Parents beginning the divorce process often have questions about the rules governing custody decisions. You may have heard advice and anecdotes from your friends and family that you feel unsure about believing. Learning some basics can help you achieve a better understanding of what to expect as you move forward.
The underlying principle governing Texas courts’ approach to custody issues is the child’s best interest. Because all families and children are different, acting in a specific child’s best interest means looking at particular circumstances rather than general rules.
Custody decisions address two aspects of the issue. The first is conservatorship, also called legal custody. This is the right to make decisions for the child and can belong to both parents, who then make these decisions jointly or just one.
Possession and access
The other aspect is physical custody, also known in Texas as possession and access. Possession and access decisions govern where the child will live and visitation schedules. While the law provides two schedule templates, the parents may choose to come up with an alternative. The court may also order a non-standard schedule if it deems it in the best interest of the child.
Determining the child’s best interests
Some common factors courts look at when deliberating custody decisions include the child’s educational, medical and emotional needs. They also consider the parents’ respective ability to provide for these needs and may look at any health issues, ability to cooperate with the other parent and level of involvement with raising the child.
Alternative methods of resolving custody disputes
Parents have several options besides litigating custody issues. They may choose to resolve these disputes through mediation or by working with a parenting facilitator or coordinator. Generally, courts tend to encourage alternative dispute resolution and may issue an order for parents to attend sessions with a coordinator or facilitator.
In most cases, attending to the child’s best interests includes working out disagreements in a way that leaves the door open for peaceful cooperation in the future. At other times, a parent may have no choice but to litigate the matter to its fullest extent. An experienced attorney can give you specific advice for your situation and help you achieve an optimal outcome.