right to receive and give receipt for periodic payments for the support of the child and to hold or disburse these funds for the benefit of the child.
  5. The right to represent the child in legal action and to make other decisions of substantial legal significance concerning the child.
  6. The right to consent to marriage and to enlistment in the armed forces of the United States.
  7. The right to make decisions concerning the child’s education.
  8. The right to the services and earnings of the child.
  9. Except when a guardian of the child’s estate or a guardian or attorney ad litem has been appointed for the child, the right to act as an agent of the child in relation to the child’s estate if the child’s action is required by a state, the United States, or a foreign government.

Having an exclusive right means that a parent can make the decision exclusively, and the other parent does not have the right to make that decision for the child.  When the rights are awarded to both parents, either parent can make the decision independently.  When the rights are allocated jointly between the parents, both parents have to jointly agree on the decision that was made.

If a case is referred to as being a “contested custody case,” this basically means the parents are disputing which parent will have the right to designate the child’s residence and which parent will have a visitation schedule and pay child support. In some cases, the issue can be whether or not one parent’s visitation will have to be supervised, or in extreme cases, whether there will be visitation at all. Nothing in life is more precious than one’s own child. Nothing else can match the depth of the joy, satisfaction, love, excitement, and pride of being a parent. It is not surprising to learn that well over half of all trials in the family courts are child-related suits.

What are the Child Custody Laws in Texas?

The Texas Family Code provides guidance relating to child custody. Suits Affecting the Parent-Child Relationship (or “SAPCRs”) are attached to divorce proceedings if children were a product of the marriage.  If a child custody case is not attached to a divorce proceeding, then the SAPCR may be brought separately, if the parents were never married. Many child custody disputes can be settled without court intervention, but if two parties cannot come to an agreement, they will have to bring it into family court where the court will decide how to divide custody.

Texas courts prefer parents to have shared custody, which means that each parent will be what Texas law refers to as a “joint managing conservator.” The court will often look at the following factors when taking into account custody arrangements:

  • History of domestic violence
  • Emotional and developmental needs of the child
  • The ability of both parents to give first priority to the welfare of the child
  • The involvement of both parents in the rearing of the child prior to the suit
  • Geographic proximity of the parents’ residences, or
  • The child’s preference

Texas makes it difficult for parents to lose access to their child and courts frequently look at a laundry list of what Texas law refers to as the “best interests of the child.” If a court does decide against joint conservatorship, one parent will be the sole managing conservator and the other will be a possessory conservator. Both parents will have rights of access to the child, although the sole managing conservator will have more of a say in the child’s upbringing, as well as everyday decisions. The possessory conservator will only have heightened parental rights during periods of visitation.

The parents or the court will come up with a parenting plan based on the guidance of the Texas Family Code, which outlines all visitation, holidays, and parental rights during visits and other times.  Parents are encouraged to draft their own parenting plan, and technology now allows parents to communicate visually with their children on a daily basis even if they are unable to physically be with them, through Skype or FaceTime.

Child custody arrangements can be modified if a substantial event takes place (such as a move to a different country) or if a parent remarries.

If you are going through a difficult child custody dispute, you understand the urgency of coming to a peaceful resolution. Divorce is a difficult time for everyone involved, but it is important not to forget the needs and wants of your child. Attorney Ned Gill will assist you in developing a custody agreement that suits the best needs of your child and ensures that you continue to have access to all the important moments and decisions in your child’s life.