If you are a parent in the state of Texas and you are divorcing or expecting to divorce, how will a court decide who is your child’s primary caretaker?
Divorce is always difficult, and it is always hardest on children. In the best possible divorce scenario, divorcing parents would come to a quick, reasonable agreement about the children.
When that happens, and the agreement puts the children’s best interests first, a Texas court will usually “sign off” on the arrangement, and it becomes part of the final divorce settlement.
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN PARENTS CAN’T AGREE ABOUT CUSTODY?
But in too many cases, divorcing parents cannot agree, and a judge must decide which parent will have primary physical custody. Custody usually goes to a child’s “primary” caretaker.
It’s sad but true. Child custody disputes are common in Texas.
And sometimes, a custody dispute will emerge between parents who never married, and in these cases as well, courts will favor the parent who has been a child’s primary caretaker.
Before a Texas judge will consider a custody disagreement, the parents must attempt to resolve their differences through out-of-court negotiations or mediation sessions.
HOW CAN PARENTS SAVE TIME AND MONEY IN A CUSTODY MATTER?
Parents who can agree to their own custody arrangement can save themselves time and money. But an agreement takes two.
When a mutually acceptable custody agreement between parents is not possible, a Texas court will impose a custody order that it considers to be in the best interests of the child or children.
Nothing is more important than your children and their future. If you are a Texas parent in a child custody dispute, you must be represented by an experienced Dallas child custody attorney.
Texas courts are officially “gender-neutral” when rendering custody decisions. The child’s needs and best interests – not the gender of the parents – are supposed to be the court’s top priorities.
HOW IS A “PRIMARY CARETAKER” DEFINED?
Still, in custody disputes, courts tend to favor the parent who can prove that he or she was the primary caretaker of the child during the marriage (or generally, if the parents were not married.)
The “primary caretaker” concept entered family law in the 20th century as child psychologists demonstrated the critical importance of the emotional bond between a child and a primary caretaker.
Child psychologists almost universally affirm that the emotional bond a child has with a primary caretaker is key to a child’s psychological development, stability, and health.
HOW WILL A COURT MAKE A PRIMARY CARETAKER DETERMINATION?
When a court must decide which parent has functioned as a primary caretaker, the court considers how the parents previously shared or divided tasks and responsibilities such as:
1. purchasing food and preparing meals for the child
2. dressing, grooming, and bathing the child
3. buying and washing clothes for the child
4. arranging for healthcare and for necessary visits to the doctor
5. helping with school work and fostering reading, writing, and math skills
6. meeting with teachers and involvement in school activities
7. planning and sharing recreational activities with the child
Parents need to know that when courts make a primary caretaker determination, almost anything can be considered. If you volunteer at your child’s school, that may be counted in your favor.
But if you have exposed your child to second-hand smoke, or if your child would be unsupervised for long stretches of time while in your custody, the court may count it against you.
HOW DOES A COURT DETERMINE A CHILD’S BEST INTERESTS?
In some child custody cases, it’s clear to any onlooker that one parent or the other consistently has been the primary caretaker. But in other cases, that determination cannot be made easily.
When parents have more-or-less shared caretaking responsibilities, a Texas court will try to ascertain the best interests of the child and select a primary caretaker on that basis.
When making that determination, the court may consider factors including but not limited to:
1. the age, gender, and wishes of the child
2. the ages of the parents and their mental and physical health
3. the necessity of a stable domestic environment for the child
4. the religious preference of each family member
5. other household members and the extended family of each parent
6. how the child might adjust to a change of school or community
7. any evidence of physical or emotional abuse or drug and/or alcohol abuse
Even when there is no dispute over assets or alimony in a divorce, the physical custody of the children can be an emotional flashpoint.
CAN A CHILD CUSTODY ORDER BE CHANGED?
But once a child custody order has been issued by a Texas court, the parents must comply with its terms and conditions.
When only one parent is granted physical custody of a child, the other parent will usually be granted visitation privileges, and in rare cases, the court may require supervision for those visits.
Over time, child support orders may need to be updated. If you need a custody order modified, ask an experienced Dallas child custody attorney to help you obtain a modification from the court.
Parenting plans and child custody arrangements can become burdensome and unworkable. The reasons why a Texas court may modify a child custody order include but are not limited to:
1. a change in employment for one or both parents
2. a parent relocating, remarrying, or having a new child with another partner
3. a parent’s incapacitating illness or injury
4. a parent’s criminal conviction
HOW CAN A FAMILY LAW ATTORNEY HELP?
If you expect a custody dispute, if you need a custody order modified, or if you need to challenge a modification that your child’s other parent is seeking, get the legal help you need at once.
It’s always best when parents can reach their own agreements regarding custody. When a judge decides the custody issue, one parent may believe that he or she has been unfairly treated.
The right family law attorney will see to it that you are treated fairly.
Every child and every child custody case is unique. And nothing can cause more anxiety or concern than a child custody battle. You’ll need personalized advice from an attorney you trust.
Nothing is more important than your children and the choice about who has custody of them. Get the legal help you need.