Austin Child Custody Lawyers
Helping You Do What's Best for Your Child
For any parent, the thought of a child custody battle is nerve-wracking. Custody disputes can profoundly affect parent-child relationships and the family dynamic as a whole, making it one of the most emotionally challenging aspects of any divorce.
If you're entering a child custody battle, you need a lawyer you can trust at your side. At Cofer & Connelly, PLLC, our Austin child custody attorneys will help you understand how courts handle child custody in Texas and determine the best way forward in your case. We'll handle the legalities so you can focus on maintaining a strong connection with your child throughout the divorce.
How Does Child Custody Work in Texas?
Before we begin, it's important to know that Texas courts don't use the traditional terms associated with child custody (noncustodial, custodial, etc.). In Texas, child custody is called "conservatorship." Custodial parents (who the child spends the majority of their time with) are called "conservators," and noncustodial parents are called "possessory conservators."
There are two types of common conservatorship arrangements in Texas.
Sole Managing Conservatorship (SMC)
In an SMC arrangement, the court gives one parent the legal right to make decisions for the child. The conservator who receives SMC rights can decide:
- Where their child lives and goes to school;
- What types of care they need (medical, psychological, etc.);
- What religions or cultures they should be exposed to;
- How to handle discipline, etc.
Essentially, the conservator in an SMC makes any and all judgments for the child that have the potential to affect their life.
Joint Managing Conservatorship (JMC)
In a JMC arrangement, both conservators share time with the child and make decisions for them. That means that the parents must agree on decisions like:
- Where the child goes to school;
- What type of care they receive;
- How they're disciplined;
- How much time the child should spend with each parent;
- How to handle events like holidays, etc.
Since family law professionals typically assume that children benefit from spending time with both their parents, most courts prefer JMC arrangements when handling conservatorship cases. However, if a parent is unfit to care for their child (abuses substances, acts inappropriately around them, disciplines them excessively, etc.), the court may award the more fit parent an SMC arrangement to protect the child. The court's primary objective in conservatorship battles is always to preserve the child's best interests, everything else is secondary.
What's a Parenting Plan?
If you're ramping up to a conservatorship case, you've probably heard the term "parenting plan" a few times. Parenting plans lay out the terms for a conservatorship arrangement, stipulating how the parents will handle custody and act around their child and one another.
The court requires every parenting plan to incorporate mandatory clauses, such as:
- Which parent the child will spend more time with if the parents want a JMC (in other words, which parent should be the primary conservator). Conservators get certain head-of-household (HoH) tax breaks, so some parents who want a 50/50 conservatorship will trade-off as primary conservator every other year.
- How the parents plan to split conservatorship (what days of the week the child will be with each parent, how they'll handle holidays or vacations, etc.).
- How the parents will further the child's best interests post-divorce. This includes ensuring the child continues to receive medical care, has access to education, etc.
However, parents can also add in other non-mandatory clauses to the parenting plan, such as:
- Preventing the parents from disparaging one another in front of or to the child;
- Itemizing certain costs to prevent issues if one parent can't pay for a certain cost in a given month;
- Agreeing on boundaries for behavior;
- Agreeing on acceptable disciplinary tactics;
- Defining academic expectations for the child, etc.
Courts typically prefer it if parents work together to draft a joint parenting plan. However, if the parents can't agree on a parenting plan, the court will ask each to draft their own plan. The court will then take those plans and combine them to develop what the court considers an equitable conservatorship arrangement.
Having an experienced child custody attorney at your side throughout your conservatorship case is vital. A custody lawyer can help you understand the custody process more thoroughly and work with you to create a parenting plan that protects your parental rights and preserves your best interests. They can also help you negotiate with your spouse to help you and your soon-to-be-ex develop a health co-parenting relationship as you move past your divorce.
At Cofer & Connelly, PLLC, we'll take the burden of your conservatorship dispute off your shoulders so you can focus on what's really important: your health and family.