When Texas Courts make decisions regarding children the Court must decide what is in the best interest of the children. The standard applies whether they are part of a divorce, paternity, or other court order. Most parents can agree that the Court should act in the best interest of the children; however, they often disagree on the specifics, such as the proper support, visitation schedule, or custody terms.
The thorough Arlington child custody lawyers at the Welch Law Firm start every case with a conversation so that we understand your needs and goals in a particular case. No two children are alike nor are their cases, so we tailor an approach suited to your children and your case. We understand that some cases will require us be as aggressive as the law allows while others may require us to seek cost-effective solutions that both uphold the best interests of the children and protect your legal rights.
Best Interest in Texas
When a Court is faced with deciding the best interest of a child they will potentially look to many factors and the whole of the circumstance. It is the responsibility of the Court to weigh those factors and use its own judgment to make a decision. Different Courts may give more or less weight to certain factors.
Some notable factors include:
- Child’s Preference: Contrary to popular myth, children over age 12 cannot “choose” a custodial parent in Texas. However, once children reach the age of 12 they have the right to express their preference to the Judge of their case. The Judge may consider the preference of the child but is not bound by the decision of the child. Ultimately, the Court still must do what they believe is in the best interest of the 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 their children are not usually good candidates to be the primary parent.
- Status Quo: The Court will consider the arrangements under which the parties have been operating prior to Court. If one parent has always been the primary caregiver for the child that parent is likely to continue being the primary caregiver. If the parties have been separated and sharing the children on an equal possession schedule the Court may continue that schedule.
- Child’s Special Needs: The Court will consider the needs of the child and each parent’s ability to meet those needs in making decisions. In certain cases where the child has a disability the Court may order child support to continue even after the child is 18 and has graduated from high school.
Agreements between the parties might be the most important child custody factor. There’s a strong presumption in Texas family law for agreed orders. In most cases, 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.
Common Visitation Arrangements
Under the Texas Family Code, there is currently a presumption that one parent will be named as the “primary parent” and one parent will be provided a “standard” visitation schedule. However, the Court always has the power to deviate from the “standard” if they find another option to the be in the best interest of the child. The Court might make adjustments based on the distance between the parents, the living arrangement of the parties, the work schedules of the parties, the schedules of the children, or past patterns of the parties. Verified allegations of current physical, emotional, or other abuse could affect the schedule as well.
While the Texas Family Code does provide a “standard” schedule which includes weekend visitation, holiday visitation, and summer visitation, there are some alternatives available, such as:
- Expanded Standard Schedule: Under the Texas Family Code, any fit parent has the right to elect an expanded schedule that includes weeknight visitation during the school year. This schedule comes much closer to an equal division of the child’s time.
- 50/50 Visitation: While not provided in the Texas Family Code, the Court may order an equal possession schedule. This results in a week on week off schedule or a schedule that evenly divides the time of the child between the parents. This schedule is most commonly ordered when the parties live close together and both parents are actively involved with the child.
- Work based schedules: Certain parties have work schedules that do not allow them to exercise standard visitation schedules. For example, firefighters have schedules that can vary each month with different days off and so a Court might order a schedule that could change each month depending on a parties work schedule.
Both temporary and final visitation orders are subject to future modification. Generally, a judge will change the visitation schedule if circumstances have materially and substantially changed and the request is in the best interest of the child.
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.