Texas 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.
Many people ask: Can my children decide where they want to live in a divorce? There are many ways for a court to consider children’s input about where they want to live.
The first way is simply allowing children to talk to the judge. Section 153.009 of the Texas Family Code allows a parent to request that a judge interview the child in chambers to determine the child’s wishes regarding certain aspects of custody. If a child is over the age of 12, it is mandatory that the judge interview the child on the request of a parent. A judge may also interview a child under age 12. It is important to know that 12-year old children cannot actually decide where they where they want to live. They will not be providing the “final say.” Instead, the child’s wishes will just be one factor that the Court considers in addition to other important information. Another thing to keep in mind is that this process can be traumatic for children. Sitting in a judge’s chambers can be very intimidating for a child, and a child could be negatively impacted by the pressure of such a weighty decision. However, many times, a child’s input can be very important in a child custody dispute, and so there are other means to obtain the information indirectly.
Another way to get a child’s input in child custody litigation is through a Child Custody Evaluation. In Texas, the only mental health professional that may make recommendations as to possession and conservatorship for children is a child custody evaluator. The Texas Family Code provides very detailed requirements for a child custody evaluation, which includes interviews of each parent and anyone living in a house with the child, interviews of the child, and observations of the home environment and each parent’s interactions with the child. The child custody evaluator will therefore be able to talk to children about where they want to live, and will do so in conjunction with a much broader study into the children’s home environment and what will ultimately be in the best interests of the children.