Whether they arise during divorce proceedings or as a stand-alone family law matter, child custody cases are high stakes issues. That’s because these proceedings deal not with money or property, but the lives of real children whose futures, relationships, and personal lives are impacted by final resolutions reached through the court. As such, family courts and judges in Texas take great care to evaluate the facts and circumstances involved in custody arrangements in an attempt to ensure they meet the best interests of the children involved.
Because a child’s best interests are the gold standard for evaluating custody and visitation arrangements, the factors considered by the courts relate specifically to the physical, emotional, and financial well-being of a child. The “best interests” standard provides the filter through which courts assess proposed parenting plans; make determinations regarding the fitness and abilities of any party seeking custody; or decide other disputes in litigation. This includes physical custody (where a child will primarily reside), legal custody (the ability to make important decisions for the child), and visitation (or “possession and access” as it is known in Texas).
While every case is different, the factors used to evaluate child custody are generally the same. At Coker, Robb & Cannon, Family Lawyers, our family lawyers know what Texas courts look for when it comes to custody cases. Our experience can help parents, families, and other interested persons protect their rights and interests. Below, we discuss some of the most common factors considered in child custody proceedings:
- Safe and Stable Environment – Family courts are focused on ensuring parents can provide a safe and stable environment; and will consider their work and living arrangements to ensure suitability for children. This not only means ensuring a parent is able to meet the physical and emotional needs of a child (taking care of basic needs, providing enrichment, etc.), but also that there are no environmental issues that may impact a child. Such examples may include poor living conditions, dangerous neighborhoods, patterns of unemployment or homelessness, housing instability, criminal activity, living with individuals who may pose risks to children, and more.
- Adjustment – Divorce is a significant undertaking for parents and children, which is why courts consider the child’s ability to adjust to new circumstances upon the finality of a divorce or custody proceeding. This is typically why parental relocation is often limited to the same or neighboring counties, and why there are difficulties in petitioning for a substantial move, such as to another state or country where children may have less contact with the other parent, family support systems, and the friends, schools, and communities to which they have become accustomed. The age of a child may also be a factor when evaluating ease of adjustment.
- Siblings – Texas courts have traditionally favored keeping siblings together rather them separating them. Parents may reach agreements on these matters to foster continuing contact and relationships between their children, but individual circumstances, including the addition of half- or step-children from previous marriages, can create challenges.
- Parental Abilities – Just as courts consider the living arrangements and environment parents provide, they also pay close attention to their physical, emotional, and financial health to ensure they have the means and the ability to care for a child, both now and in the foreseeable future. As such, there are issues that can arise when considering these factors, such as poor health, mental illness, and unemployment, among others.
- Child’s Preference – In some cases, particularly those where children may be mature enough, courts will give consideration to the preferences of a child when it comes to where they wish to live. If a party requests it, the Court must speak to a child over the age of 12, but the Court may choose to speak to a child under the age of 12 if the Court thinks such a conference is appropriate. However, such considerations may be tempered by other factors related to the child’s best interests and circumstances, such as the fitness and abilities of the parents, parental alienation, and more.
- Red Flags – Because the best interests of children reign supreme in custody proceedings, red flags are always evaluated carefully by courts. This may include allegations of domestic violence, abuse, or neglect (which can be disputed by the accused parent), violations of temporary court orders, criminal activity, or substance abuse. These factors can be argued by either parent before the court, and have significant potential to affect final parenting plans for custody and visitation.
While all of these factors are considered in child custody proceedings, certain issues can make for added challenges. We discussed some of these issues in a recent blog– such as a parent’s desire to relocate with their child or allegations of domestic violence or abuse– as well as why it is important to have an experienced lawyer by your side when these issues present themselves. Even when these issues are not present working with proven representation will help to protect your rights and your children’s future.
Discuss Your Divorce or Custody Case with a Divorce Lawyer in Denton County
Coker, Robb & Cannon, Family Lawyers is focused solely on family law, which means our award-winning lawyers have the tools and experience to help clients navigate all issues inherent to divorce and child custody. Because we treat clients as if they were family, we gain a clear understanding of their situations, needs, and goals – and work zealously to protect them at every stage of the process. Whether your custody proceedings are part of a divorce or stem from a paternity action or stand-alone issue, we have the resources and willingness to help make the difference.
Discuss your divorce or custody case with a lawyer from our firm! We provide personalized consultations to clients throughout Denton County, Collin County, and the surrounding areas of Texas, and are available to take your call as soon as you reach out to us. Call (940) 293-2313 or contact us online to get started.