When a marriage dissolves or unmarried parents separate, parents often become involved in a dispute regarding custody of their children. Conservatorship, possession, and access are the legal terms used in Texas to define a parent's rights, duties, and visitation schedules. When making a determination about parental conservatorship and possession of the child, the court's primary consideration is always "the best interest of the child." The overriding policy of the Texas Family Code is to assure that both parents have frequent contact with their children and to encourage parents to share parenting responsibilities. The courts will consider the safety and stability of the child's environment in its decisions. In most cases, both parents will be named Joint Managing Conservators and will share almost all rights and duties of parenting. However, there are cases where joint managing conservatorship and possession of the child by one parent is not in the child's best interest. Like any Family Law matter, custody battles can be arduous and stressful. It is imperative to have a Family Law attorney to analyze your unique circumstances to provide counsel and guidance through these proceedings.
Factors Influencing Conservatorship, Possession, & Access
There are cases where a court may decide that joint managing conservatorship or a standard possession schedule is not in the best interest of the child. Basically, a court may consider any relevant factor in determining Conservatorship, Possession, and Access. The most common factors include:
- The child's emotional and physical needs: The court may consider how a parent meets, or fails to meet, the emotional and physical needs of the child.
- Age of the child: The needs of a child under age 3 are very different than the needs of a teenager. The court will consider the age of the child in its determination.
- Parent Involvement: The court may consider whether both parents have been involved in child rearing. Does one parent travel a lot for work? Does one parent have an inconsistent work schedule that affects the amount of time that parent can spend with the child? The court may consider the answers to these questions when deciding what is in the child's best interest.
- The preference of the child: Starting at the age of 12, Texas courts may consider the opinions of the child.
- Past and potential harmful actions: A history and ongoing pattern of physical abuse or substance abuse can strongly affect the outcome of custody cases, even resulting in supervised visitation.
- The stability of each parent's home: The court will consider the safety and stability of each parents' home.
Standard Possession Order
There is a presumption in Texas that a Standard Possession Order is in the best interest of the child. Typically one parent has the right to determine the primary residence of the child and the other parent has a Standard Possession Order. A basic summary of the Standard Possession Order is:
- The first, third, and fifth weekends of each month from 6:00 pm. Friday until 6:00 pm. Sunday
- Thursdays during the school year from 6:00 p.m. until 8:00 p.m.
- 30 days in the summer
- Thanksgiving and Spring Break are rotated on an even/odd year schedule
- Christmas (also on a rotating even/odd year schedule) is shared with one parent having possession from 6:00 p.m. the day school is dismissed for Christmas until noon on December 28 and the other parent having possession from noon on December 28 until 6:00 p.m. the day before school resumes.
There are many variations to the Standard Possession Order that may be reached by agreement. In fact, more and more parents are agreeing to equal possession schedules. Your attorney can help you craft a possession schedule that works for you and your family.
The Texas Family Code sets forth guidelines for determining the amount of child support payable to the non-custodial parent. Child support is calculated by multiplying the non-custodial parent's net resources by a percentage determined according to the number of children affected by the suit. For example, child support for two children is 25% of the parent's net resources. The percentage changes based on the number of children that are subject to the suit and the percentage may be reduced for a parent who has other children he or she is required to support from another relationship. The Code provides a guideline, but there are factors that may be considered to increase or decrease child support. There are even situations where neither parent pays the other parent child support due to equal earnings and equal possession of the child. A skilled attorney can assure that you receive, or pay, the appropriate amount of support.