Houston Child Custody & Modification Lawyer
In family law, no issue is more emotional than child custody. Often times, clients express fears of “losing” their child or children, perhaps because they do not fully understand how child custody works in Texas.
Let’s be clear: very few people “lose” access to their child(ren) in a divorce or child custody proceeding.
Nevertheless, it is true that children will need to divide their time between two households when their parents are no longer together and in some instances supervised visitation may be appropriate between a child and a parent.
If you find yourself in the midst of a custody battle, whether it be in a divorce, modification, or original suit regarding your child, you need to meet with a child custody lawyer in Houston, Texas as soon as possible.
An experienced attorney can help you establish a custody arrangement that works best for you and your children and can also help modify the custody order, if necessary.
Child Custody in Texas
In Texas the law the term “custody” isn’t utilized but rather the phrase “conservatorship” is the term of art that governs how rights and duties are allocated between parents.
There are two types of conservatorship (1) sole managing conservatorship or (2) joint managing conservatorship.
It is presumed to be in a child’s best interest for both of his or her parents to be named joint managing conservators over the child unless that presumption is rebutted in which case naming a parent as a sole managing conservator with all rights and duties to a child would be appropriate.
Although the technical word “custody” isn’t utilized in our Texas legal system, the concept of conservatorship is still what most people would think of as custody.
Sole Managing Conservatorship
Under this arrangement, one parent has the legal right to make important decisions for the child, and they make these decisions alone.
For example, a parent with sole managing conservatorship will have the exclusive right to decide:
- Medical and dental care for the child;
- Psychiatric and psychological care for the child;
- Residency—where the child will live; and
- Schooling and education for the child.
Having a parent be named a sole managing conservatorship is relatively rare. Instead, Texas has a policy of encouraging both parents to stay involved in their children’s lives and to participate in decision-making for their children.
Indeed, there is a presumption that it is in the child’s best interest to have both parents involved, though this presumption is rebuttable as mentioned above.
Sole managing conservatorship is awarded in extenuating circumstances, typically in situations where there has been some sort of abuse, neglect, or family violence.
Joint Managing Conservatorship
This is typically what is referred to as “joint custody” although that is not a legal term. When parents are named joint managing conservators over a child various rights and duties can be allocated between the parents.
One parent may have an exclusive right to make a certain decision for the child, the parties may share the right jointly, or the right may be independent to each parent when that parent has possession of the child.
The rightmost commonly fought over between parents is the right to establish a child’s primary residence.
In theory, parents could divide physical possession of their child 50/50. However, this arrangement is rarely realistic or ordered by the court if you have a contested proceeding.
That being said, if this option works best for your child and family, then it is certainly an option that can be explored.
Relevant considerations when considering a 50/50 custody arrangement include the distance between the parents’ homes, the work schedule of each parent, the age of the children, and the emotional impact a 50/50 schedule may have on your child.
Child Custody Modifications
Courts are not anxious to revisit child custody arrangements once a final order is entered, so you need a very good reason to ask a judge to take a second look and change a child custody order.
In Texas, there are a few situations in which you can request a modification, such as:
- One parent has relinquished the child to the other for six months or more
- The child files a written request to live with the other parent once they reach a certain age
- There has been a material and substantial change in circumstances warranting modification of the underlying order.
This last option is the most frequently cited and can encompass a variety of situations. Generally, one parent moving out of the state or taking a new job qualifies.
If a parent has been convicted of child abuse, then you could certainly seek a modification as well. However, every case is different, so you should meet with a child custody lawyer in Houston to see if your circumstances support a modification request.
Also, realize that the proposed change must be in your child’s best interests based on the factors discussed above.
Child custody modification cases require as much planning as initial custody determinations, so the sooner you contact a custody lawyer in Houston, the better.
How a Judge Decides Custody Disputes
In some instances reaching an amicable agreement regarding the custody arrangements between a client and the child’s other parent simply isn’t possible.
In those instances, the issue of who has the right to designate the child’s primary residence may be submitted to a judge or a jury.
Regardless of who hears the case, child custody decisions are made with the primary focus being: what is in the child’s best interest?
You will hear that phrase a lot in court—”the child’s best interest”—but how does a judge or jury decide that?
Actually, the trier of fact, in most instances, the judge, will look at a variety of factors, such as:
- The child’s physical and emotional needs
- Whether the child is in physical or emotional danger, now or in the future
- Each person’s ability to parent
- The child’s desires, if they are old enough
- The stability of each parent’s home
- Any acts or omissions that signal a parent should not have custody
- Any reason for an act or omission
The foregoing list is by no means exhaustive but should provide some insight into relevant considerations in any contested custody proceeding.
The Stout Law Firm Difference
Among child custody lawyers in Houston, the staff at The Stout Law Firm PLLC stands out for our commitment to providing honest and straightforward advice.
No matter how emotional a divorce or child custody proceeding may be, our attorneys know that our clients are best served by understanding the law as clearly as possible so that they can make informed decisions about what is best for their family.
Our attorneys are experienced in helping clients achieve favorable outcomes without needing to go to court in many cases.
Sometimes our clients are able to settle their disputes by participating in an informal settlement conference or mediation with a neutral third party.
These techniques can and do often help parents navigate through the litigation process while remaining on speaking terms, which makes co-parenting easier.
However, as experienced Houston custody lawyers, our attorneys also realize that not every case can be settled between parties.
There are some instances when a case simply must be tried to the judge or jury and our attorneys are prepared to take your case to court, if and when necessary.
Our attorneys at The Stout Law Firm we will do everything we can to protect your rights and your relationship with your child.
Contact a child custody lawyer in Houston to discuss your legal options
If you are in the middle of a divorce or child custody dispute, you should meet with an experienced child custody lawyer in Houston right away.
The sooner you meet with an attorney the more prepared you will be to move forward in the custody proceeding if that becomes necessary.
To schedule a consultation with a lawyer at The Stout Law Firm, please call or submit an online message. We’re here to help.