FAQs About Child Custody and Support
A fundamental rule in child custody cases is that course make decisions based on what is in the best interests of your children. Divorces are traumatic experiences for children. For this reason, the family judge wants to help ensure that all other aspects of your children’s lives are as stable as possible.
Here are some of the more common questions we’re asked regarding child custody and support. Each family’s case is different. At Lyttle Law Firm PLLC, our seasoned family lawyers work to achieve the best solutions for you and your children. We also work to keep your children out of marital conflict as much as possible.How Does Custody Work in Texas?
Texas uses the term “conservatorship” to describe the parent/child relationship when parents divorce. Unless the parents reach their own agreement (called a parenting plan), the family judge will determine which parent is the conservator of the child, the terms of the conservatorship, and the right of the other parent to visitation. Judges do need to approve a parenting plan too.
There are two types of conservator arrangements:
- Sole managing conservatorship (SMC)
- Joint managing conservatorship (JMC)
Generally, the conservator decides where the child lives (the child’s primary residence), consents to any medical care, has the right to attend school functions, makes education decisions for the child, decides the child’s religious upbringing, and other daily and necessary functions. The sole custodian also has the right to receive child support. The full list of rights of a sole conservator is set forth in Sec. 153.132 of the Texas Family Code. Generally, joint conservators have the same rights but share the responsibilities.
In a joint conservatorship, both parents make the conservator decisions. In a sole conservatorship, only that parent makes the conservator decisions. You should know that Texas prefers joint conservatorships unless there’s a good reason for a sole conservatorship such as family violence, substance abuse, or a failure of one parent to be involved in a child’s life.Can a Child Custody Agreement/Order be Modified?
Yes. Again, the key is what is in the best interests of the child. The parents can agree to a modification on their own - which should be approved by the court. Alternatively, a parent can request that the family judge modify the order. The family judge will consider the following factors in any modification request:
- The need for a parent to relocate due to work
- If you or the other parent has health problems
- If there’s any indication of child abuse or neglect
- A remarriage
- A parent becomes unemployed
- A parent develops a substance abuse problem
Section 153.134 of the Family Code provides that the court, if there is no agreement on a parenting plan, will consider the following factors in deciding if there should be a joint conservatorship:
- The physical, psychological, or emotional needs and development of the child
- The parent’s ability to prioritize the child’s welfare and reach shared decisions on behalf of the child
- How well each parent can work with the other parent on behalf of the child
- Whether both parents participated in child rearing before the filing of the suit
- How close the residences of the parents are
- The child’s preference, if any, regarding the selection of a primary residence – but only if the child is 12 years of age or older
- Any other relevant factors
The courts are required to make a decision about sole or joint managing conservatorship based on the best interests of the children. There is no presumption in favor of a mother or father. Each case is decided on that family’s situation.Do Children Have any Input on the Child Conservatorship Decisions?
The family judge will consider a child’s preferences – but only when they are 12 years of age or older. The preferences of older children are just one factor among all the other considerations.What Happens if a Parent Wants to Move out of State?
Either parent can seek to modify a custody arrangement if you or your spouse wants to move to another state. Normally, revised parenting plans are possible – provided the primary residence of the child doesn’t change. If a parent wants to take the child with them, then there’s likely to be a contest.
The new custody order will need to decide whether to change sole/joint managing conservatorship roles of each parent – especially if a parent wants to relocate with the child. The visitation schedules will normally be different since long-distances make travel harder. Many other practical decisions will need to be addressed. As always, the best interests of the child are paramount.How is Child Custody Handled Prior to the Granting of the Divorce?
Family judges will issue temporary orders which determine where the child lives, who the primary caretaker is, and what child support is made – while the divorce is pending.Do Courts Evaluate the Child?
A court evaluation may be required if custody is being contested. Generally, the family judge will appoint a professional to interview the child if conservatorship is being contested. The professional, such as a child psychologist, reviews the health and well-being issues of the child. The family judge, in some cases, may interview the child in chambers.What’s Involved in a Child Conservatorship Evaluation?
A judge can order a child custody evaluation. The order requests that a psychologist, psychiatrist, therapist, or licensed social worker investigate the child’s relationships with his/her parents and others. Common reasons for an evaluation are concerns about family violence, child abuse or neglect, substance abuse, a child with special needs, and requests to move out of state.
The investigator usually interviews both parents and the children. He/she may also interview teachers, anyone living in the households, and anyone who has input into the child’s needs.The investigator may conduct background checks on the parents such as any contacts with Child Protective Services.
The psychologist or other appointed evaluator will then give his/her findings to the judge - along with a recommendation. Some evaluations can take months or even longer.
Often, parents reach a conservatorship/parenting plan agreement based on the evaluation.How Long Does the Duty to pay Child Support Last?
An order to pay child support lasts, in Texas, until the child turns 18 or until the child graduates high school. Child support also ends if the child dies or if the child becomes emancipated through marriage or a court ruling.
Child support may continue throughout the child’s lifetime (including adulthood) if the child has a disability.Do Stepparents Have Visitation Rights?
One of the sad parts of a divorce is that your relationship with stepchildren may be in jeopardy unless you adopted the stepchild. Generally, once the divorce occurs, the biological parents decide whether a divorced stepchild should continue to see the child.
Stepparents do have the right to file a petition for visitation. A family judge may authorize stepparent visitation in cases where some or all of the following factors are present:
- The stepchild had a long relationship with the stepparent
- The stepchild and stepparent had a close relationship
- The stepparent took an active role in the stepchild’s life
- The stepparent provided financial help to the stepchild
At Lyttle Law Firm, we understand how concerned you are about your child’s well-being after a divorce. You want to have as much control as possible over your child’s upbringing while balancing the need of your child to have two supportive parents. Our Austin and San Marcos family lawyers are advocates for parents. We represent parents in Travis, Hays, Comal, Williamson, Bell, Caldwell, Burnett, Llano, and Guadalupe Counties. Call us at 512.215.5225 or fill out our online form to schedule an appointment