Determining how decisions will be made for the children, how parenting time will be allocated between the parents, and how the children’s expenses will be paid are some common questions about child custody and also the greatest stressors for parents facing divorce. Ideally, parents will work together to come up with a plan to resolve these issues. When parents can’t reach agreements on their own, a parenting facilitator may be appointed to help the parents work through such issues. If that doesn’t work, then the parents may be looking to the court to be the final decision-maker.
Confronting issues regarding children challenge parents to confront their own feelings and emotions about their relationship with their children. For some parents, continuing the status quo may be ideal. For other parents, they need a drastic change in circumstances in order to protect their children from the harmful effects of a parent with substance abuse issues. Change may also be necessitated by the fact that a parent has to return to work, and the other parent wants to take on increased parenting responsibilities.
The first thing you should know is that legal advice and strategy will be your greatest asset in this situation. You will need information from an objective and knowledgeable source. Preferably, the professional you trust to give you advice will have experience trying custody cases in the courtroom, and will know the preferences of the judges who will be making the decisions in the event you have to go to court.
There are two ways to finalize a child custody dispute-either by an agreement between the parents, or by judge ruling on the issues after a final trial. The good news is that an overwhelming majority of people can reach an agreement and keep themselves out of a courtroom.
At Hargrave Family Law we are committed to minimizing conflict and disruption. We want people facing child custody issues to be informed about the decisions they will have to make, and how the law generally applies. However, the information below is not a substitute for legal advice that addresses your unique situation.
Facts to Know
- “Child Custody” is referred to as conservatorship in Texas. The Texas Family Code presumes in most situations that each parent will be a joint managing conservator of the child. This means that the parents will share in the rights of making decisions about the children, and the duties of providing care for the children. There are circumstances, however, when one parent may be named as the sole managing conservator, and the other parent is named as the possessory conservator with limited rights and duties. Sometimes, we refer to a “primary” or “custodial” parent, which means the parent who has the exclusive right to determine the primary residence of the children.
- Most courts will impose a Geographic Restriction on the residence of the children. Courts prefer for parents to remain active and involved in a child’s life. That becomes more difficult if the parents live far away from each other. Therefore, in cases where both parents live in the same county when the divorce is filed, the parents should presume that the court will want to keep the child located in the same geographic location that includes the county in which the divorce is filed, and surrounding counties. Some judges prefer an even narrower geographic restriction on the residence of the child, such as a specific county.
- Parents will share time according to a Standard Possession Order. The Texas Family Code sets out a schedule for parenting time that is presumed to be in the best interest of the child.Generally, the schedule may be expanded, at the election of the non-primary parent, so that his or her weekends are extended. Parents who are able to reach agreements between themselves are not limited by the standard possession order, and can craft a schedule that works for them.
- Child Support will be ordered. The parent who does not have the exclusive right to determine the primary residence of the children will be ordered to pay child support according to the guidelines for child support set forth in the Texas Family Code. Even if the parents decide to share equal parenting time, child support may still be ordered if the income earned by the parents is not equal. Parents who are able to reach agreements between themselves have much more flexibility when it comes to deciding how the children’s expenses will be paid.
- Health Care Expenses are considered child support, and will be ordered. Generally, the parent who is ordered to pay child support will also be ordered to provide health insurance for the children. If health insurance is not available through the obligor parent’s employer, then the obligor can be ordered to reimburse the other parent for the cost of health insurance. Both parents will be ordered to pay a portion of the children’s uninsured health-care expenses.
- The child’s best interest is always prioritized. Every decision will consider what will give the child the most stable environment.
Common Questions About Child Custody
1. Does joint managing conservatorship mean that we have equal time with our children?
No. Joint managing conservatorship means the parents share rights and duties to their children. Generally, one parent will be granted the exclusive right to determine the primary residence of the children. Generally, this “primary parent” will have slightly more than 50% of the parenting time with the children.
2. Who makes possession schedules?
Courts prefer that parents negotiate possession schedules on their own. If the parents cannot reach an agreement regarding parenting time with the children, then the court will impose a possession schedule, as set forth in the Texas Family Code.
3. If we agree to share equal parenting time with our children, is it true that no child support will be ordered?
No. The amount of child support may be reduced to account for the fact that both parents have equal time with the child. However, a parent may request that the court order the other parent to pay child support, even when they share equal parenting time. There are many options to consider in determining whether any child support will be owed, beginning with the income of the parties and the children’s needs.
4. How does a court decide on issues related to children?
If the parents have reached an agreement regarding conservatorship, possession and child support, courts will generally approve the agreements that have been reached by the parents. If an agreement is unable to be finalized and the custody issue is taken to court, the judge has a number of factors they consider, all which prioritize the best interests of the child. These factors include:
- Strength of parent-child relationship
- Age and health of child and parents
- Stability of parent’s home environment
- Child’s connection to their current community and school
- Whether parents are willing to cooperate with each other
- Any evidence of child abuse or neglect
5. Can you move out of town, state, or country with your child?
After a court order is entered, there are geographic restrictions put in place and if the parent who has the right to establish where the child lives wishes to move outside of the area permitted they must file a motion to modify the order or obtain the agreement of the other parent. Regarding vacation or travel, after court orders, parents usually have the freedom to take their children places as long as it falls during their period of possession.
We Can Help
While these are by no means all the answers or even questions that many come across during a child custody negotiation we hope that you have some clarity. This is a great place to start, but the best thing you could do is to get in touch with us!
At Hargrave Family Law we have decades of experience and expertise in helping our clients craft creative and positive settlement agreements for their most challenging parenting issues. Let us help you today!