Child custody arrangements are some of the most important considerations addressed in family court. Ideally, both parents share the joys and responsibilities of child-rearing equally, but when couples live apart, the child must have a permanent residence at one parent’s home, and the other parent must contribute financially through child support.
When both parents feel they should have primary- or sole custody, a protracted legal fight often ensues. Under Texas law, courts can resolve custody disputes in several ways, with joint conservatorship being the most common. Parents can also settle out of court or through mediation. Finally, if negotiations fail, they can opt for an arbitration- or court ruling.
Texas law uses the term conservatorship instead of custody. A conservatorship is a legal concept that gives the conservator the right to make decisions about the child’s life, such as schooling, religion, and other pivotal choices in a child’s upbringing.
A joint conservatorship gives parents equal power in making these critical decisions. However, the courts deem one parent the primary conservator. The child resides with the primary conservator, and the other parent must pay child support.
Disputes often center on who becomes the primary conservator. Courts make this decision based on their view of the child’s best interests.
Defining the Best Interests of the Child
Courts must follow a legal standard in determining the best interests of the child for purposes of deciding whether to award joint custody and which parent shall be the primary conservator. Texas law instructs them to consider the following factors in making a child’s best interests decision:
- The child’s wishes
- The child’s emotional and physical needs at present and in the future
- Any emotional and physical danger that threatens the child now and in the future
- The ability of each parent to be a mother or father
- Support systems available to the parents and how they promote the best interests of the child
- The plans for the child
- The stability of the proposed permanent home
- Acts or omissions of the parent(s) that indicate the existing parent-child relationship is improper
Visitation with Joint Custody
The non-primary conservator has the right to visitation with the child. When both parents agree on a visitation schedule, the court may issue a non-standard possession order. Many families prefer to create their own visitation schedules, making this an attractive outcome.
However, in some cases, the couple cannot agree on a schedule, or the primary conservator is obstructive toward visitation. In that case, the court can issue a standard possession order, which stipulates specific times the non-primary conservator takes possession of the child.
Sole Conservatorship with Visitation
Some parents wish to claim sole conservatorship, granting the other parent visitation but maintaining control of decisions about the child’s future, such as where they live, what school they attend, religious influences, and other factors.
In some cases, differences in opinion regarding how the child should be raised are at issue. In other situations, the parents may have different ideas about where the child should live, such as when one parent wishes to move to a new city with the child. In the end, if the parents cannot compromise, the court imposes its ruling based on its view of the child’s best interests.
Sole Conservatorship and Child Support
Child support works the same way whether the conservatorship is sole or joint. The parent who does not live with the child must make support payments.
Sole Conservatorship Without Visitation
Courts rarely terminate a parent’s right to visitation. The law considers parental involvement in a child’s life sacrosanct. Preventing a parent from seeing their child can do lifelong harm to a growing person. The law requires extreme circumstances to deny visitation or terminate parental rights.
For instance, if a parent has harmed the child, exposed them to criminal conduct, or endangered the child, a court may intervene. Intervention does not necessarily mean termination of parental rights. The court may choose to restrict visitation, such as by requiring supervision or limiting visitation hours and locations. Termination of parental rights only happens when the court rules it is the only option for protecting the child.
Alternations of cancellations of visitation rights do not absolve the non-conservator parent from child support. The law holds that the non-custodial parent bears financial responsibility even when visitation rights are curtailed or terminated. In addition, a parent who relocates and sees the child irregularly must continue paying support, as does a parent who declines to see their child.
Custody disputes often become heated. Most parents want to be with their children as much as possible and participate in fundamental decisions about their upbringing. The legal process of determining custody seeks to make the situation fair and work in the child’s best interest.
Call Us Today to Speak with a Bellevue Child Custody Lawyer in Bellevue, WA
Parental rights are some of the most important legal rights you will ever defend. Our experienced child custody lawyers at Aberdeen Family Law know how to fight to protect your right to parenting time, legal decisions making authority, and other important parental rights. Call (972) 914-3986 to schedule your consultation. Don’t delay – the sooner you have an attorney fighting on your side, the better protected your parental rights will be. This can prevent permanent damage to your parent-child relationship.