In Texas, a lawsuit involving custody or paternity of a child is called a “Suit Affecting the Parent-Child Relationship,” or "SAPCR" for short.
In a SAPCR, the Court may make temporary and final orders for paternity, custody, visitation, child support, and health insurance for the child.
- The Texas Family Code presumes that it is in the best interest of the child for the parents to be appointed Joint Managing Conservators (“JMC”). JMC does not mean that the parties get 50/50 possession of the child. It means, among other things, that both parents have the equal rights to access the child’s educational and medical records. See TFC § 153.005.
- If the Court determines that it is not in the child’s best interests for the parents to be appointed as JMC, then one parent will be named the “Sole Managing Conservator” (“SMC”), and the other parent will be named the “Possessory Conservator” (“PC”).
- In addition to appointing the parents as conservators, the Court will designate one parent as the “parent with the right to designate the primary residence of the child.” That is the parent who has custody. You will often hear the parent who is awarded custody referred to as the “Custodial Parent” or CP, and the other parent as the “Non-Possessory Parent” or NCP, especially by the Attorney General. If you use CP and NCP, that is fine. People will know what you mean.
- The Texas Family Code presumes that it is in the best interest of the child that the NCP be granted possession of the child according to the “Standard Possession Order” (“SPO”). The SPO is a visitation schedule. Generally, the SPO grants the NCP possession on the first, third, and fifth weekends of each month, thirty days in the summer, and alternating holidays. The NCP may also have possession on Wednesdays or Thursdays each week during the school year from 6:00-8:00 p.m., or the NCP may have the child after school on Thursday until drop off at school Friday morning. There are a lot of common variations to the SPO. The weekend could start on Friday or Saturday and could end on Sunday evening or with a Monday morning drop off at school.
- The presumption that the SPO is in the child’s best interests can be rebutted by evidence that another arrangement is in the child’s best interests. See TFC §153.131. An alternative arrangement is frequently required for fire and police persons, airline pilots, doctors, nurses, and anyone whose work schedule is other than the standard Monday to Friday, 9:00 AM - 5:00 PM.
- A 50/50 custody arrangement is also possible. Many parents enter a 50/50 custody arrangement by agreement, especially with the younger child. To make a 50/50 arrangement work for school-aged children, both parents need to live reasonably close to the child’s school. Examples of this arrangement are alternating weekly possession of the child, week on, week off. Other parents have preferred an arrangement with exchanges throughout the week. Parents who pick a 50/50 arrangement can decide whether to select that arrangement for the entire year or whether it will change to allow each parent to have specific days for holidays and birthdays.
- A party may request that the Judge interview a child 12 years of age or older to determine the child’s preference about various things, including who the child would like to be appointed as the person with the right to designate their primary residence. See TFC §153.009.
- A custody evaluation (formerly called a “social study”) can be ordered. A custody evaluation can be conducted by a social worker who works for the Court's Family Court Services Department or by a private social worker or mental health professional who the parties hire. At the time of writing, only Dallas and Tarrant Counties have Family Court Services Departments. The social study worker meets with the child and parents, may speak with the parents’ references and the child’s schools. The social study worker would then prepare a report and make a custody recommendation to the Court. See TFC § 107.0501.-107.115.
- Counseling can be ordered for the child when they are alleged to have been subjected to abuse or are having trouble adjusting to some circumstance. Reunification counseling can also be ordered to repair a relationship between a child and a parent. See TFC §153.010. Sliding fee counseling is available at Child and Family Guidance, the Family Place, and Friends of the Family.
- A psychological or psychiatric evaluation can be ordered by the Court separately or combined with a custody evaluation.
- Most Courts order the parents to take a parenting class as part of their custody case. The parenting classes that are often listed in the Courts' Standing Orders are Children in the Middle or Between Two Homes. Other classes can be ordered, such as anger management or drug and alcohol treatment, or rehabilitation.
- Soberlink is a resource used to monitor whether a parent is drinking before or during their possession of the child.
- Drug and alcohol testing can be ordered to be performed at ARCpoint Labs, Forward Edge, Pinnacle Diagnostics, etc.
- Attendance at Alcoholics Anonymous (“AA”) or Narcotics Anonymous (“NA”) can be ordered.
- Visitation can be ordered to be supervised by a trusted family member or through paid facilities such as Hannah’s House or FLP. A downside is that sometimes these providers make it difficult to obtain copies of their records. This defeats part of the supervision's purpose: 1) to ensure that the CP completes the necessary paperwork and drops the child off at the beginning of the NCP's period of possession, and 2) to verify that the visiting parent is behaving appropriately during visits.
- Parenting Facilitators and Parenting Coordinators can be appointed in high-conflict custody cases to help the parents resolve conflict.
- An Attorney Ad Litem or Amicus Attorney may be appointed to represent the child or the Court respectively.
Frequently Asked Questions
The following responses to frequently asked questions are very general and are provided for educational purposes only. For legal advice about your specific situation, an attorney would need to have information about your circumstances, the child's circumstances and the circumstances of the other parent.
- People frequently relay a fact about the other parent on www.AVVO.com or otherwise, and ask whether they can get "full custody." That question is not answerable. Why? "Full custody" is not a legal term, so more discussion is needed to understand what type of custody they want. Also, custody is determined based on the Judge's decision about the child's best interests under the totality of each parent's and the child's circumstances, not just based on one fact.
- Laypeople frequently state that men are not granted custody. That isn't true. Why? Men are frequently granted custody of children. Hopkins-Laster Law office has successfully represented many men who obtained custody of their children. Judges indeed have different views. However, sexism and gender bias in the Courts have decreased significantly in the last twenty years.
- Minors sometimes ask if their teachers or friend's parents can get custody of them. The answer is generally no. Why? Because the teacher or friend's parents would not have legal standing to sue for custody unless 1) the managing conservator of the child gives them written permission, or 2) the child lives with the teacher or friend's parents for six months or more shortly before filing for custody.