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Parenting Plan and Child Custody Laws: Everything You Need to Know

The Law Firm of Andrea M. Kolski

Is there anything more important to a parent than their child’s future? Probably not. However, few parents know very much about the laws that can have a dramatic impact on that future.

Every year, around 800,000 couples divorce in the US. For those with children and for parents who were never married to each other, child custody can be a life-changing issue.

Whether you’re already in a custody battle or you’re gearing up for one, here’s what you need to know about Texas custody laws.

Common Questions About Texas Custody Laws

When Texas family courts make custody decisions, it all comes down to one guiding standard: doing what is in the best interest of the child. To get a better understanding of how the process and how those decisions happen, take a look at these questions and answers.

What Is a Parenting Plan?

You’ll hear the term “parenting plan” throughout your custody journey. Your parenting plan is the full agreement for how you and your ex will raise your kids.

This includes the custody agreement as well as dividing your parental duties. In some cases, it lays out what religion your kids will be raised with, outlines disciplinary philosophies, and more.

Ultimately, the goal is to make amicable, shared decisions so you aren’t fighting over every detail until your child is 18.

What Is the Difference Between Physical Custody and Legal Custody?

When people hear the term “custody,” they think it refers to the parent that the child lives with. In truth, this is only one aspect.

Physical custody refers to the parent that the child lives with. In legal terms, this is called possessory conservatorship.

Legal custody, also called managing conservatorship, is the right to make decisions for the child. This includes choices about medical care, education, religion, extracurricular activities, and more.

In other words, if your child lives with you, it doesn’t mean you can make all their choices for them without consulting their other parent.

In most cases, judges will issue some degree of joint or shared custody. The child will live with one parent most of the time, but both parents share decision-making power.

How Does the Court Decide on Custody?

Our clients ask us all the time, “What are my chances of getting a good custody judgment?”

While no one can predict the future, we can have a good idea by looking at the factors judges use to determine custody arrangements.

First of all, the court’s goal is for parents to come to an agreement on their own. The court has to approve the arrangement, but they want everyone to feel that it is fair when possible.

If parents can’t agree, a family court judge takes on the decision.

What Factors Impact Custody Decisions?

Whether the court is creating a custody arrangement from their own judgment or they’re evaluating whether to approve a custody proposal from parents, they take many factors into account.

The judge will look at each parent’s financial situation and housing circumstances. They want to see that you have the means to provide a safe and stable home and life for the child.

Especially for kids who have already established friendships and a support system, judges want custody arrangements to disrupt them as little as possible. A judge may favor the parent who lives in the child’s current school district so they don’t have to change schools.

In addition to the home, the judge will take a close look at each parent. Past facts like a history of crime, drug use, abuse, or domestic violence will have an impact on their decision.

The judge may also look at how much of a parenting role each parent has played for the child. They’ll look at your schedules as well to see if either parent’s work hours would prevent them from giving their child the attention they need.

Can a Child Decide Which Parent They Want to Live With?

When a child is 12 years old or older, the judge will ask them which parent they would rather live with. However, the judge doesn’t have to grant their request.

The child’s opinion will be one of many factors the judge considers when approving or creating a custody agreement. The judge may also ask the child for other details, like what type of relationship they have with each parent and why they want to live with one over the other.

What Is a Typical Custody Arrangement?

Family court judges look at each family’s situation independently and decide what is in the best interest of the child. However, there is one scenario that is most common.

In many cases, judges award shared legal custody to both parents. The child lives with one parent most of the time. They spend the first, third, and fifth weekend of each month with the other parent.

When the parents live far from each other, traveling every other weekend may not be practical. In these cases, the judge often grants visitation for one weekend per month instead.

In most cases, judges also give the non-custodial parent a longer period of visitation during the summer while the child is out of school. That visitation tends to be one month or more.

Who Decides Child Support?

While courts want parents to reach a custody agreement on their own, child support is a different matter. It’s a matter of what the child needs, not what the parents think is fair. For this reason, the judge will set the child support amount.

Child support details will depend on which parent is caring for the child most of the time. They also depend on the child’s needs as well as each parent’s income. The court can also modify the child support obligations if circumstances change in the future.

Setting Up Your Child for Success

Whether a married couple is getting a divorce or there are two exes who both want custody of their child, custody battles can be emotional and stressful. After all, the result will have a powerful impact on your child’s present and future.

To give yourself the best chance for success, you need to educate yourself about Texas custody laws. The questions and answers above are a great start. The next step is hiring a great lawyer.

To start advocating for your child, contact our Texas custody lawyers today.

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