Determining child custody can be one of the most emotionally challenging and complicated parts of a divorce. The courts will often award joint custody to the parents (known in legal terms in Texas as “joint managing conservators”) because family experts believe that children are best cared for and nurtured when both parents are involved in their lives. Parents with joint custody are encouraged to work together on various parenting decisions and obligations. These often include education, health care, religion, being a person notified in case of emergency, determining the child’s ability to travel, and managing the child’s estate. However, one may be the custodial parent involved in all the major decisions but is not as active in the child’s life day-to-day for one reason or another.
Unfortunately, parents do not always see eye to eye on what is best for the children, their role as a parent, visitation arrangements or possession orders. These disputes can lead to litigation before a judge.
Common issues weighed
Parents should be aware of how the courts make custody determinations, so they can be better prepared to go through the process or manage expectations with the help of his or her respective attorney(s). Each child’s situation is unique, but common issues the courts weigh include:
- The physical and emotional health of the child;
- The age of the child;
- The child’s relationship with each parent, both historically and at present;
- Each parents’ ability to meet the child’s needs;
- The child’s ties to home, community or school, and siblings (if any); and
- Each parents’ current physical and mental health issues.
Children’s wishes are considered
Children who are 12 to 18 years old can express their preference on these matters, particularly their choice of conservator, residency and other matters relating to custody. Judges may also interview younger children. While the child’s thinking is taken into consideration, the judge must consider the entirety of the circumstances when making their custody decision, and the stated preferences of a child are just one of many variables to be considered, and not solely determinative.
Judges generally will recognize if a parent coerces, pressures, bribes, or imparts undue influence upon the children, which can backfire for the parent. The children should share their opinion and let the parents focus on finding a workable solution.
Legal advocacy can help
Parents in a custody dispute often find it helpful to consult with an experienced, Board-Certified Family Law expert attorney who can help navigate child custody matters here in Texaswith a deep understanding of the legal process involved.