Child Custody in Texas: The Best Interests of the Child
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In making a child custody or visitation order, Texas courts are guided by the best interests of the child, meaning the court will strive to make an order that best serves the child's physical, mental, and emotional needs. The court may award physical and legal custody to one parent alone (sole conservator) or both parents together (joint conservators). The conservator has the right to make decisions about the child's school, doctors, legal needs, and extracurricular activities. If the parents are joint conservators, they must make these decisions together. The court's goal is to provide the child with active involvement by both parents, and it encourages the parents to work together to provide a stable home for the child.
The court will consider various factors when deciding what is in the best interest of a child, including the child’s emotional and physical needs, each parent's ability to raise the children, the stability of each parent's home, and each parent's future plans for the child. The court may also consider past or potential harm or abuse to the child perpetrated by the parents, as well as any evidence that suggests the an improper relationship between a parent and child. If the child is over age 12, the court may consider the child's preference and accept testimony about where the child wants to live. Additional factors the court may look at are each parent's willingness to support the child’s relationship with the other parent, the child's adjustment to school and community, and the child's relationships with siblings and other family members.
The court encourages parents to work together to create a custody and visitation plan before the judge has a conservatorship (custody) hearing. A parenting plan should detail which parent the child will live with during the week, on weekends, holidays, and school breaks. The noncustodial parent should have a significant amount of visitation with the child. The judge will likely adopt the parents' plan if it is in the child's best interests. If the parents have one or two issues they disagree on, they may then ask the judge to help them determine the best schedule. For example, a holiday schedule may state that one parent has visitation with the child on Thanksgiving in odd years and the other parent will have visitation on Thanksgiving in even years, but the parents may not agree on Christmas. If the court sees that the parents are cooperating, the judge is more likely to work with the parents to make sure the schedule works for everyone.
Once a custody and visitation order is in place, it generally cannot be modified unless both parents agree to modify it, or there is a significant change in circumstances for the parents or the child.