Clarity And Confidence For Child Custody Disputes
At the Law Office of J. Barrett Wilson, PLLC, our family law attorneys understand that children are a parent’s top priority. Child custody matters can arise as part of a divorce or, if the parents are not married, in an independent cause of action known as a Suit Affecting the Parent-Child Relationship (SAPCR). Texas Family Law prioritizes the best interests of the child. Sometimes parents are able to put the best interests of their children front and center and co-parent amicably. Sometimes one or both parents cannot.
The Law Office of J. Barrett Wilson, PLLC, supports clients in times of crisis. We know that divorce and child custody matters are some of the most significant challenges life can throw your way. If you are going through a divorce or child custody dispute, we will guide you through this emotional time with empathy and strength. We will endeavor to make you a managing conservator (that is, to award you custody of your child) while always keeping your children’s best interests in mind. If your or your child’s safety is at risk, we will fight to keep you safe by obtaining a protective order for any member of your family who needs protection. If you are considering filing for divorce or a SAPCR in Texas, contact us to schedule an initial consultation today.
Understanding Texas Child Custody
In Texas, child custody is officially referred to as “conservatorship” of the child. At the Law Office of J. Barrett Wilson, PLLC, we do more than guide you through the terminology of Texas family law – we serve as dedicated allies and advocates, fighting for your rights as a parent, and for the security and stability of your child’s life.
To learn more about the custody/conservatorship processes in Texas, continue reading this page, visit our Justice in Sight resource center, or arrange a consultation at our Plano or McKinney offices, or remotely.
Joint Managing Conservator
Any family law attorney will tell you that Texas law officially refers to joint custody as joint managing conservatorship. By default, Texas family law courts assume that appointing both parents as joint managing conservators is in the best interests of the child. Joint managing conservators share authority over the most important legal decisions parents can make regarding their child’s medical, psychological and educational needs. In a joint managing conservatorship:
- Conservators both have the legal right to make important decisions for a child.
- Joint managing conservators (JMCs) are parties who share the rights and duties of a parent and work together to make important decisions for a child.
- Texas custody laws require that one joint managing conservator have the legal right to determine the child’s primary residence.
- JMCs must work together to make decisions about medical or psychological care, education, and moral and religious training.
- It is important for JMCs to have a plan for resolving conflicts when they disagree about these important decisions.
- If the court finds credible evidence of family violence, it cannot appoint joint managing conservators. One parent will be the sole managing conservator while the other will be a possessory conservator.
Giving one parent sole custody rarely happens in Texas family law courts unless there is clear and convincing evidence that terminating a parent’s parental rights is in the best interests of the child. Instead, under certain circumstances, a family law attorney may be able to convince the court to appoint one parent as the sole managing conservator, meaning that parent has authority over all the important legal decisions a parent can make, the ability to determine the child’s primary residence, but the other parent still has a right to visitation.
Sole Managing Conservator
There is a difference between obtaining sole custody of a child and being named sole managing conservator. If a court decides to appoint a sole managing conservator for a child:
- A sole managing conservator (“SMC”) has all the legal rights of a joint managing conservator without having to share those rights with anyone else.
- Sole managing conservators do not have sole custody.
- SMCs often still share possession of the child with the other parent or grandparents.
- Texas family law prefers that both parents be named joint managing conservators. If, however, a parent produces convincing evidence that appointing both parents as JMCs would not be in the child’s best interest, the court will name one parent the sole managing conservator.
Texas Family Code § 105.001 provides family law attorneys the opportunity to hold a temporary orders hearing regarding child custody matters. At the temporary orders hearing, the judge will hear evidence from both sides and consider requests made by the parties along with the best interests of the children. At the conclusion of the temporary orders hearing, the judge will make various orders that will guide how the parties co-parent while their family law matter is pending. Those temporary orders can address the following:
- Temporary conservatorship
- Temporary possession and access
- Temporary child support
- Temporary spousal maintenance
- Payment of family law attorney fees
Violation of a temporary order can lead to an enforcement action. The most severe penalty in an enforcement action is contempt, which involves potential fine and/or jail time.
A possessory conservator is distinct from a sole managing conservator or joint managing conservator:
- A possessory conservator (PC) is a person authorized by a court to have the right to possess a child at specified times and under specified conditions.
- Access means visitation and possession means that you have your child in your possession during periods of visitation.
- A PC may exercise certain rights over the child while the child is in the PC’s possession.
- PCs do not have authority to determine a child’s primary residence, nor can PCs consent to non-emergency invasive medical procedures or psychiatric care.
- In matters involving family violence or substance abuse, the court may restrict access to the child so that visitation is supervised or done by electronic means only.
Determining Child Custody And Possession Under Texas Family Law
Texas families should be aware of which considerations courts make when determining who should receive custody, possession or conservatorship of a child in a child custody dispute. Our attorneys at the Law Office of J. Barrett Wilson, PLLC, can help you understand these considerations so that you know what to expect in child custody mediation or litigation that arises from a divorce or a Suit Affecting the Parent-Child Relationship.
What Is A Suit Affecting The Parent-Child Relationship (SAPCR)?
SAPCR stands for Suit Affecting the Parent-Child Relationship. If a married couple with children decide to divorce, family law in Texas requires the divorce and SAPCR to be filed together. When a child custody or support dispute arises outside of marriage, the parties may file a standalone SAPCR. Since child custody and support obligations can have such a significant impact on the lives of parent and child alike, we highly recommend you consult a family law attorney.
SAPCRs begin with an original petition, which names the parties involved, states the grounds for the legal action, and specifies the relief sought from the court. Once the opposing party files a response, the parties must make initial disclosures, which include information about insurance policies, tax and bank statements, and other documents relevant to the child’s support and wellbeing.
The court will then enter temporary orders after a hearing or submission of a Rule 11 agreement. The temporary orders will determine custody and support guidelines while the SAPCR is pending.
With temporary orders in place, the parents will have an opportunity to negotiate an agreed parenting plan or attend mediation to resolve the SAPCR outside of court. If the parents cannot reach an agreement outside of court, they will have to take their case to trial.
What Is A Standard Possession Order?
When considering who should have possession of a child, Texas family law presumes that the standard possession order is in the best interest of all children over age three. The standard possession order for parents who live within 100 miles of each other gives the parent who does not have primary custody access to the child on Thursday evenings during the school year, the first, third, and fifth weekends of each month, alternating holidays, and a thirty-day period of time in the summer.
If the parents live more than 100 miles apart, there is no mid-week visitation during the school year and a longer 42-day period of visitation during the summer.
The Texas Family Code includes modified possession orders, and parents can see their children anytime when they both agree.
What Is The UCCJEA?
UCCJEA stands for Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act. Family Code Chapter 152 contains the Texas version of the act. The UCCJEA is designed to give states throughout our country the ability to hear child custody matters that may have originated in other states or even foreign countries. Texas family law recognizes the need for courts to take swift action when custody orders need to be enforced or modified. If you were divorced in another state or country and moved to Texas, the UCCJEA allows a Texas family law attorney help you.
What Is A Temporary Restraining Order?
Even when a divorce or child custody dispute has been brewing for some time, emotions can run wild when notice of a divorce or SAPCR is served to the other parent. A family law attorney can request a temporary restraining order (TRO) when he or she files the original petition for divorce or SAPCR. TROs are a form of ex parte order, meaning the judge can issue the order without a hearing. TROs restrain a party from engaging in certain acts for a period of usually 14 days. Their purpose is to keep the peace during the initial days after a family law matter officially begins.
As it specifically relates to custody matters, an ex parte temporary restraining order can prohibit a parent from transporting a child outside of a designated geographical area and otherwise disturbing the child’s peace and wellbeing. If the family law attorney attaches a sworn affidavit to the TRO alleging a history of family violence, the court may prohibit one parent from seeing the child until a temporary orders hearing can occur.
Creating A Parenting Plan Through Mediation
Many people don’t realize that they can enter mediation without a court order. Texas Family Code § 6.602 governs mediation procedures for divorce and child custody matters. The code makes no requirement that a judge refer the couple to mediation as part of a filed lawsuit. Mediation can avoid the cost and acrimony of child custody litigation. However, mediation is not an option in situations where one parent has been abusive.
At the Law Office of J. Barrett Wilson, PLLC, both of our Texas child custody attorneys are certified family law mediators. Schedule a consultation with us to discuss how mediation can help you resolve your child custody dispute efficiently, cost-effectively and collaboratively.
Texas Family Code § 153.007 provides parents the opportunity to form an agreed parenting plan. The parenting plan will address topics such as conservatorship, possession and access, child support, dispute resolution, and parents can submit an agreed parenting plan to the court to incorporate into the final decree. So long as the parenting plan is in the best interests of the child, the judge will approve it. Once approved, a parenting plan can be modified or enforced in the same family law court with original jurisdiction.
Child support includes provisions for the financial, medical and dental wellbeing of a child. The court may order one or both parents to pay some amount of child support. While a divorce or SAPCR is pending, the court can impose temporary child support obligations on the parents. The final decree will order one or both parents to provide financial, medical, and dental support for children for a specified amount of time – typically until the child turns 18, but it can be longer if the parents agree or if the child has a disability. Courts can also order a parent to pay retroactive child support to cover unpaid child support and reimburse the supporting parent for having to pay more than his or her fair share. Child support is calculated based on the parent’s net resources, the number of children to support, and other factors that will help the child’s life undergo as minimal disturbance as possible.
Put Our Care And Commitment On Your Side
If you are considering or navigating a divorce, schedule your consultation with the Law Office of J. Barrett Wilson, PLLC, to discuss how our attorneys can protect your rights as a parent. Caring and committed, our attorneys are skilled at finding creative solutions to child custody disputes – and, when necessary, at defending your interests in court. To meet with our family lawyers at our Plano office, our McKinney office, or remotely, call 469-565-1221 or complete our online form.