Sugarland Child Custody Attorney
Children’s issues can be some of the most emotionally difficult court cases that families have to deal with. When divorce ends a marriage and parents split into two separate households, they may have different ideas about child care and custody. It can be extremely challenging to sort out custody issues without the help of a qualified child custody attorney. Especially if your former spouse is employing counsel, you’ll need to have the most knowledgeable and experienced family law legal professional you can find.
You’re not alone if you need assistance with child custody. More than one-quarter of U.S. children under age 21—26.6 percent, according to U.S. Census records—live with only one parent while the other parent lives somewhere else. That means that many split families are dealing with the same kinds of issues that you are, and may need legal help to set fair and reasonable custody. In Texas, the courts have a great deal of leeway in how custody cases are managed, so having a lawyer skilled in presenting your case is vital.
Many parents are able to work together to set reasonable custody guidelines, but in contentious divorce cases or situations where one parent may not be a suitable caregiver, custody battles may be unavoidable. If that’s what you’re currently going through, you’ll want the skill and compassion of an attorney like Frank J. Vendt, Jr., who has been through a tough divorce himself and has fought for shared custody. He knows what you’re going through, and will use his knowledge of Texas family law to work for your parental rights. Call the Vendt Law Firm, P.L.L.C., at (832) 276-9474 to schedule a consultation.
Our Results in Child Custody Cases
As you can imagine, cases related to divorce and child custody tend to be kept private by those involved. Unlike, for example, a personal injury case where law firms may boast about the damages they are able to recover for their clients, child custody cases are silently fought and outcomes quietly negotiated based on the best interests of the kids involved.
Texas family courts tend to prefer a joint custody agreement, known as joint conservatorship, where custody is equally shared. Unless there is a reason why the other parent is unfit to have custody, this shared conservatorship is usually considered an ideal outcome. We can help ensure this 50-50 custody split is achieved, especially for fathers who may be concerned about their ability to get equal time with their children.
Of course, as children get older and circumstances change, you may need to modify your custody agreement. We can also help you achieve a favorable modification outcome based on your circumstances, while saving time and extensive legal costs. While no one can confidently predict how long custody cases can take in Texas, we do our best to get them resolved as quickly and efficiently as possible.
Child Custody Cases in Texas: The Terms You Should Know
While every child custody case is unique, they do share some similarities. In Texas, legal terms for custody cases may be different from what you’re familiar with: child custody is called conservatorship. Joint custody is known as joint-managing conservatorship (JMC), and sole custody is called sole-managing conservatorship (SMC). In JMC, both parents share custody and decision making; in SMC, only one parent makes legal decisions for the child, like healthcare, schooling, and activities.
You might hear another term passed around: possessory conservator. That refers to a parent who has some custody of their child—perhaps every other weekend or time during the summer months—but does not make legal decisions for the child.
If you can work out custody details, including how decisions regarding important issues like religion and health care are made, that is formalized in a parenting plan. The plan goes to the court to be formalized, and once it is approved by a family law judge, it is legally binding. The parenting plan will guide your custody until you return to court to have it changed.
Under What Circumstances Are Child Custody Cases Heard in Texas?
While most child custody cases in Texas result because two parents are divorcing, there are other reasons why a court hearing regarding custody might be held.
- Paternity case. The mother is seeking to legally identify the father of a child in order to get child support, or the father is trying to establish paternity to get some or all custody of the child.
- Protective order case. When there is family violence, a non-offending parent may have to go to court to get an emergency hearing on custody for the child’s safety.
- Suit affecting the parent-child relationship (SAPCR) case. This happens when two parents are not divorced but one is attempting to get the sole legal right to make decisions for the child, such as medical decisions.
Child custody hearings take place in a Texas court when the child has lived for at least the past 6 months in the state. Exceptions may be if both parents have moved out of Texas, or there is substantial evidence in another state regarding one parent’s fitness to have custody.
Who Is Involved in a Child Custody Case?
In most child custody cases, two biological parents, a mother and a father, are working to establish fair and reasonable conservatorship.
Parents who agree on most aspects of conservatorship will often not need to go to trial. They can work with a mediator to work out the details and file a “parenting plan” that will be formally approved by the court. If there are conflicts, however, the custody case may need to go to trial, and that involves more people, more time, and more expense.
In Texas, either a judge can hear a custody case in what’s known as a bench trial, or a jury can hear the case and make a decision. Texas is the only state in the U.S. that holds jury trials for child custody disputes, and going before a jury requires an experienced attorney with a background in arguing cases before a jury. Jury trials can be much more difficult and time-consuming than bench trials, but there are some instances where it may be an advantage to your case.
Sometimes, other relatives like grandparents may sue for visitation rights. In other cases, a stepparent who has been part of a child’s life for many years may also sue for part custody. These cases can be very difficult to win, as Texas law doesn’t legally allow grandparents the right to see grandchildren unless the parents permit it. Stepparents have equally tenuous footing when it comes to custody rights. Here are the main circumstances under which non-parent relatives or stepparents can get visitation without parental permission:
- Parents are deceased or unable to be located.
- Parents are found to be mentally impaired.
- Parents are in jail.
- The child is not currently living with either parent.
If the child has lived solely with the grandparent or stepparent for more than 6 months, that can factor into the case. However, in most legal proceedings, the court will place the child with parents and will not award visitation if that goes against the parent’s wishes.
What Kind of Outcomes Can Happen in Child Custody Cases?
As long as it is in the child’s best interests, Texas courts prefer to award joint-managing conservatorship to parents who are going through a divorce. Studies show that, barring evidence that one parent is unfit, young children do best when they split time between parents. When anything other than that is awarded, it’s usually due to one of these factors:
- Abuse or neglect. The non-custodial parent has a documented history of not caring properly for the child.
- Addiction. If one parent has a recent history of drug and alcohol abuse, that may be enough for the courts to issue SMC to the non-addict parent.
- Past criminal activity. Depending on the seriousness of the crime and when it occurred, a convicted criminal may not be awarded custody.
- Stability of the home. A parent who does not have an established living space may not be awarded custody.
- Absence. This is less likely to come up in divorce cases, but if parents are not living together and one has not been involved in the child’s life, it’s less likely that JMC will be awarded.
- Geographic proximity. If one parent is moving a significant distance away, it may be difficult to share custody.
- Child’s preferences. If a child is over the age of 12, his or her preferences may be taken into account by the court.
If you believe that one or more of these factors makes the child’s other parent a poor choice for joint-managing conservatorship, you will need to have proof to show in court. However, even with proof, the path to establishing sole-managing conservatorship can be a long and difficult one. An experienced child custody attorney can help you establish and document what you need to have convincing proof for the family law judge.
How Do Those Seeking Custody Try to Get an Unfair Advantage?
Divorce proceedings can cloud people’s minds, and in some cases, a party may be willing to resort to less-than-honest tactics to gain an advantage or hurt the opposing party—even when it involves the children and makes their lives more difficult.
A few examples of how one parent may try to get the upper hand in custody battles:
- Accuse the other parent of abuse. Fortunately, if there is no documentation to back up the allegation, Texas courts don’t like this type of behavior and it can backfire dramatically. Accusations of serious crimes like domestic abuse require evidence.
- Coach the children to say negative things about the other parent, or ask not to have visitation with them. Most children show a desire to spend time with both parents. If a child—especially a younger child—says he or she doesn’t want to spend time with one parent, it raises a red flag in the courts. Courts do not look favorable on parties who use such tactics.
- Threaten the other parent. This act is often illegal, and will reduce your chances for an equal custody situation. Intimidation, harassment, and threats by a party can make a court skeptical of that party’s merits.
Hire a qualified lawyer who can battle back against tactics like this if you suspect the other parent may try to get an unfair advantage. In the hands of an experienced attorney, these untrue allegations are unlikely to go anywhere or have a negative impact on your case.
What Happens if One Party Violates the Custody Arrangement?
Once a custody agreement is reached through the courts, parents must adhere to the rules that are spelled out. Examples of violations include:
- Consistently returning a child later than agreed.
- Scheduling appointments and activities during the other parent’s time and refusing to allow the other parent to take the child.
- Badmouthing or telling lies about the other parent; this can be considered parental alienation.
- Failing to adhere to agreed principles about religion, health care, etc.
- Taking the child without prior arrangement; this can be considered kidnapping.
There are a couple of ways that custody violations play out. When violations are small, such as the father keeping a child a few hours longer than the legal agreement, the other parent may choose to go back to court. In many cases, the courts will send both parties to mediation or try to get a compromise, but you may end up revisiting the legal conservatorship. Sometimes, the parent who is guilty of violations will have visitation time reduced. The courts will always try to look at what is in the best interests of the child.
You may need your child custody attorney’s advice and legal assistance even after your initial conservatorship hearing is completed, as custody battles can be ongoing if one parent doesn’t follow the rules of the custody agreement.
How Much Will a Child Custody Lawyer Cost Me?
A simple child custody case, where both parents are in general agreement, can cost between $2,500 and $5,000 in attorney fees, paperwork, and court costs. The exact amount depends on the specific factors in your case. If your case goes to trial and is stretched out, the cost can rise to more than $10,000.
In custody cases, you pay your lawyer up front in what is called a retainer. At The Vendt Law Firm, P.L.L.C., we understand the pressures on parents who are pursuing fair conservatorship arrangements. Schedule a consultation, and we can talk about payment options and what the cost of your case is likely to be: we know navigating a custody case is not easy, and are always willing to work with clients to provide a fee structure that is reasonable.
Steps to Take if You’re Involved in a Child Custody Case
Having a good child custody lawyer on your side is important if the other parent is challenging your right to joint-managing conservatorship or if the other parent is unsuitable for providing care. Call the Vendt Law Firm, P.L.L.C., at (832) 276-9474 or contact us to schedule a consultation. Your child’s wellbeing is too important to leave to chance; talk to us today to find out what your next steps should be.