Child Custody and Visitation Family Lawyer
Child custody means different things to different people. Child custody and visitation rights granted to parents after divorce have very specific definitions under the law – and the terminology tends to sound very odd.
Chris A. Spofford is a divorce and child custody lawyer in Harris, Fort Bend and Brazoria Counties who has handled these cases for more than 30 years. He understands how the courts operate and he is very empathetic toward children and a parent’s feelings toward their child(ren).
You know more about your children than anyone else on the planet. You have been there throughout their lives, whether that be a short time or many years. Decisions about how to divide time between you and your child’s other parent can be the most difficult and painful decision you will ever make. You want to know that you are getting the best guidance you can get from your family lawyer.
Should you fight for sole managing conservatorship (sole custody)?
Should you focus on being awarded the most important exclusive rights for your child, including primary residence, education, invasive medical decisions, etc.? How your child custody case is presented to a judge or a jury can make all the difference in what custody and/or visitation rights are granted to you.
Shared versus exclusive custody rights
Joint custody vs. sole custody is not the issue that affects child custody and visitation rights most of the time. What affects parents most often is: who is the “custodial parent” and who is the “noncustodial parent”?
The Custodial Parent will have the exclusive right to determine where the children live most of the time, and oftentimes other vital decisions, such as making decisions about their education and healthcare. While these rights will go exclusively to a parent that is appointed as a Sole Managing Conservator, in the event that the parents are appointed as Joint Managing Conservators of the child, then these important rights will have to be apportioned in some way between the parents. A parent can be appointed as a Joint Managing Conservator and still be given all these rights exclusively.
On the other hand, the Noncustodial Parent typically has the legal right to spend time with the child and know the whereabouts of the child, commonly called “possession and access” or “possession rights.” The Noncustodial Parent can also share in the educational and healthcare decisions of the child depending on how those rights are ultimately apportioned between the parents.
Under Texas Family Law, gender cannot be considered by the judge or jury in making this custodial decision. According to the Texas Attorney General’s Handbook for Noncustodial Parents, about 10 percent of noncustodial parents are the mother.
What is in the best interest of the child?
Child custody lawyers in Texas present arguments and evidence to advocate on your behalf during custody proceedings, based on certain factors that judges consider.
In the Texas divorce case Holley v. Adams, the court developed a list of factors in determining what is in the best interests of the child, commonly called “The Holley Factors.” These that the court will consider are as follows:
- the desires of the child;
- the emotional and physical needs of the child now and in the future;
- the emotional and physical danger to the child now and in the future;
- the parental abilities of the individuals seeking custody;
- the programs available to assist these individuals to promote the best interest of the child;
- the plans for the child by these individuals or by the agency seeking custody;
- the stability of the home or proposed placement
- the proper acts or omissions of the parent that may indicate that the existing parent-child relationship is not a proper one; and
- any excuse for the acts or omissions of the parent.
Holley v. Adams, 54 S.W. 2d 367 (Tex. 1976)
Circumstances that can prompt a modification of a child custody order
Child custody and visitation orders, whether reached by agreement or after a trial, are based on financial and living situations at the time of the divorce settlement. But circumstances can change.
The other parent may seek to modify the custody arrangement after a period of time and, if the court believes the circumstances have changed enough, the arrangement can be changed giving primary custody to the other parent. These cases must be based on a few objective facts:
Relocation. When one party, typically the custodial parent, moves due to a job change or for some other reason, the other parent may be justified in filing for a modification.
Change in child’s best interest. Changes in circumstances for the custodial parent that affect children physically or emotionally, a modification may be in the child’s best interest.
Failure to follow original agreement. If one party does not follow the child custody agreement, a modification may be warranted.
Child endangerment. If one parent tolerates poor living conditions, is abusive or is living with someone else who places your children in danger, you may have grounds for a modification.
Contact Chris to learn about your family law options and how he can help you with your choices.
Chris A. Spofford has been preparing and trying child custody cases since he was admitted to the Texas State Bar in 1986. He has been Board Certified in Family Law since 1993. As a Houston divorce lawyer, he knows how to present a child custody case in local courts so that your important message gets communicated and gives you the greatest chance of prevailing.
He will help you get what is in your child’s best interest. Chris knows that the decisions made now are ones that will affect your children’s lives and your life for many years to come. He never takes this lightly. He will fight for you and he will guide you through the complex legal maze that makes up a child custody case.