An Overview of Texas Child Custody Laws
One of the most difficult and emotional aspects of a divorce is deciding how to work out child custody in a way that is best for the children.
Unfortunately, even when parents try their best to insulate their children from the conflict, the divorce process can create tremendous turmoil and parents need to take special care to ensure that the divorce process does not negatively affect the children.
At the Larson Law Office, we understand that it’s best to solve custody disputes as soon as possible for the sake of your children.
Our family law attorneys know how to navigate Texas custody laws and are committed to helping you reach a quick, successful resolution.
Different Types of Child Custody
One of the most important steps in developing a parenting plan is setting up a custody arrangement with the opposing party. In Texas, there are two custody agreement options: joint conservatorship and sole conservatorship.
Child custody laws in Texas define joint custody—known in Texas as joint conservatorship—as an arrangement where both parents share in all decision-making regarding their child’s upbringing. This includes education, medical treatment, and more.
Physical possession of the child is only one part conservatorship. A custody order will grant one parent the right to determine the primary residence of the child. Unless the parties agree to a possession schedule, the court will also determine how much access the non-primary parent will have. This will often be either the standard or extended standard schedules outlined by the Texas Family Code. Custom schedules are also possible, particularly where the parties agree. And even with one parent designated as the primary residential parent, it is possible to have a 50/50 split, such as a week-on-week-off schedule.
Sole custody—known as sole managing conservatorship—usually comes into play when the behavior of one parent is detrimental to the well-being of the child in some way. This includes abuse, neglect, or drug and alcohol addiction. If the court finds that these circumstances exist, these situations can result in the non-offending party being awarded sole managing conservatorship. This means they have exclusive control over decisions regarding the child.
A party who is not named as a managing conservator will generally be named as a possessory conservator, meaning that they have rights to visitation. However, it is possible that the court will grant them only supervised visitation or restrict them from visiting at all.
How to File for Child Custody in Texas
Before you file, child custody laws in Texas require you to prove that your child’s home state is Texas. This means that your child must have lived at least six consecutive months in Texas with a parent or legal guardian before filing.
If your child meets the criteria, you should begin filling out the necessary paperwork with an experienced Texas family law attorney.
1. Fill Out Paperwork
The paperwork you fill out for child custody depends on your marital situation. You will either file a suit affecting the parent–child relationship (SAPCR) or file for a divorce. In cases where you and your spouse have children under 18, the divorce includes a SAPCR.
If you believe that the other parent will do something damaging or dangerous as retaliation, you can file for a temporary restraining order.
For divorce cases with children under 18 years old, you must complete the following forms:
- Original Petition for Divorce,
- Out-of-State Party Declaration,
- Civil Case Information Sheet, and
- Petition in Suit Affecting the Parent–Child Relationship (SAPCR).
If you are unable to pay court fees, you may also need to fill out a Statement of Inability to Afford Court Costs. Once you fill out these forms, you must file them with the district court in the county where your child resides.
2. Notify the Attorney General’s Office If Required
If your child has ever received benefits related to Medicaid, food stamps, or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), you must submit a copy of your petition to the attorney general’s office by email, mail, or fax.
If this does not apply to you, skip to step three.
3. Inform the Respondent
The other parent (respondent) must be informed about the petition. You can either do this by serving them court papers or asking them to fill out a form in person. Keep in mind that hiring someone to serve court papers usually costs money.
4. Wait for the Respondent to File
At this point, you do not need to do anything else. Wait to see if the opposing party files a response. Once they do, your next step is to attend a hearing or mediation to work out the details of the custody agreement.
5. Attend Mediation or a Court Hearing
Child custody laws in Texas allow parents to create their own custody agreement through mediation if they don’t want a judge to decide for them. If you have trouble coming up with an agreement in mediation, you can take the dispute to court. However, an experienced Texas family law attorney can help you avoid going to court and solve your custody dispute during mediation.
Need Help Navigating Child Custody Laws in Texas? Contact an Experienced Family Law Attorney
Most parents just want what is best for their child. If you are considering filing for child custody or are in the middle of a custody dispute, you need an experienced family law attorney in Texas who will aggressively fight for your children.
At the Larson Law Office, we have years of experience with child custody cases throughout the state of Texas. We offer personalized service so that you don’t have to go through this alone. To schedule a free consultation, give us a call at 713-221-9088.