A judge will always decide a child custody matter on a case-by-case basis. This is an overview of common questions people new to a child custody case may have.
What Is a “Contested Custody” Case?
How Does a Judge Determine Custody?
The “best interest of the child” is always the focus of a child custody case. The needs of the child should always come before the needs or desires of the parents. Texas law favors both parents being involved in a child’s life – in terms of physical possession of the child and conservatorship (making decisions for the child). Texas does not favor a mother over a father or vice versa. In fact, judges are technically required to make child custody decisions without giving any consideration to a parent’s gender.
In Texas, the starting point for all custody cases is that the parents will have joint conservatorship of their children. This means that both parents will maintain rights to make decisions about their child. Despite the word “joint,” parents with joint conservatorship of their children do not necessarily have equal time with their children. Conservatorship and possession are two different things, even if people tend to lump them together under the term “custody.”
Texas law only allows one parent to designate the “primary” residence of the child, even if the parties are named “joint managing conservators” of the child. The right to designate the primary residence typically comes with a geographic restriction, to ensure that both parents can maintain frequent contact with the child. This issue is often the focus of contested custody cases because it can affect where the child attends school and whether one parent can move the child far away from the other parent.
Each family has its own history and special circumstances, and judges will carefully consider the facts of each case when deciding issues of conservatorship and possession. These facts include:
- whether a parent was a stay-at-home parent and the primary caretaker of the child before the divorce;
- which parent will encourage the child’s relationship with the other parent,
- the age of the child,
- the needs of the child, including any special needs; and
- anything a parent has done or failed to do.
In some circumstances, a court can award one parent sole managing conservatorship of a child. This will give one parent the power to make all major decisions concerning the child without obtaining the agreement of the other parent. For an award of sole managing conservatorship, there will be evidence of extreme behavior by one parent. This can include family violence, abuse, severe drug or alcohol abuse, or other conduct that threatens the safety of a child or makes it impossible for the parties to make decisions together.
Can My Child Decide Which Parent Should Have Custody?
Texas law permits a court to confer with a child. and the law requires the court to confer with a child twelve years or older if a party requests that the judge do so. However, the court will never be bound by what the child wants. It is always up to a judge to make the final decision about child custody.
How We Can Help
The Austin family lawyers at NMSB are ready and able to answer questions about your child custody case. Please contact our office to schedule an appointment. For more information on common issues relating to child custody, please also see our Frequently Asked Questions page and click on the “Child Custody” button.