Southlake Child Custody Lawyer

Last Updated on December 11, 2023 by Benson Varghese

When parents separate or divorce, they often contact a family lawyer wanting “custody” of their children. Most of the time, what they mean is that they want their child to live primarily with them. Unfortunately, child custody isn’t that simple.

In Texas, child custody focuses not just on where the child lives but on who has the right to make decisions about the child’s welfare, education, health care, and other important aspects of their upbringing. It often involves a complex legal and emotional process that requires careful consideration of various factors.

In this article, the attorneys at Varghese Summersett Family Law Group explain the various types of child custody in Texas and how courts decide custody arrangements. We’ll also discuss the process of modifying custody orders, how child support and visitation factor into custody decisions, and the advantages of having a knowledgeable Southlake child custody lawyer on your side.

Key Takeaways

  • Texas courts prioritize the best interests of the child when making custody decisions.
  • Child support and custody are distinct matters, with visitation rights independent of payments.
  • Hiring an experienced Southlake child custody lawyer is essential to protect parents and children’s interests in family law disputes.

conservatorship in Texas
Understanding Conservatorship in Texas

To understand child custody, it’s important first to grasp the specific legal terminology and concepts. In Texas, custody is referred to in the legal arena as “conservatorship” and parents are referred to as “conservators.” There’s also a distinction between legal custody and physical custody. Here’s a further explanation:

Conservatorship:

This refers to the legal responsibilities and rights a parent has regarding their child. Conservatorship in Texas is primarily about the right to make decisions for the child, including decisions about medical treatment, education, and religious upbringing. It’s not solely about where the child lives, which is a common misconception.

Conservator:

A conservator is a person who is given these rights and responsibilities. In the context of family law, a conservator is usually one of the child’s parents. Texas law recognizes different types of conservatorship or custody, which our Southlake child custody lawyers explain below.

Legal Custody

Legal custody refers to the right to make major decisions regarding a child’s life. This includes decisions about education, health care, religious upbringing, and other significant aspects.

Physical Custody

Physical custody refers to with whom the child lives and the daily care of the child. In Texas, this is referred to as “possession and access.” The parent with whom the child primarily resides is called the “custodial parent,” while the other is the “non-custodial parent.”

The non-custodial parent is typically granted a possession schedule, which outlines when they will spend time with the child. Texas family law courts often create a Standard Possession Order (SPO), which provides a schedule for the non-custodial parent’s time with the child, including weekends, holidays, and summer vacations.

types of child custody

Types of Child Custody in Texas

In Texas, there are three main types of conservatorship or child custody agreements.

  • Joint Managing Conservatorship (JMC), also referred to as joint custody
  • Sole Managing Conservatorship (SMC), also referred to as sole custody
  • Possessory Conservatorship, also often referred to as visitation

Joint Managing Conservator

Joint managing conservatorship refers to a form of child custody where both parents share decision-making authority and responsibilities for the child. This is the most common type of child custody arrangement and the one that courts prefer.

In fact, Texas law says that both parents should be named joint managing conservators if it is in the child’s best interest. In joint managing conservatorship agreements, both parents are typically responsible for making major decisions regarding their child, such as:

  • educational decisions
  • medical decisions
  • religious decisions
  • extracurricular activities

In most joint conservatorship orders, one parent will be designated as the primary managing conservator – also called the custodial parent – and will have the exclusive right to decide where the child lives. The child usually lives primarily with this parent. The other parent is called the non-custodial parent.

Sole Managing Conservator

Sole Managing Conservatorship in Texas refers to a legal arrangement granting one parent the sole authority and responsibility to make all decisions regarding the child’s upbringing, such as education, healthcare, and religion. The other parent may be named as a “possessory conservator” and may have visitation rights. A parent may be granted Sole Managing Conservatorship if:

  • It is determined to be in the best interest of the child
  • The other parent is found unfit or unable to fulfill their parental responsibilities
  • There is a history of domestic violence or abuse
  • The other parent has voluntarily relinquished their parental rights
  • The child expresses a strong preference to live with one parent.

A parent may be deemed unfit in Texas if they cannot provide necessary conditions for a child’s physical and emotional health. Factors that can result in a parent being declared unfit include:

  • Physical abuse
  • Emotional abuse
  • Drug or alcohol abuse
  • Criminal behavior
  • Unsafe living conditions
  • Any other factors considered dangerous to a child

The distinction between sole managing conservatorship and joint managing conservatorship lies in the decision-making authority. In sole managing conservatorship, one parent has the primary authority to make decisions for the child’s life, while in joint managing conservatorship, both parents have the authority to make decisions. This setup promotes cooperation between parents for the child’s growth and welfare.

Possessory Conservator

A possessory conservator in Texas has the right to have physical custody or possess the child during their periods of visitation. A possessory conservator has the right to make decisions related to the child’s care and control during their periods of possession, but major decisions such as education, healthcare, and religious upbringing are determined by the managing conservator. A possessory conservator is one who has to pay child support and has a pre-determined visitation schedule.

Understanding the types of child custody arrangements and the complexities of child custody laws is crucial for parents navigating the legal process. Being familiar with your legal rights and working with an experienced Southlake custody family law attorney can significantly influence the result of your child custody case, guaranteeing the prioritization and safeguarding of your child’s best interests.

How Courts Decide Child Custody in Texas

In Texas, courts determine child custody, known legally as conservatorship, by prioritizing the best interest of the child. This principle guides all decisions related to custody arrangements. Here are the key factors considered by Texas courts in determining child custody:

  1. Child’s Best Interest: The overarching factor is always what is in the best interest of the child. This includes considering the child’s physical, psychological, and emotional needs and well-being.
  2. Parental Abilities: The court evaluates each parent’s ability to care for and raise the child, including providing for the child’s physical and emotional needs, as well as ensuring the child’s safety.
  3. Child’s Wishes: Depending on the child’s age and maturity, the court may consider the child’s own preferences regarding which parent they wish to live with.
  4. Stability of Home Environment: The stability and safety of the environment that each parent can provide are assessed. A stable home environment is crucial for the child’s development.
  5. Parental Cooperation: The court looks at the willingness and ability of each parent to effectively co-parent, including encouraging a positive relationship between the child and the other parent.
  6. History of Violence or Abuse: Any history of domestic violence, child abuse, or neglect by either parent is a critical factor and can significantly impact custody decisions.
  7. Physical and Emotional Health of Parents: The physical and mental health of each parent is considered, as it affects their ability to care for the child.
  8. Child’s Age and Physical Needs: Younger children may have different needs compared to older children, which can influence custody arrangements.
  9. Geographical Proximity of Parents: The distance between parents’ residences is considered, especially in terms of its impact on visitation and regular contact with both parents.
  10. Sibling Relationships: Courts try to keep siblings together when possible, as it is generally seen as beneficial for the children.

It’s important to note that Texas courts often favor arrangements where both parents are involved in the child’s life, typically through Joint Managing Conservatorship, unless there are compelling reasons to award Sole Managing Conservatorship to one parent.

Each case is unique, and the court’s decision is based on the specific circumstances presented. Parents going through a custody dispute in Texas are advised to seek legal counsel to navigate this complex process. A Southlake child custody lawyer at Varghese Summersett Family Law Group can help.

process for seeking child custody

Process for Seeking Child Custody in Texas

The process for seeking child custody in Texas involves several steps and can be complex, particularly in contested cases. Here’s a general overview of the process:

  1. Filing a Suit: The process begins with one parent filing a suit affecting the parent-child relationship (SAPCR) in the appropriate Texas family court. This can be filed as part of a divorce proceeding if the parents are married, or as a standalone suit if they are not.
  2. Serving the Other Parent: The other parent must be legally notified of the lawsuit. This is typically done through a process server that delivers the court documents.
  3. Temporary orders: In many cases, either parent can request temporary orders from the court. These orders can establish temporary custody, child support, and visitation arrangements while the case is ongoing.
  4. Mediation: Texas courts often require parents to go through mediation before going to trial. Mediation is a process where both parents work with a neutral third party to try and reach an agreement on custody and visitation.
  5. Parenting Classes: In some jurisdictions, parents may be required to complete parenting classes before proceeding with the custody case.
  6. Discovery Phase: If the case is contested, both parties enter the discovery phase, where they gather evidence, including witness testimony, financial records, and other relevant documentation.
  7. Custody Evaluation: The court may order a custody evaluation, where a mental health professional evaluates the family, the home environment, and the child’s relationship with each parent to make a recommendation to the court.
  8. Trial: If the parents cannot reach an agreement through mediation, the case will go to trial. At trial, each parent can present their evidence and arguments, and the judge will make a decision based on the best interest of the child.
  9. Issuance of Orders: After the trial, the judge will issue a final order that outlines the custody and visitation arrangements, child support, and any other relevant decisions.
  10. Modification: If circumstances change significantly, either parent can request a modification of the custody order.

It’s important to note that each case is unique, and the process can vary depending on the specific circumstances. Legal representation is highly recommended to navigate the intricacies of the legal system and to advocate effectively for the best interests of the child.

Child Support and Child Custody

How Child Support Factors into Child Custody

Child support and child custody are two distinct but interrelated matters in Texas. Child custody refers to the legal and physical responsibility of caring for a child, including making decisions regarding their upbringing and residence. Child support, on the other hand, is the financial assistance provided by one parent to the other for the benefit of the child. The amount of child support may be impacted by the custody arrangement, yet they remain separate legal matters.

In Texas, child support is determined based on the income of the obligor using a percentage-of-income formula that takes into account the number of children involved. However, child support decisions are distinct from custody decisions, and the amount of child support does not directly affect custody determinations.

Financial stability is a key factor in Texas custody decisions, as the courts prioritize the child’s best interests, and the financial stability of each parent is taken into account. Child support payments and visitation rights are considered independently in Texas, so child support payments do not have an influence on visitation rights.

Visitation and Child Custody

How Visitation Factors into Child Custody

In Texas, visitation is an important component of child custody arrangements, officially termed as “possession and access.” While custody (or conservatorship) addresses who has the legal right to make decisions on behalf of the child, visitation focuses on how each parent spends time with the child. Here’s an explanation of how visitation factors into child custody in Texas:

  1. Standard Possession Order (SPO): Texas has a Standard Possession Order, which is commonly used to outline visitation schedules. The SPO typically provides a detailed schedule for weekends, holidays, birthdays, and summer vacations, ensuring that both parents have regular, ongoing contact with their children. The SPO is presumed to be in the best interest of the child but can be modified if needed.
  2. Flexibility for Distance: The SPO has different provisions based on the distance between the parents’ residences. If parents live more than 100 miles apart, the non-custodial parent’s visitation schedule might be adjusted to account for the distance, often with longer but less frequent visits.
  3. Consideration of Child’s Age: Texas law recognizes that younger children might have different visitation needs. For very young children, courts may order a visitation schedule that allows for more frequent but shorter visits to help maintain a consistent relationship with both parents.
  4. Customized Schedules: While the SPO is standard, parents can agree to a different visitation schedule if it better suits their circumstances and serves the best interests of the child. These customized schedules can be made part of the court order.
  5. Safety and Welfare Considerations: In situations where there are concerns about the child’s safety and welfare (such as in cases of domestic violence, substance abuse, or neglect), visitation might be supervised or restricted. The court may set specific conditions to ensure the child’s safety during visitation.
  6. Enforcement of Visitation Rights: If one parent denies the other parent visitation as outlined in the court order, legal remedies are available to enforce the order. It’s important for both parents to adhere to the agreed-upon schedule unless a modification is officially approved by the court.
  7. Modification of Visitation Orders: As with custody orders, visitation orders can be modified if there is a material and substantial change in circumstances and if the modification is in the best interest of the child.

Visitation is designed to maintain a healthy and active relationship between the child and both parents. It’s an integral part of the custody arrangement in Texas, ensuring that children have continued and meaningful contact with each parent after a separation or divorce.

modifying child custody orders

Changing Child Custody Orders in Texas

In Texas, once a child custody order is established, it remains in effect until the child reaches the age of 18 or graduates from high school, whichever occurs later. However, circumstances can change, and a custody order that once suited a family’s needs may no longer be appropriate. Texas law allows for the modification of child custody orders, but there are specific criteria and procedures that must be followed.

Criteria for Modification:

Material and Substantial Change:

The parent requesting the modification must demonstrate that a material and substantial change in circumstances has occurred since the last custody order. This can include changes in the child’s needs due to aging, a parent’s relocation, changes in a parent’s job schedule, health issues, or any other significant change impacting the child’s well-being.

Best Interest of the Child:

As with initial custody decisions, the primary consideration in any modification is the best interest of the child. The court will assess whether the proposed change positively affects the child’s physical, emotional, and psychological development.

Child’s Preference:

In Texas, a child who is 12 years old or older can express to the court their preference regarding primary residence. While the child’s preference is considered, it is not the sole factor in the court’s decision.

Procedure for Modification:

  1. Filing a Petition: The process begins with filing a petition for modification in the same court that issued the original custody order. The petition must detail the reasons for the requested change.
  2. Serving the Other Parent: The other parent must be officially served with the petition, giving them an opportunity to respond.
  3. Temporary Orders: In some cases, temporary orders may be necessary while the modification case is pending.
  4. Mediation: As with initial custody cases, mediation is often required to attempt to reach an agreement without going to trial.
  5. Trial: If the parents cannot agree on the modifications through mediation, the case will proceed to trial. Here, evidence of the changed circumstances and arguments for why the modification serves the child’s best interest will be presented.
  6. Issuance of Modified Orders: If the judge agrees to the modification, a new order will be issued, outlining the new custody arrangement.

It’s important to note that modifying a custody order can be a legally complex and emotionally challenging process. Legal representation is highly recommended to navigate this process effectively. Additionally, parents should be aware that frequent or frivolous requests for modification are generally not well-received by courts and can be detrimental to the child’s well-being.
why an experienced attorney is necessary

Why an Experienced Southlake Child Custody Lawyer is Essential

When navigating the complexities of child custody in Southlake, Texas, hiring an experienced child custody lawyer is crucial. Child custody cases are emotionally charged and legally intricate, making skilled legal guidance essential. Here’s why having an experienced Southlake child custody lawyer is vital:

  1. Understanding Local Laws: Child custody laws vary by state, and a Southlake attorney will have in-depth knowledge of Texas family law. They can navigate the specific legal landscape of Southlake and Tarrant County, ensuring all local court regulations are considered.
  2. Protecting Your Rights: An experienced lawyer will vigorously advocate for your parental rights, ensuring your voice is heard in court. They understand the stakes involved and are committed to protecting your interests and those of your children.
  3. Negotiating Skills: Skilled in negotiation, a custody lawyer can work towards an agreement that is in the best interest of your child and acceptable to all parties. This can often lead to more amicable resolutions and avoid the stress of a court trial.
  4. Expertise in Court Proceedings: If your case goes to trial, an experienced attorney is invaluable. They know how to present your case effectively, provide compelling evidence, and argue on your behalf.
  5. Reducing Emotional Stress: Dealing with custody issues can be emotionally draining. A lawyer helps alleviate some of this stress by handling legal complexities, allowing you to focus on your family’s well-being.
  6. Objective Advice: An experienced lawyer can provide objective advice and guidance, helping you make informed decisions during a time when emotions might otherwise cloud your judgment.

How Varghese Summersett Family Law Group Can Help

Varghese Summersett Family Law Group is well-equipped to handle the intricacies of child custody cases in Southlake and the surrounding cities. Here’s how we can assist:

  1. Experienced Attorneys: The firm boasts a team of seasoned attorneys who specialize in family law and have a deep understanding of child custody matters. Our experience is invaluable in navigating the complexities of custody disputes.
  2. Personalized Approach: Understanding that each family situation is unique, Varghese Summersett provides personalized legal strategies tailored to the specific needs and circumstances of your case.
  3. Strong Advocacy: The firm is committed to protecting your rights and the best interests of your children, offering strong advocacy both in and out of the courtroom.
  4. Negotiation and Mediation Skills: With a strong emphasis on negotiation and mediation, we strive to reach amicable settlements that benefit all parties, particularly the children involved.
  5. Litigation Expertise: In cases where a trial is unavoidable, the firm’s lawyers are equipped with the expertise to effectively represent and advocate for your interests in court.
  6. Support and Guidance: Throughout the process, Varghese Summersett provides ongoing support and guidance, ensuring that you are informed and prepared at every step of your custody case.

By choosing Varghese Summersett Family Law Group, you gain a partner who is dedicated to achieving a resolution that prioritizes the well-being of your children and respects your parental rights. Call 817-900-3220 to schedule a consultation with an experienced Southlake child custody lawyer today.

Turner Thornton

Turner Thornton

Turner Thornton is a well-known family law attorney in Fort Worth who leads the Varghese Summersett Family Law Group. Turner has successfully guided hundreds of individuals and families through the most trying period of their lives as a skilled negotiator and savvy litigator. Turner Thornton concentrates his practice on family law, including divorce, child custody, contempt, and modification cases. He is experienced in handling estates with significant and unique assets that can be difficult to value. He finds amicable resolutions where possible to conserve his client's resources, but knows how to take the gloves off if the situation calls for it. He has had remarkable results in and outside of the courtroom based largely on his ability and desire to understand his clients' needs and guide them on the pathway to what success looks like for them.
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