Anytime the parents of a minor child decide to separate or get divorced, the child will feel the impact of that decision. In a perfect world, the parents are able to reach an amicable out of court agreement that allows both parents to continue to be an active part of raising the child post-divorce. Unfortunately, the world is not always perfect. Sometimes, parents end up in a contentious battle over custody of the child. Moreover, the issue of custody can rear its head again long after the divorce is final. If you are a father who is contemplating divorce, you need to understand your rights and responsibilities. Toward that end, the Fort Worth fathers rights attorneys at The Law Office of Jon R. Boyd explain the ins and outs of custody in Texas.
Before discussing the custody laws in the State of Texas, you need to understand some important terms. Texas does not use the terms “custody” and “visitation.” Instead, the term used to refer to a parent who has legal rights and responsibilities for a minor child is “conservator.” A parent who has the sole right to make decisions regarding the minor child has “sole managing conservatorship.” If both parents share the right to make decisions they are referred to as “joint managing conservators.” The other important term to know is “possession and access.” “Possession and access” refers to when the parents have physical custody of the children or when they can visit with the children. Texas uses two possession and access schedules, standard and extended, to help parents schedule their parenting time; however, you are not required to stick to either of those schedules if you and the child’s other parent agree to a different schedule.
There was a time when even the law presumed a mother would be granted custody of minor children in a divorce absent a compelling reason to deny her custody. That is no longer the case though. In the State of Texas, and in most other states, the law no longer favors the mother with regard to the issue of custody of the minor children in a divorce or post-divorce. In fact, in Texas, the law specifically prohibits making conservatorship (custody in Texas) decisions based on the sex of the party. The “best interest of the child” is the standard the court must use when deciding issues relating to conservatorship as well as possession and access.
As part of the divorce process, you and your spouse will be required to submit a Parenting Plan to the court for approval. At a bare minimum, your Parenting Plan will contain agreements on issues such as conservatorship, the possession and access schedule, child support, and conflict resolution steps.
Both parents continue to have a financial obligation to support the minor child after a divorce. That obligation generally continues until the child finishes high school. Typically, the parent with whom the child lives the majority of the time will be entitled to child support from the other parent. The amount of child support you will pay, if ordered to do so, will depend on your income and how any children are involved. It is important to understand that a parent cannot deny the other parent access to a child based on the fact that the parent is behind on his/her child support payments. A parent who does that could be held in contempt of court.
Once the divorce is final, the terms of the Parenting Plan becomes orders of the court. Both parties must abide by those terms, including the possession and access schedule, unless the court officially modifies them. Failing to abide by the terms is a violation of a court order and will subject you to contempt of court. The custodial arrangements can, however, be modified post-divorce if the court finds that doing so is in the best interest of the child and one of the following applies:
Both parties agree to the modification
The child is 12 years old or older and tells the court he/she wants to change his primary caretaker
The person with the right to determine the primary residence relinquishes care and possession of the child for at least 6 months
There has been a material and substantial change in the circumstances of either the child, the parent, the conservator, or another significant party.
If you have additional questions or concerns about custody in the State of Texas, contact the experienced Fort Worth fathers rights attorneys at The Law Office of Jon R. Boyd to schedule your appointment today.