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Child Custody Laws in Texas - What You Should Know

Updated: Jul 25, 2023


Child custody laws in Texas dictate how parents can obtain custody of their children in the event of a divorce, separation, or other legal disputes. In Texas, custody decisions are made based on the child's best interests. In most cases, joint custody is preferred as it allows both parents to have a meaningful relationship with their child. However, if one parent has a history of abuse or neglect towards the child or other family members, sole custody may be granted to the other parent.


Custody arrangements can be modified based on certain grounds and requirements, and unmarried parents also have rights to custody of their children, which can be established through the process of paternity determination. It is important for parents to understand these laws and work with an experienced family law attorney to ensure their rights are protected and their children's best interests are served.


Types of Child Custody Arrangements


In Texas, child custody arrangements fall under two categories: legal custody and physical custody. Legal custody is the right to make major decisions about the child's life, including medical care, education, and religion. Physical custody refers to where the child lives.


There are different types of legal and physical custody arrangements available in Texas. For legal custody, sole or joint custody can be awarded to one or both parents based on their ability to make decisions in the best interest of the child. In terms of physical custody, primary or shared custody can be awarded depending on each parent's ability to provide a suitable living environment for the child.


Dad with his son smiling

Additionally, there are other variations of child custody arrangements such as split parenting where each parent has primary physical care of at least one child, bird nesting where children stay in one home while parents rotate in and out based on an agreed-upon schedule, and supervised visitation when there may be safety concerns with a particular parent having unsupervised access to the child. These options ultimately allow for flexibility while ensuring that children receive proper care from both parents during separation or divorce proceedings.


Texas also recognizes three types of conservatorship, as part of child custody arrangements: joint managing conservatorship (JMC), sole managing conservatorship (SMC), and possessory conservatorship. Joint managing conservators have equal decision-making rights regarding important matters such as education and healthcare. Sole conservatorship grants one parent exclusive rights to make these decisions while the other has limited decision-making abilities. Possessory conservatorship refers to a non-custodial parent's visitation rights.


Factors Influencing Child Custody Decisions


In Texas, child custody decisions are made based on the best interests of the child. This means that the court considers a variety of factors when determining custody arrangements, including:


  1. Parent-child relationship: The court will consider the quality of the relationship between each parent and the child. Factors that may be considered include each parent's involvement in the child's life, the child's emotional ties to each parent, and any history of abuse or neglect.

  2. The child's wishes: If the child is old enough and mature enough to express a preference, their wishes may be considered. However, the court is not bound by the child's preference and will ultimately make a decision based on what is in the child's best interests.

  3. The mental and physical health of the parties involved: The court will consider the physical and mental health of both parents and the child when making custody decisions. Factors that may be considered include any history of mental illness or substance abuse.

  4. Any history of abuse or neglect: The court will consider any history of abuse or neglect when making custody decisions. If there is evidence of abuse or neglect, the court may award sole custody to the non-abusive parent or limit the abusive parent's visitation rights.

  5. Stability of the child's environment: The court will consider the stability of the child's home environment, including their school and community when making custody decisions. Factors that may be considered include the child's current living arrangements, the quality of the child's education, and the child's involvement in extracurricular activities.

It is important to note that these factors are not exhaustive, and the court may consider additional factors depending on the unique circumstances of each case. Ultimately, the court's goal is to ensure that the custody arrangement is in the best interests of the child.


Mother playing soccer with her kids

Parenting Plan Requirements


In Texas, a parenting plan must include certain requirements to be considered valid by the court. These requirements may vary depending on the specific circumstances of the case, but they generally include information about how decision-making responsibilities will be divided between parents and how visitation or possession time will be structured. It is important to note that parenting plans are not one-size-fits-all documents and should be tailored to meet the needs of each family.


Additionally, in Texas, it is mandatory for parents to attend a parenting education program before finalizing a parenting plan. The purpose of this program is to help parents understand how their behavior can affect their children during and after the divorce process. This education requirement aims to ensure that both parents have access to resources that can help them make informed decisions about their children's well-being.


Overall, creating an effective parenting plan requires careful consideration and collaboration between both parents involved. A well-crafted plan can provide structure and consistency for children during what can be a difficult period of transition in their lives.


Rights of Unmarried Parents


In Texas, unmarried parents have the same rights as married parents when it comes to child custody. Both parents are considered legal guardians of their children and have equal rights to make decisions regarding their upbringing. However, in the absence of a court order or agreement between both parties, the mother is typically granted primary custody.


It's important to note that establishing paternity is crucial for unmarried fathers seeking custody or visitation rights. This can be done through a voluntary acknowledgment of paternity or a court-ordered DNA test. Once paternity is established, fathers can then petition the court for custody or visitation schedule.


Additionally, unmarried couples may face unique challenges when it comes to financial support for their minor child. Unlike married couples going through divorce where child support calculations are based on income and expenses, there isn't always clear guidance on how much financial support an unmarried parent should provide. As such, it's recommended that both parties come to an agreement on child support payments or seek legal assistance from a family law attorney if necessary.


To obtain custody as an unmarried parent, the parent must file a petition with the court and provide evidence demonstrating that they are a fit and capable parent. Factors that may be considered include the parent's involvement in the child's life, the quality of the parent-child relationship, and the parent's ability to provide for the child's needs.


Dad hanging out with his son


Contested Custody Battles


Contested custody battles can be emotionally exhausting and financially draining for both parties involved. The state's family law courts prioritize the best interests of the child when determining custody arrangements, which may include joint or sole custody. However, if the parents cannot reach an agreement on their own, a judge will decide based on evidence presented in court.


Factors that are considered during a contested custody battle in Texas include each parent's ability to provide for the child's physical and emotional needs, any history of domestic violence or drug abuse by either parent and the child's wishes if they are old enough to express them. It is important for both parties to have strong legal representation during this process as it can impact their relationship with their child for years to come.


If you find yourself facing a contested custody battle in Texas, you can discuss your case with one of our experienced child custody lawyers who can guide you through the process and fight for your parental rights. With proper legal guidance and support, you can ensure that your child's best interests are protected while also advocating for your own relationship with them.


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