Texas decides custody and visitation in the child’s best interest

Texas law concerning child custody is complex and emphasizes joint responsibility of parents when possible.

To help alleviate the stress of divorce when a child or children are involved, it can help to understand the state law that will apply to determine child custody and visitation matters after the marriage ends. In Texas, these decisions ultimately turn on what the court believes will be in the child's best interest.

A parent who consults with a knowledgeable family lawyer as early as possible will be able to obtain the knowledge needed to anticipate what is likely to happen and what path would be smart to take throughout the divorce process. A skilled divorce attorney can assist with negotiation and fight for the parent's rights and goals at trial, if necessary.

In Dallas, legal counsel Paula Lock Smyth of Paula Lock Smyth Law Offices represents family law clients throughout the Dallas area and beyond in divorce, custody and related family law matters.

In many cases, the divorcing parties can come to agreement about the terms of custody and visitation that will apply after the divorce is final. This agreement is submitted to the court and is called a parenting plan.

But if the divorcing parties are not able to create an agreement that lays out the terms of residence and custody, and what the visitation schedule will look like, the judge will make those decisions.

Texas statute declares that the state's public policy is for children whose parents have acted in their best interest to continue with frequent contact with those parents; for kids to have "safe, stable, and nonviolent" homes; and for divorcing parents to be encouraged to continue to jointly raise their children.

A history of family violence or child abuse will severely impact matters of custody and visitation in Texas.

The court is also required to base custody and visitation decisions on parental qualifications rather than on the genders of parents or their children.

As background, Texas law uses some unique legal terms in this context. For example, the term managing conservatorship means custody, and possessory conservatorship or access for visitation.

The managing conservatorship of a child may be solely or jointly appointed. The law requires appointment of one or both parents as conservators unless family violence or sexual abuse is at issue, or appointment of a parent would "significantly impair the child's physical health or emotional development."

The law also establishes a rebuttable presumption that having the parents serve jointly is in the child's best interest. In deciding if conservatorship will be joint, the court looks at all relevant factors to the child's best interest, including whether joint appointment will benefit the child's needs and development, the parental ability to put the child first and make decisions together; parental ability to encourage a relationship with the other parent; and whether both participated in child rearing before; how close the parents live to each other.

A judge may consider the preference of a child at least 12 about which parent should decide where the child will live.

In a joint conservatorship, one parent normally will be given the responsibility to decide the child's primary residence and the court will order whether other decision making, physical care and support responsibilities will be divided or shared within the joint conservatorship.

If a parent is appointed as sole managing conservator, he or she has the power to decide the child's primary residence and make major decisions concerning medical, mental health and educational matters and more.

This article is just a short introduction of Texas custody law. An attorney can answer detailed questions concerning a particular family situation.

Keywords: Texas, child custody, parent, child, visitation, divorce, marriage, best interest, parenting plan, residence, court, judge, managing conservatorship, possessory conservatorship, access, joint conservatorship, factor, sole