Child Custody Overview
A guide to modifying, establishing, and enforcing child custody in Texas.
Child custody orders will be determined by a Texas family court in a variety of situations. When there is a disagreement between the parents, or when a parent is unfit to make such decisions, family courts will determine custody. Typically, the biological parents make all decisions when raising their child, such as: education, healthcare, religious upbringing, and residence.
When the parents divorce, the Texas family court that handles the divorce will also determine the arrangement for child custody. The divorce order names the parent with whom the child will live, how visitation will be handled, and who will provide financial support.Establish Custody
Modifying Custody in Texas
Texas courts consider a custody award to be subject to change until the child comes of age, and in most states proof of a "change in circumstances" that allows a party to modify a child order. When there has been a material change in circumstances, or a certain amount of time has passed since the previous child custody order, a party can petition the court to modify the existing child order.
When a family court orders joint legal custody, and one of the parents excludes the other from the decision-making process, the parent can go back to court and ask the judge to enforce the custody order. A court has the power to settle a custody dispute if a child lives for at least six months in the location where the court has jurisdiction, such as Texas, or if it is demonstrated that the court has the closest connection with the child.
If you believe the circumstances between you and your child's other parent make it impossible to share joint legal custody, you can go to court and ask for sole legal custody.Modify Custody in Texas
The Best Interests of the Child
When Texas courts need to make decisions about child custody and visitation, they consider what will be in the best interests of the child. All states use a “best interest of the child” standard in child custody disputes that puts much more weight on what’s good for the child, instead of what’s good for the parents.
The best interest of the child is determined by many factors. The court will look at the mental and physical health of all parties involved, including: criminal histories, drug or alcohol addiction, and CPS reports. The court will examine the wishes of the child, the situation of the parents, and the status of siblings, or other people who may have an impact on the child’s welfare.
The Difference between Joint and Sole Custody
Joint custody grants the parents equal rights in making decisions regarding the child's upbringing. Parents who don't live together have joint custody when they share the decision-making responsibilities and physical custody of the child. Usually, if the married couple have the child while married, the parents will then be granted joint guardianship over the child with parental rights divided equally. Joint custody can exist if the parents are separated, divorced, or never even lived together.
Generally, the custodial parent shares joint legal custody with the noncustodial parent. This means that the custodial parent must inform and consult with the noncustodial parent about the child's education, healthcare, and other concerns. Joint physical custody works best if parents live relatively close to each other. This lessens the child’s stress and allows them to maintain a somewhat normal routine.
When parents share joint custody, they will work out a schedule according to their housing, work, and the needs of the child. If the parents cannot agree on a schedule, the court will order an arrangement.
One parent can have either sole legal custody or sole physical custody of a child. Courts will generally order sole physical custody to one parent if the other parent is deemed unfit. A parent can be deemed unfit if there is a history of neglect, drug or alcohol abuse, or child abuse. It's best to only seek sole custody if the other parent causes direct harm to the children. Even in these cases, the court may still order the other parent to have supervised visitation.
If a court orders sole physical custody, the parties will often share joint legal custody, and the noncustodial parent is granted a fair visitation schedule. In this type of case, the parents would make joint decisions about the child's welfare, but one parent would be deemed the primary physical caretaker, while the other parent would have visitation rights determined by a schedule.
Temporary custody grants custody of the child to an individual during the divorce or separation court hearing. The non-custodial parent may receive supervision rights or in certain cases, supervised visitation rights.