What You Need to Know About Child Custody Laws in Texas

Understanding child custody laws in Texas is an important step in the divorce process. Learn more in this complete guide to Texas custody laws.

One of the first things that the Attorney General of Texas notes in his advice to parents going through child custody cases is that the court can make decisions about your child whether you’re there or not.

In other words, if you want a say in your child’s future, it’s important that you show up in court.

However, showing up is not enough to lead to the outcome you’re hoping for. It’s important that you understand child custody laws in Texas so that you’re fully prepared to make your case. Working with a child custody attorney will also vastly improve your chances of a positive outcome.

Read on to find out everything you need to know about child custody laws in Texas.

What Is a Suit Affecting the Parent-Child Relationship?

In the state of Texas, any court case that involves the needs of a child includes what is called a Suit Affecting the Parent-Child Relationship (SAPCR). We often see the inclusion of a SAPCR in court cases related to the divorce of two parents. However, SAPCRs can come into play under a variety of non-divorce cases, as well.

For example, if a couple separates but has not yet decided to divorce, they can still file a SAPCR. This will ensure that their children’s rights are legally established. Unmarried parents may also file a SAPCR to address custody or establish paternity.

The court will have the final say in custodial rights after hearing both the facts of the case and the testimony of those involved. Once this is complete, the SAPCR will go dormant under the assumption that these custodial rights are being followed.

In some cases, when it becomes apparent that custody must be reevaluated, a Suit to Modify the Parent-Child Relationship is filed.

What Does “Conservatorship” Mean?

The Texas Family Code establishes the rights and duties of both parents of a child based on their custodial relationship to the child. However, you won’t find the word “custody” in the Texas Family Code. Instead, we use the words “conservator” and “conservatorship” to legally outline the relationship between parent and child.

The conservator of a child has the legal right to make decisions about the child. These decisions regard things such as medical attention, education, and finances.

Texas courts prefer to grant parents joint managing conservatorship in order to provide stability for the child. Ideally, your separation from your former partner will not get in the way of your ability to co-parent. However, there are instances under which sole managing conservatorship is established.

Sole Managing Conservatorship vs. Joint Managing Conservatorship

In some instances, the court may establish sole managing conservatorship. This entails that one parent provides the child’s place of residence. They also make all financial, educational, and medical decisions.

The parent who does not have sole managing conservatorship is often granted possessory conservatorship. This entails that they are granted visitation rights but cannot keep the child for overnight stays or weigh in on any major decisions.

Joint managing conservatorship is far more common in the state of Texas. Under joint managing conservatorship, parents share both daily and longterm duties relating to childcare. However, one parent is still granted primary conservatorship, which we will discuss below.

Many of the day-to-day decisions are left to the parents under joint managing conservatorship. This remains in effect as long as the legal requirements are being met by both parents. For example, it is up to the discretion of the parents to decide who will attend after school functions or bring the child on vacations.

Residency and Child Support a Joint Managing Conservatorship

Under joint managing conservatorship, the primary conservator is expected to provide residence for the child for a larger percentage of the week. A schedule is typically established that allows the child to spend some portion of the week with the other parent.

In addition, the parent who does not have primary conservatorship is expected to pay monthly child support. These payments correlate to the number of children in question as well as the parent’s income.

The Attorney General of Texas provides an online calculator to estimate the amount this parent will be expected to pay. Note that other factors may come into play in court that could alter this amount.

What Comes Into Play During a SAPCR?

How does the court determine conservatorship? There a number of factors that must be considered.

This includes things like the emotional connection between a parent and the child. It also includes the ability of the parent to provide for the child. At all times, the child’s best interest is in mind.

Mental and Emotional Factors

The court is primarily concerned with creating an emotionally stable environment for the child. Continuity is an important factor in both mental and emotional stability for children, which means that a parent may be less favored if they are planning on leaving the town where the child has lived for the last six or more months.

Another way that the emotional connection between a parent and child is measured is prior involvement. If both parents were involved in the child’s life at equal (or close to equal) amounts, then the court will want to continue this pattern with joint managing conservatorship.

However, if one parent was largely absent from the child’s life in previous years, that parent will not be regarded with the same level of importance to the child’s emotional wellbeing.

Practical and Financial Factors

Beyond the mental and emotional wellbeing of the child, the court must consider more practical factors, as well.

For example, will you be able to pick the child up from school or will you require large amounts of help with after school care? How does that compare to the amount of time the child’s other parent can dedicate to them? Your ability to prioritize your child will determine what level of custody you are granted.

Financial stability is also considered. Being able to prove that you have a consistent, steady source of income will benefit your case. The trick is showing that you have the means to pay for the child’s needs but don’t spend more than an average amount of time making that money. This can be difficult, especially for newly single parents.

Parental Cooperation

Note that badmouthing your former partner will not help your case. Unless you have legitimate reasons to want separation between your child and their other parent, which we will discuss below, the court will not look favorably upon a lack of cooperation.

Assuming both parents are adequate caretakers, it’s important that you work together to act in your child’s best interest. That means showing a willingness to share time and come together to make major decisions.

Abuse or Harm

If one parent has shown a history of physical or verbal abuse, they will not receive joint managing conservatorship. This is often also the case for a parent who has a history of drug or alcohol abuse. Actions or behaviors that put your child at risk of harm or neglect will result in the other parent receiving sole managing conservatorship.

When Can Non-Parental Figures Enter Into a SAPCR?

Most of the time, a SAPCR involves the two parents of the child exclusively. However, there are instances in which a non-parental figure will have standing in the case. In other words, they will have the right to weigh in and gain some level of conservatorship.

In order for a grandparent or other relative to make the case for their own conservatorship, they must be able to prove the need for this. Texas will recognize non-parental figures who can prove that they have had custody or control over the child for at least six months prior to the opening of the case.

Ask the Experts About Child Custody Laws in Texas

Now that you know the basics of the child custody laws in Texas, it’s time to work out the details of your own case. While the laws, themselves, are uncomplicated, real life often isn’t that black and white.

If you’re in the Houston area and want to work with a child custody attorney who gets real results, you’ve come to the right place. Scott M. Brown & Associates are dedicated to every client that walks through our door. We hear you, we see you, and we’ll fight for you and your child.

Contact our office closest to you and we’ll begin a consultation. This is the first step down the road of justice for you and your family.

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