When children are involved, a do-no-harm divorce takes even more expertise, judgment, and finesse than ever. If you are seeking a divorce, child custody will be one of the major issues to sort out before your divorce can be finalized.
Of course, divorce is not the only time child custody is a concern. We also help resolve custody disputes between unmarried parents, or involving grandparents or other relatives.
Whatever situation your family or children are in, Evans Family Law Group in Austin can help. You can contact us now for a consultation, or read on to learn more about custody and about the types of cases we handle often.
Need-to-know concept: conservators
Here in Austin, courts use some terms you might not recognize when handling child custody issues. Those include:
- Primary Conservator: The parent with the right to determine the primary residence of the child. The primary conservator typically also is the parent who receives child support.
- Managing Conservator: The parent who can provide consent for the child’s medical, dental, and mental health treatment. The managing conservator also gains the right to make other major decisions on behalf of the child, like legal and educational decisions.
- Possessing Conservator: The parent who pays child support, and who has the right to spend time with the child according to a court-approved visitation schedule.
No matter what, Texas courts do everything in their power to assign those roles based on the best interests of the child.
Types of child custody cases we handle
There are four main “types” of custody, based on who fills what role(s) in the child’s upbringing:
- Joint custody: both parents are deemed Managing Conservators.
- Sole custody: only one parent is deemed Managing Conservator.
- Legal custody. Legal custody refers to the right to make legal decisions for the child. That role falls on the Managing Conservator.
- Physical custody. The Primary Conservator is said to have physical custody of the child, because he or she gets to determine where the child lives.
We can also help with special types of child custody cases, including:
- Modification of existing custody orders
- Unwed parents
- Mental health problems or substance abuse problems
- Allegations of domestic violence
- Third-party custody cases
Joint custody, or custody where both parents are named “Joint Managing Conservators,” is by far the most common custody arrangement. Texas courts presume in most cases it’s in the best interest of the child to have both parents in his or her life.
While there will be a Primary Conservator, the Possessing Conservator can expect to have ample parenting time with the child,access to the child’s medical and other records, access to information about the child, and a say in the child’s upbringing.
The Primary Conservator generally is the parent who has been the most engaged in parenting tasks. Those may include getting the child ready for school, pick-ups or drop-offs, medical appointments, parent-teacher conferences, play-time, helping with homework,feeding, bathing, and participating in school events.
Sole custody is a scenario in which one parent is deemed both the Sole Managing Conservator and the Primary Conservator.Judges may determine that naming one parent Sole Managing Conservator is in the best interests of the child if:
- It becomes clear one parent is not interested in working with the other parent for the good of the child, is unable to reach shared decisions with the other parent, and seems incapable of putting the child first.
- Evidence indicates one parent has engaged in any form of domestic violence, neglect, or abuse of the child.
- One of the parents is unfit to care for the child due to issues with mental health or substance abuse.
- One of the parents has a criminal record.
- Other circumstances make it clear that naming one parent as Sole Managing Conservator would be in the best interests of the child.
Modification of Custody
Sometimes the custody arrangement codified in the original divorce decree does not survive through the child’s childhood. Parents seek to modify custody arrangements for a host of reasons, from disagreement with the original decree to concern over the child’s welfare due to the Primary Conservator’s decisions.
To convince a judge to modify any court order it’s important to show what new information has come to light, or how a situation has changed.
Unwed Parents of Infants
Custody issues can arise when an unwed mother has a baby. The child’s father often wants to be involved in the baby’s life, but if the couple has not shared child-rearing duties from the start, the mother often has concerns over the father’s ability to be a responsible parent. This can happen even if the father is capable of caring for his child. It is a disagreement between the parties.
The court prefers to handle that situation by sending both parties to parenting courses, parenting consultants, or shared classes. Those classes are meant to teach both parents to communicate with each other and to draft a workable parenting plan. Attending classes together often calms unnecessary fears and smooths the custody process.
Child Custody Cases Involving Mental Health Problems and/or Substance Abuse
Cases involving substance abuse or mental health problems force lawyers to do some triage. If you are the person with these issues, you will need to show the court you can manage and navigate your condition. The court will attempt to determine whether you trustworthy enough to be with your child without supervision for an extended period.
We establish protocols for our clients to help you do this. Often, we’ll employ psychiatrists, counselors, or social workers to help. It is very important to attend all your doctor’s appointments or counseling appointments. It is also vital for you to comply with any prescribed medication regimens.
It can be difficult not to get defensive when issues like those are discussed. We will coach you on how to communicate with the court so you don’t come across as caustic or combative. The goal is to demonstrate you are in control of your situation.
Cases Involving Allegations of Domestic Violence
If you’ve been abused we will need to be careful to nail down all the facts of your case, including:
- The level of abuse
- When the abuse happened
- How the abuse happened
It’s important to realize that making allegations against your ex can work against you. For instance, we once witnessed a case in which the mother, who had been abused at some point in the relationship,focused on talking about an incident where the father had bitten her finger. She neglected to address a much more serious incident from a previous year. As a result, the judge did not take her claims seriously. The mother lost custody because she got aggressive about the smaller incident, instead of approaching the larger issue in an effective way.
Third-Party Custody Cases
In some cases parties other than the parents may seek custody of a child if it is in the best interests of a child, and if at least one parent has already lost parental rights.
Often grandparents will serve as this third party. You can out more about the rights of grandparents here.
Child custody cases are always complicated, but we can make them manageable
Every action you take has legal ramifications you might not be aware of. If you’re embroiled in any kind of custody case it is vital for you to get experienced, caring legal representation now.
Contact Evans Family Law Group in Austin today for a consultation.