Answers to 5 common child custody questions

Whether you are divorcing or dealing with a non-spousal parent, determining parenting and custody arrangements is a sensitive matter. It's often complicated by underlying issues between you and the other parent. Most experienced family law attorneys will be sensitive to your situation, yet encourage communication and cooperation. Avoiding confrontation is one of the keys to building a strong custody case.

Following are answers to five common questions many Texas parents have when embarking on child custody proceedings:

1. What does the court consider when determining child custody?

The prevailing benchmark when determining child custody arrangements is the "best interest of the child." The court will consider many factors to make this determination. Examples include your child's age, developmental stage, emotional attachments to each parent, prior involvement of the parents in the child's life, any history of violence or abuse, and the location of the parents.

2. What are sole custody and joint custody?

The Texas Family Code uses the term conservatorship rather than custody. The court awards either managing conservatorship or possessory conservatorship. Possessory conservators are merely granted access to their children, formally referred to as visitation. Managing conservators typically manage their children's lives and affairs in the same way that a parent does traditionally. Managing conservatorships are either sole arrangements, where only one parent maintains these rights and responsibilities, or joint arrangements in which both parents share management of the child's life. Texas law prefers joint managing conservatorships.

3. Does the court favor mothers?

Texas law supports a continuing and healthy relationship between the child and both parents. Despite these laws, a gender bias in support of mothers tends to exist in many jurisdictions, especially in the case of very young children.

4. Can I move away with my child?

As a divorced or separated parent in Texas, your custody order will most likely restrict you from moving away from a designated area. In order to permanently leave the state with your child, you will need to obtain a court order permitting the move. Even without a restrictive order, you must give your child's other parent notice that you intend to move. He or she can contest your move with a relocation hearing. Then, you would need to demonstrate to the court that you have a compelling reason for the move, such as a job relocation due to an inability to find comparable employment locally.

5. Do I need an attorney for custody issues?

Legal representation is not a requirement, but it is certainly advised. The serious nature of these issues requires experience and extensive knowledge of Texas custody law to ensure that your child is cared for in the best possible manner, and that the finalized parenting arrangement works for all parties.

At Sutton, Milam & Fanning, we understand that child custody issues can be overwhelming and fraught with emotion. If you have more questions or need counsel in this area, please contact one of our empathetic child custody lawyers for a free consultation.

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