Custody & Visitation
The days of sole custody automatically being awarded to the mother in a divorce are — for the most part — over. The courts recognize that both parents play a crucial role in the continuing development of children of every age.
The Best Interests of the Child
The focus of the courts and the child custody laws is "the best interests of the child." As long as the parents' child custody and visitation agreement is in the best interests of the child, the courts will not usually interfere in the custody and visitation agreement of the parents. It helps, however, to have the assistance of an experienced family law lawyer when devising non-standard agreements to avoid common pitfalls and arrangements the court will not approve.
Although many variations are possible, Texas' Standard Possession Order gives a useful preview of the most common type of custody agreement in Texas.
Some Useful Terms
Although parents still use terms like "custody" and "visitation," the legal terminology in Texas is a bit different. Understanding these terms will help make the process of making decisions about child custody and visitation a little easier.
"Conservatorship" means having (1) the legal right to make decisions about the child's welfare, education, health care and financial needs and (2) certain duties to the child. In most custody agreements, the two parents share at least some conservatorship rights and duties. "Possession" is what Texas law calls the time a parent has physical custody of the child (often referred to as "visitation.").
The Suit Affecting the Parent Child Relationship
Unmarried parents often need to have court orders regarding the conservatorship, possession and support of their children. The suit filed to obtain these orders is the Suit Affecting the Parent Child Relationship ("SAPCR"). This suit, initiated by either parent, can also be resolved by use of mediation or collaborative law. The final order in a SAPCR can also be modified in essentially the same manner as a divorce decree.
In some limited circumstances, grandparents can also file suit for possession of or access to a child. Grandparents contemplating this action should contact a lawyer to discuss the specific facts of their grandparents' rights claim.
A parent wishing to establish paternity of a child and thereby obtain orders regarding conservatorship, possession and support, can file a Suit to Establish Paternity.
Contact Attorney Linda Stanley, P.L.L.C.