Divorce is all about division. Division of possessions, debts, homes, and vehicles is one matter. Dividing time with children is far more emotional. In fact, custody of children in divorce can be the most challenging issue a parent ever faces.
At Thornton Law, PLLC, I understand how difficult it is to negotiate child custody agreements. Everyone involved loses something in the end, but I am dedicated to helping my clients reach favorable arrangements while being sensitive to the children involved. That is why hundreds of clients from Plano, McKinney, Denton, and Dallas, Texas, have turned to Thornton Law, PLLC for help during such a stressful and emotional time in their lives.
The most expedient, least expensive, and usually less emotional way to strike a child custody agreement is for both parents to agree to terms regarding custody and parenting time and to submit it to the court for approval. This option tends to be less traumatic for children because they avoid the anger and arguments between their parents.
Even when you and the other parent are able to reach an agreement, it might take some work to arrive at one. An experienced family law attorney can facilitate calm and productive discussions, offer insight into how the court will view certain issues, and help you negotiate an agreement with the other parent.
The other option is to let the court decide the terms of the child custody agreement. When parents cannot agree, the court will consider each parent’s case and enter an order. Your attorney will help craft and present your case to the court, address issues raised, and perhaps provide the best chance you have for a favorable agreement.
Texas law refers to these terms as “joint managing conservatorship” and “sole managing conservatorship.” Parents named as joint managing conservators both have responsibilities and rights regarding their children. Sole managing conservators are parents awarded those rights and responsibilities in full without the other parent sharing them.
Sole custody is less common, used only when one parent is incapable or unwilling to care for their children, or when they are determined to be otherwise unfit for the role due to criminal activity, substance abuse, domestic violence, or other issues.
Those major decisions regarding a child’s education, healthcare and medical treatment, and religion are involved in legal custody. Physical custody relates to where the child’s primary residence is and who the child spends time with and when. In most cases, even with joint custody, one parent is awarded primary physical custody of the child.
What is in the best interest of your children is the yardstick by which the court measures all custody matters. Moreover, the law prescribes that neither gender nor marital status be considered when determining custody.
Some of the key factors the court will consider include each parent’s willingness to support the child’s relationship with the other parent, the child’s age, emotional, and physical development and which parent might address them better at the time, each parent’s commitment to putting the child’s needs first, which parent devoted more time to caring for the child during the marriage, and where each parent will reside after divorce.
The judge talks to children ages 12 and older to determine their preferences, if any. If the child is under the age of three, there are additional considerations such as the child’s need for routine, the child’s attachment to each parent, and the child’s emotional and physical needs at this stage in life.
The right for each parent to spend time with their children is referred to in Texas as “possession” time. There are different types of possession orders, including a standard order, modified, order for children under the age of three, and supervised, which is ordered if the child’s safety while with a parent is in question.
The standard possession order reflects the minimum amount of visitation time, so it can be modified to adjust to a family’s needs. For children under three, the standard does not necessarily apply, so consideration will vary; however, you will want an order that reflects adjustments once the child turns three.
Child custody orders are based on circumstances at the time they are issued, such as the child’s age and needs, where each parent lives, the child’s school, parental employment, income, and benefits, and compliance with the order after it is issued. Under Texas law, a significant change in circumstances permits either parent to request that the order be modified.
For example, if the child repeatedly spends more time with the parent who does not have primary physical custody, the possession order and child support order could be modified to reflect the situation. Or, a parent could request a modification if a child who reaches the age of 12 or older wishes to live with the other parent.
If you live in or near Plano, Texas, and have questions about the custody of your children as you are considering divorce or have been served divorce papers, or if you are wondering whether an existing agreement can be modified, I can help. Together, we can navigate the situation with your family's best interest at heart. Get help from an experienced and compassionate family law attorney. Call Thornton Law, PLLC now.