Richmond Child Custody Attorney
A divorce prompts many questions. Certainly the most important, and emotional, of these questions, is: “Who gets custody of the children?” Unfortunately, this is usually the most contentious divorce issue, too. If you’re a parent who is getting a divorce, hire a lawyer experienced in child custody issues, not only to help diffuse the emotions of the situation, but also to help protect your rights to play an important role in the raising of your child.
Custody Terms Explained
In Texas, child custody is known as conservatorship. Here are some other terms commonly used in reference to child custody in Texas.
- Managing conservator: The individual who has “custody,” or the right to make decisions on behalf of the child.
- Sole managing conservator: Also known as “sole custody”—when one parent has the right to make major decisions on behalf of the child, including where the child will live and go to school, as well as consent for medical or psychiatric services.
- Joint managing conservator: Also known as “joint custody”—when both parents make major decisions on behalf of the child jointly. Texas law presumes joint managing conservatorship, unless given evidence that it would not serve the child’s best interests. However, granting joint managing conservator of a child does not mean each parent has the child for 50 percent of the time.
- Possessory conservator: When one parent is named the sole managing conservator, the other parent is generally named the possessory conservator, meaning he or she has certain rights as a parent when the child is in his or her possession, also known as visitation or parenting time. If a nonparent is named sole managing conservator, the court can name both parents as possessory conservator.
- Joint rights: Rights to the child that one parent can exercise with consent from the other parent, such as giving consent for marriage or military service.
- Independent rights: The rights that each conservator has, independently of the other conservator, such as the right to consult with the child’s teacher or physician and the right to direct the moral and religious teaching of the child when the child is in his or her custody.
- Exclusive rights: These are the rights conveyed upon a sole managing conservator. In addition to the determination of where the child will live and go to school, exclusive rights also include the ability to collect, hold, and spend child support payments on behalf of the child.
How Texas Determines Custody
According to the family code, public policy in Texas is to ensure continuing contact between a parent and his or her child, provided the parent shows the ability to act in the child’s best interests, and is able to provide the child with a safe home. The court encourages parents to share rights and responsibilities after the dissolution of marriage. Parents have the following rights at all times, unless limited by a court order:
- The right to receive information about the health, education, and welfare of the child.
- The right to confer with the other parent before making a decision that will influence the child’s health, education, and welfare.
- The right to consult with the child’s physician, dentist, or psychologist.
- The right to attend school activities.
- The right to be listed on the child’s records as an emergency contact.
- The right to consent to medical procedures in the event of an emergency.
- The right to manage the estate of a child if it was created by the parent or parent’s family.
When determining conservatorship, the court considers information from a variety of sources, including:
- The ability of the parents to encourage the child to have a positive relationship with the other parent, and to reach shared decisions in the child’s best interest.
- The geographical proximity of the parents’ residences.
- Interview of the child in chambers: If the child is older than 12, the court will interview him or her in chambers, and may do so even if the child is younger than 12, to determine the child’s wishes as to which parent he or she would prefer to live with and anything else in the lawsuit that may affect the parent-child relationship. While the child’s desires are taken into account, the court must still determine if those desires reflect the best interests of the child.
- An agreed parenting plan: Parties may enter into an agreed-upon, written plan that provides for conservatorship and possession of a child, even if it varies from the standard possession order. If the agreement is in the best interest of the child, the court will render an order in accordance with it. If the court finds that the agreement is not in the best interest of the child, it may either allow the parents to revise the plan or issue an order that reflects the child’s best interests.
Frequently Asked Questions About Child Custody
How does the court determine parenting time?
- Standard possession order: The state’s standard possession order allows the possessory conservator to have the child on every first, third, and fifth weekend, from 6 p.m. on Friday to 6 p.m. on Sunday; and every Thursday from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. The order also calls for the possessory conservator to have parenting time on holidays, spring vacation, and during the summer. However, the standard possession order will not work for some families. Parents may live more than 100 miles apart, or have very young children. The family code spells out alternative solutions for those scenarios.
What happens if I decide to relocate, or the other parent does?
We live in an increasingly mobile world, and relocation of one parent or the other is a common issue. If you plan to relocate and take the child, let the other parent and the court know, as the relocation may require a new custody agreement.
If the other parent is planning to relocate and take the child, you may request a quick court date or an injunction to prevent the relocation. If the relocation has already taken place, the court may find the other parent in contempt and hold a new custody hearing.
Can we settle out of court?
Court battles are exhausting, painful, and expensive. The more you and your child’s other parent can agree to out of court, the better it is for everyone. As previously stated, if you are able to submit an agreed-upon parenting plan that covers all of the necessary details and reflects the best interests of the child, the court will often incorporate that parenting plan into its final orders. However, whether you’re working out that parenting plan through mediation or on your own, hire an attorney to review the documents and ensure that you understand everything before you sign them.
Why would the court take custody away from me?
According to the Texas Family Code, the court can prevent you from having possession of your child for the following reasons:
- If you have been absent from your child’s life, the court may take this into consideration and could decide to award sole conservatorship to the other parent.
- If the court finds that appointment of you as a conservator would significantly impair the child’s physical or emotional health, you may find your parenting time limited.
- If you have a history of violence or sexual abuse directed at your spouse, parent of the child, or another child younger than 18 years old within the past two years, or a history of child abuse or neglect. Furthermore, the court evaluates the suitability of possession by a parent who allows another individual with a history of these behaviors unsupervised access to the child.
- Risk of international abduction: The court requires proof of risk factors, including threats of abduction, a lack of a financial reason to remain in the United States and strong financial or familial ties to another country, or a history of domestic violence or violating court orders. The court also requires evidence of intent to abduct the child internationally, such as quitting your job and selling your primary residence, closing primary bank accounts, hiding or destroying documents, applying for a passport or visa for yourself or the child, or applying for or obtaining the child’s birth certificate or medical records.
- If you have voluntarily relinquished care, control, and possession to a nonparent or agency for a period of more than a year, the court may choose to award conservatorship to the nonparent or agency if it is in the best interests of the child.
- The court may temporarily appoint another conservator and modify child support if you are in the military and on deployment.
Child support is part of the final order from the court, and generally requires the parent the child is not living with to pay the other parent until the child reaches the age of 18. The court may order a parent to pay child support for a longer period of time if the child is disabled, or if the child is still in high school and regularly attending at the time of his or her 18th birthday. The court may shorten the period of time that a parent must pay child support if the child marries, joins the military, or becomes legally emancipated. Support is calculated based on a percentage of the parent’s net income. This percentage depends on the number of children included in the support order.
When the final order is issued, the paying parent usually has a portion of his or her wages withheld and sent to the child support enforcement or local agency for disbursement to the receiving parent. If the paying parent is self-employed, then he or she will pay support directly to the receiving parent.
Frequently Asked Questions About Child Support
Can I challenge the amount of child support that the court ordered?
Yes. The court does consider relevant issues that could cause the amount of support to go up or down. Some reasons the court would consider adjusting child support include: the age and needs of the child, childcare costs, the net income of the primary conservator, the provision of health insurance, the costs of post-secondary education, financial resources, whether either parent receives employment benefits such as a house or a car, and the amount of time the child spends with each parent.
Can the court modify a child support order?
Yes. It is generally easier to get a child support order modified if it has been in place for longer than three years. A court hearing or a child support review process may modify your child support order if your income has increased or decreased by at least $100 a month. Other factors that the court will evaluate during the review of your child support include whether or not you are legally responsible for other children, if the living arrangements of the child have changed, or the child’s health insurance coverage has changed. Returning to active duty military service may also require modification of your child support order.
How Much Will a Lawyer Cost Me?
No two divorces are alike, so it is impossible to determine the cost of your divorce without speaking to you first. You should retain a lawyer experienced with child custody issues in Texas as soon as possible, however, so that you can receive assistance throughout the entire process. After an initial consultation with you, we can begin putting together solutions to help you get through your divorce with both your rights and your relationship with your child intact.
Talk to a Lawyer Who Knows From Personal Experience
For divorce lawyer Frank J. Vendt Jr., child custody isn’t just an area of his practice—it’s also something that he has experienced personally through his own divorce and shared custody of his child. His personal experience as a parent sharing custody provides him with the ability to compassionately represent other parents. His legal experience and knowledge of the particular issues surrounding child custody in Texas provides you with clarity and reason in a process that often seems confusing and hard to bear.
To schedule your consultation with Frank Vendt, call our office at (832) 276-9474, or contact the Vendt Law Firm online today.