Nothing about divorce is easy, but if you’re facing a divorce that involves children, their ongoing well-being, health, and happiness are obviously your top priority. While the State of Texas employs some unique language when it comes to child custody, its practices are very similar to most other states. If you’re going through a divorce and you have children, understanding the basics can help. Your child custody arrangements are critical to you and your children’s future, and working closely with an experienced Houston family law attorney is the best path forward.
Before your divorce can be finalized, you’ll need to come to terms that you and your divorcing spouse can both agree to regarding several major issues that include:
- The division of your marital property
- You child custody arrangements
- Child support
- Spousal support
While all of these issues will need to be dealt with, we’re going to focus on child custody arrangements here. If you and your spouse can come to an agreement about which of you your children will primarily live with, where they will live (in the family home, for example), and what the other parent’s visitation schedule will be, you’re ahead of the game. Even if you find this middle ground by negotiating exclusively through your respective attorneys and/or via mediation, you will still retain decision-making power in the matter. If you cannot reach an agreement, on the other hand, the court will do so for you.
Child Custody Terms
The State of Texas no longer officially refers to child custody as child custody but, instead, uses the term conservatorship, and there are two types of conservatorship, which include both the managing conservator and the possessory conservator. The managing conservator is the parent who has the right and responsibility to make important decisions on behalf of the children. The presumption in Texas, however, is that both parents will share joint managing conservatorship and will, therefore, make these important decisions together (except under extreme circumstances that preclude this option). The decisions include:
- How your children will be educated
- The kind of religious education your children will receive
- The kind of non-emergency health care your children will receive
- Which extracurricular activities your children can participate in
Possessory conservatorship, on the other hand, refers to when your children are with you and when they are with their other parent. Usually, one parent is named as the primary conservator, and this parent has primary custody of the children. This means that the children will live primarily with him or her and that the other parent will have a visitation schedule.
While the words themselves can be a bit confusing, the basics remain the same. Except under extreme circumstances, both parents generally share what we think of as legal custody (decision making power) and one parent generally has primary physical custody while the other has a visitation schedule.
The Issue of Sole Custody
Many parents are concerned about having sole custody of their children. There are circumstances in which a parent will be awarded sole possessory custody, which means that the parent has the exclusive right to make the important decision on behalf of the children and that the children live primarily with this parent and have a visitation schedule with the other parent. This is rare, however.
The State of Texas bases every child custody decision on the best interests of the children, and it is presumed that it is in the children’s best interests to maintain a close relationship with both parents and that both parents should participate in their upbringings. What most people mean by sole custody is one parent being the primary custodial parent and the other parent having a visitation schedule while both share decision-making power, and this is common in Texas.
Child Support in Texas
In Texas, child support is calculated according to state guidelines. The state deems both parents responsible for supporting their children financially, and the parent who is the primary custodial parent is generally considered to already be fulfilling this responsibility by providing for the children on a day-to-day basis. As such, the other parent usually pays child support to the parent with primary custody.
Even if both parents split their time with the children equally, however, it does not mean that child support won’t play a role. All things being equal, both parents’ incomes will be taken into consideration, and income of the lower earner will be offset by child support from the higher earner (in accordance with the calculation guidelines).
Can My Children Have a Say in the Matter?
The fact is that your children do not have a direct say in the matter. The court’s decisions are always based on what it considers to be the children’s best interests. Once a child reaches the age of 12, however, you can request that the judge interview him or her about the issue, and the court will generally grant this request. While the judge will likely take your child’s interview into consideration, your child has no other role in the decision-making process.
Every case involving child custody is unique to its own circumstances, but it’s important to recognize that you have options. Hashing out mutually acceptable terms with your divorcing spouse should be your first priority. After all, no one knows what’s best for your children better than you do. If you and your soon-to-be ex can’t find middle ground, your respective attorneys can do the negotiating for you, and mediation can also help.
An Experienced Houston Family Law Attorney Can Help with Your Child Custody Concerns
If you have concerns about child custody, the dedicated family law attorneys at The Rudisel Law Firm, P.C., in Houston, have the compassion, commitment, and experience to help you obtain child custody arrangements that serve you and your children’s best interests. We’re here for you, so please don’t hesitate to contact or call us at 713-781-7775 for a free consultation today.