What is Child Custody and How Does It Work?
Family law cases are complicated—especially when they involve young children. For divorced or otherwise separated parents, child custody is of the utmost importance. You may be wondering: What is child custody and how does the legal process work in Texas? Our Houston child custody lawyer comprehensively answers the question by explaining the most important things parents need to understand about the Texas child custody laws.What is Child Custody?
As broadly defined by the Cornell Legal Information Institute, child custody is a term “used to describe the legal and practical relationship between a parent or guardian and a child.” In other words, a person who has custody of a child has parental rights and parental responsibilities.Texas Technically Does Not Use the Term “Child Custody” in Legal Proceedings
While the concept of child custody is certainly a big issue in family law cases in Texas, the state technically does not use the term “custody” in official legal proceedings. Instead, the concept of custody is referred to as a “conservator” or “conservatorship.” More specifically, there are two distinct types of parental conservatorships in Texas:
- Managing Conservatorship: In Texas, a managing conservatorship is the legal relationship between a parent and a child in which the parent has the right to make decisions about the child's welfare, including decisions about the child's education, medical care, and religion. In other words, a managing conservator is a parent who has decision-making authority in regard to the child.
- Possessory Conservatorship: In Texas, a possessory conservatorship is the legal relationship between a parent and a child when one parent has the exclusive right to determine the primary residence of the child, but the other parent has the right to possess the child for a significant period of time each year. Put another way, a parent who is a possessory conservator has actual physical custody (possession) of the child.
Texas law (Tex. Fam. Code § 153.002) states clearly that “the best interest of the child shall always be the primary consideration of the court in determining the issues of conservatorship and possession of and access to the child.” It is critically important that parents in Texas understand how this legal standard affects their rights and responsibilities. The child’s well-being always comes first in custody disputes. A wide range of different factors can be considered when determining the best interests of the child in Texas, including:
- The unique physical and emotional needs of the child;
- Each parent’s established relationship with the child;
- Each parent’s ability to provide a stable home environment;
- Any history of parental abuse, neglect, or misconduct;
- If old enough and mature enough, the child’s preferences; and
- Any other factor deemed appropriate to determine what is best for the child.
In Texas, public policy favors some form of shared custody (a joint managing conservatorship). The state presumes that it is inherently better for a child to have an ongoing and positive relationship with both parents. Indeed, state policy holds that courts are required to “assure that children will have frequent and continuing contact with parents who have shown the ability to act in the best interest of the child.”
In applying these legal standards, courts in Texas will lean strongly toward awarding joint managing conservatorships in child custody disputes. That being said, it is possible for a parent to be awarded sole custody of a child. Sole custody (a sole managing conservatorship) will be granted if it is deemed best for the child’s health, safety, well-being, and overall social development. For example, a parent with a history of abuse or neglect may be deemed unfit for shared child custody.Texas Courts Favor Parenting Plans (an Effective Tool to Helps Divorced/Separated Parents)
In Texas, family law courts favor—but do not require—the use of parenting plans. A parenting plan is essentially a structured agreement under which divorced or otherwise separated parents manage co-parenting. To be maximally effective, a parenting plan in Houston should address:
- The specific decision-making authority of each parent;
- A basic schedule for child-time sharing;
- Guidance for communication about child-related matters; and
- A process for resolving any parental disagreements.
Ultimately, every parenting plan should be customized to meet the unique needs of the situation. Any specific issues that are important to you and your family can and should be addressed as part of your parenting plan. A Houston, TX, child custody attorney can help you find the best solution.Amicable Solutions Often (But Not Always) Work Best in Child Custody Cases
Whether you are going through a divorce, separating from a co-parent, or modifying an existing child custody order, you undoubtedly want to find an efficient, low-conflict solution that does right by you and your family. Our law firm puts a strong emphasis on trying to find amicable resolutions in child custody cases. This is important for several reasons, including:
- Helps to preserve familial relationships;
- Save time, money, and stress for our clients;
- Can make things easier for children; and
- Texas law favors parental cooperation and shared custody.
At the same time, we also recognize that settlements are not possible in every child custody case. The reality is that every custody case involves its own unique set of facts and circumstances. Our trial-tested Houston child custody attorney is always ready to take aggressive legal action to protect your clients and their kids.Contact Our Houston, TX Child Custody Lawyer for Immediate Help
At Thornton Esquire Law Group, PLLC, our Houston child custody attorney is a compassionate and experienced advocate for parents. If you have any specific questions or concerns about child custody, we are ready to help. Call us at (713) 401-3998 or contact us online for your fully confidential consultation. From our Houston law office, we provide child custody representation throughout Southeast Texas, including in The Woodlands, Pearland, Katy, Spring, and Galveston.