Child custody cases are often some of the most contentious cases within the legal field. This is unsurprising given the value we put on spending time with our children. Often, a poorly executed custody strategy leaves many parents feeling helpless and emotionally drained. Dallas-based child custody cases are governed by Dallas County courts and the State of Texas’s Second Court of Appeals. A labyrinth of state statutes and court precedent have arisen out of the public policy of protecting the best interests of children in the state. This maze of laws and court rules have created an unintended effect as well—an overwhelmingly complex custody process that most parents have difficultly navigating without the advice of an experienced family law lawyer. Perhaps more applicable in the context of child custody, knowledge is power. If you would like to increase your knowledge of the child custody process in North Texas, please continue reading below for an overview of a few of the most important aspects.
Pursuant to Texas law, courts must focus their inquiry on the child’s “best interest.” But what, exactly, constitutes a child’s best interest and how can a court arrive at such a determination? The Texas Supreme Court answered these questions with its opinion in the seminal case, Holley v. Adams. The Court listed nine factors that all courts must consider when issuing decisions in child custody suits. No factor is expressly favored over another, instead courts are to balance the factors in the interests of justice. However, in some cases, a single factor may play a determinant role in the outcome of the case. Without regard to importance, the factors are:
Courts treat child custody matters seriously. As such, when crafting your legal strategy, it is important to engage in honest, open discussions with your legal team to address any and all facts that might have a bearing on the court’s judgment. By addressing unfavorable facts head on, your lawyer can create a strategy to deliver your position in the most favorable and effective light.
Sole managing conservator status unquestionably provides the greatest amount of control over decisions impacting the child’s upbringing. The powers accompanying sole managing conservator status include the exclusive authority to make most decisions related to the child’s life. One of these powers is the exclusive right to determine the primary residence of the child. Additionally, the sole managing conservator can, without input or consultation from others, approve any medical or psychological treatment for the child and make decisions regarding the child’s education. Finally, sole managing conservators are usually awarded child support from the other parent. While many parents express a preference for sole managing conservator status, courts are reluctant to grant the status absent particular circumstances.
In contrast to the independence and broad decision-making authority of sole managing conservators, joint managing conservators are required to share their parental rights and responsibilities with each other. Throughout Texas, Dallas being no exception, the joint managing conservator status is by far the most common form of conservatorship granted by courts. In fact, there is a rebuttable presumption that the appointment of the parents as joint managing conservators is in the best interest of the child. Over the last few decades, courts have increasingly endorsed the idea that input from both parents is generally in the best interest of child. But even if both parents are awarded joint managing conservator status, courts may still divide some of the parental rights named under the Family Code to one parent. For example, while one parent may have the exclusive right to choose the primary residence of the child, the parents may have to agree on the decisions relating to the child’s medical treatment. Courts may also award joint managing conservators disproportionate possession time with the child, with one parent awarded more time with the child than the other. Such disproportionate possession times may vary slightly or greatly. However, in all cases in which a court has divided the parental rights between joint managing conservators, any and all differences must be in the child’s best interest.
In some cases, the court may name a parent a possessory conservator. A possessory conservator is a person who, though not necessarily a parent of the child, may nonetheless retain possession rights during specific times or under certain conditions. Courts commonly award possessory conservator status to the grandparents of children who would benefit from the additional support. Despite this relatively limited status, during the possession periods of a possessory conservator, he or she will enjoy many of the same parental rights as any other conservatorships.
As explained above, courts in Dallas have increasingly come to the consensus that the child’s interests are generally best served when both parents are permitted to play an active role in the child’s upbringing. In those situations, many courts serving North Texas have ordered Agreed Parenting Plans in which both parents enjoy joint managing conservator status. Many parents prefer this route because the plan is developed jointly by the conservators. After the parents have developed a plan, it must be reviewed by the court, which will require the following: