Articles Posted in Child Custody

iStock-839381426Texas family law includes a presumption that parents should be appointed joint managing conservators.  The law does not require, however, that the parents be given equal possession just because they are joint managing conservators.  Tex. Fam. Code § 153.135.  There is a rebuttable presumption that the standard possession order is in the child’s best interest, but that presumption only applies to children who are at least three years old.  For younger children, the court must consider “all relevant factors.”  The statute specifically requires the court consider who provided care before and during the proceedings, how separation from either party may affect the child, the availability and willingness of the parties to care for the child, and the child’s needs, along with other specified factors. Tex. Fam. Code § 153.254.

A father recently challenged the possession schedule and decision-making authority granted to the mother, arguing in part that the court should have awarded equal time or the standard possession schedule.

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iStock-182358076Sometimes one or both parents move after a custody order is issued.  When parents move, they often want to modify custody and visitation.  However, if both parents have moved out of state, issues of jurisdiction may arise.  In a recent case, a father sought a Texas custody modification of a North Carolina custody order.

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iStock-1175949984Courts often keep siblings together; however, in some Texas child custody cases, it is in the children’s best interest for them to be split up. When one or more children live with one parent and one or more children live with the other parent, each parent may be obligated to pay child support to the other.  A father recently challenged how the court calculated the child support the mother would have to pay him after he received custody of one of their four children. In issuing its ruling, the appellate court’s opinion turned on the definition of “multiple households” under the Texas Family Code.

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iStock-1183307633Texas family law has a strong presumption that it is in the child’s best interest to give custody to a parent. Generally, the court must appoint sole managing conservatorship to the parent instead of a non-parent unless it finds doing so would not be in the child’s best interest due to significant impairment of the child’s emotional development or physical health. Tex. Fam. Code § 153.131(a). What if the parent lives in another country? A Texas appeals court recently considered this issue.

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Many couples attempt to reconcile after breaking up or divorcing.  Moving back in together can effect a parent’s obligation to provide child support.  If the parent who is obligated to pay child support is contributing to the support of the household, he or she may be entitled to a credit for their child-support obligation.  In a recent case, a mother challenged a court’s order giving the father a credit against back child support for the period of time when they had lived together with the children.

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A court may order one joint managing conservator to pay Texas child support to another joint managing conservator.  Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 153.138.  The child’s best interest is the primary consideration in determining child support.  There may, therefore, be occasions where a court orders the parent with primary physical custody to nonetheless pay child support to the other parent, when they are both joint managing conservators.  A mother recently challenged an order to pay child support when she had been awarded the exclusive right to determine the child’s primary residence.

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TiStock-637904234exas custody disputes usually involve the children’s parents.  When both parents unexpectedly pass away, however, their families may fight over who gets guardianship of the children. Generally, if the parents did not designate a guardian, a grandparent would be awarded guardianship.  If multiple grandparents seek guardianship, then the court will appoint one of them, considering the circumstances and child’s best interest.  If no grandparent seeks guardianship, then the court will appoint the next of kin, considering the circumstances and the child’s best interests if there are multiple people with the same degree of kinship.  Tex. Est. Code Ann. § 1104.052.  A minor who is at least 12 years old may be able to select a guardian, if the court finds the selection is in the child’s best interest and approves.  Tex. Est. Code Ann. § 1104.054.

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In an ideal situation, child custody may be resolved by agreement, potentially following mediation.  In some cases, however, Texas child custody cases become long protracted affairs with disputes that last for years.

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Parents have fundamental rights to make certain decisions regarding their children.  These rights can make it difficult for a non-parent to gain custody or visitation rights to children over the objection of a fit parent in a Texas custody case.  A Texas appeals court recently held a trial court could not award an unrelated person visitation and access to children when the father was fit.

The father filed for divorce in 2018.  The court signed temporary orders naming the mother and father joint managing conservators of the children.

A person who was unrelated to the children, identified as “B.B.,” intervened and requested a temporary restraining order.  She alleged the children had been living with her during the case.  She claimed the mother had mental health problems and had physically abused one of the children.  The court issued a temporary restraining order and ordered the parents not to remove the children from B.B.’s possession until a hearing occurred.

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When a parent wants to modify a Texas custody order, they generally must show that the change is in the child’s best interest and that there has been a material and substantial change in circumstances since the prior order.  Whether a material and substantial change has occurred is fact-specific and varies depending on the circumstances of the case.  Recently, a father successfully argued that false allegations of sexual abuse and the resulting investigations constituted a material and substantial change in circumstances justifying a custody modification.

The father petitioned to modify the Order in Suit Affecting the Parent-Child Relationship to give him the exclusive right to designate the child’s primary residence. The previous order gave the mother that right and included a modified standard possession order until the child turned five, at which time the father would begin a standard possession order.

The mother expressed concerns the child may have been sexually abused during the first extended summer visitation with the father under the standard possession order.  The father let the child go back to the mother’s home for a weekend because she was homesick.  The mother saw bruises on the child’s inner thigh and pubic bone and the child had a urinary tract infection.  The mother took the child to a clinic and then for an examination by a sexual assault nurse examiner (“SANE”).  She also took her for a forensic interview at the child Advocacy Center.

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