In a way, unmarried or divorcing mothers and fathers are much like Republicans and Democrats. Most Republicans and Democrats legitimately want what is best for the people. But they have very different visions. So, voters often look to specific issues to decide which candidate to vote for. Likewise, as mentioned, most parents want what is best for their children. To distinguish between these visions, many Tarrant County judges look to the child custody factors listed in the Texas Family Code. Some notable ones include:
- Child’s Special Needs: To an extent, special needs are a child support issue. But there is more involved. Frankly, some parents have the mental, emotional, and other tools to successfully deal with some disabilities, and for one reason or another, some parents lack these skills.
- Child’s Preference: Contrary to popular myth, children over age 12 cannot “choose” a custodial parent in Texas. However, children of this age can express a preference. The judge or jury has the final word. Furthermore, experienced family law judges and social workers can tell when a parent has coached or pressured a child.
- Parent’s Preference: In many cases, parents explicitly express a preference. Some are quite willing to be weekend parents in some circumstances. Other times, the expression is indirect. Parents who showed little interest in soccer games and school plays during the marriage usually do not make very good residential custodians.
- Status Quo: Usually, by the time a parent files a legal action, an informal timeshare arrangement is already in place. If this informal arrangement is working, even if it has flaws, most judges would rather leave it in place. Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t know.
Agreements between the parties might be the most important child custody factor. There’s a strong presumption in Texas family law for agreed orders. Usually, as long as the agreement is not clearly contrary to a social worker’s recommendation or the obvious best interests of the child, the judge will approve it.
Approval is even easier to obtain if the timesharing agreement roughly conforms to the traditional every other weekend and every other holiday split. Geographic distance between the mother and father could be a factor. Some times might need adjustment. Verified allegations of current physical, emotional, or other abuse could affect the schedule as well. Most judges at least limit parent-child contact in these situations.
A major problem with the traditional arrangement, at least as far as some people are concerned, is that it results in about a 70-30 timeshare division. So, although an Arlington child custody lawyer might have to sell the plan to the judge, there are some alternatives available, such as:
- Extended Weekend: This plan is usually the easiest one to sell. Simply by starting weekends on Thursday and ending them on Monday, the timeshare division comes much closer to 50-50.
- Block Scheduling: This alternative is quite popular among busy families. The children spend a block of time, usually two weeks, with Parent A, then a similar block of time with Parent B, and then the cycle repeats. Except some minor adjustments around major holidays, this schedule remains in place all year.
- Empty Nest: This alternative only works in limited cases, but it’s usually very good for the children. They stay in one place, usually the family house, and the parents swap residences.
Both interim and final child custody orders are subject to future modification. Generally, a judge will change the visitation schedule if circumstances have materially, substantially, and permanently changed.
All child custody determinations must be in the best interests of the children. For a confidential consultation with an experienced child custody lawyer in Arlington, contact the Welch Law Firm PLLC. We routinely handle matters in Tarrant County and nearby jurisdictions.