Determining Child Custody in Texas
If you are getting divorced or separating from your partner, you will need to determine how custody and visitation (possession and access) of our children will work. Although it may seem complicated at first, the process for deciding child custody in Texas is pretty straightforward.
Decide What Custody Arrangement You Want:
The first step is to decide what type of custody arrangement you would prefer. For purposes of child custody, Texas law refers to parents as either a Joint Managing Conservator (JMC) or a Sole Managing Conservator (SMC).
A JMC custody arrangement means that both parents have the rights and responsibilities of parenting the children. In this arrangement, usually one parent will be given primary physical custody but it is also possible for the parents to share physical custody equally.
In an SMC custody arrangement, only one parent is given the rights and responsibilities of parenting the children. That parent is also given sole physical custody of the children.
In Texas, there is a predisposition towards awarding JMCs. SMCs can be difficult to obtain but are appropriate where the other parent is either incapable of or unwilling to take care of the children. An SMC is also appropriate if there are issues of abuse or criminal activity.
You should also consider what type of visitation rights you would prefer that the other parent have. Texas law refers to visitation as "possession and access". Parents can agree to any "possession and access" schedule they like so long as it is in the best interest of the children. If the parents are unable to agree to a schedule, the court will generally order the standard possession and access schedule established by law.
Obtaining Custody in Texas
Try to Negotiate a Settlement:
Once you have decided which custody arrangement is appropriate and on a proposed visitation schedule, try to negotiate with the other parent to come to a mutual agreement on these issues. If you can reach an agreement, it is a relatively simple matter to submit that agreement to the court for approval.
Go to Court:
If you are unable to reach an agreement, you will have to file paperwork asking the court to decide the child custody issues. If the paternity of the children involved has not yet been legally determined, you will have to file a paternity case to establish paternity and obtain a custody order.
But if there are no paternity issues involved in the case, you should file a "Suit Affecting the Parent-Child Relationship" (SAPCR) to ask the court for a child custody order. Once a SAPCR case has been filed, the other parent will have an opportunity to respond, and then a hearing will be scheduled. The court may also wish to talk with the children involved.
Make sure that you carefully read all papers provided by the other parent or their attorney and attend all scheduled court hearings. The court will review all the facts of the case and will issue a child custody order that is based on the best interests of the children
Texas Law Help has put together a resource, Tips for the Courtroom. It is important to understand etiquette of the court. Also check out TRLA’s Child Custody Fact Sheet.
All of the rules governing child custody cases in Texas are in Title 5 of the Texas Family Code. Family law judges will seek to determine what type of custody arrangement will be in the best interest of the child.
Seek assistance with your custody case
If you are going to seek child custody in Texas and feel that you need legal assistance in doing so, you can obtain help from the contact America Family Law Center or call 713-239-5200.
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