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Child custody is one of those areas of law where emotions can really run high. It can be heartwrenching to think about spending time away from your child or understanding how child support works. When you are dealing with a child custody matter, it is important that you show the court that you have your child’s best interest at heart. Hiring a qualified child custody lawyer can help you show that you are an active part in your child’s life and provide the kind of love and care your child needs.
Whenever the court is making decisions about conservatorship (legal rights and duties to your child), possession and access (visitation), and child support, the court is always evaluating what is in the best interest of the child. In the context of family law, particularly in child custody cases, the focus is on the child’s best interests. Generally, this means that the court will make decisions pertaining to visitation, child support and other matters with the ultimate goal of ensuring and encouraging a child’s:
- Mental health
- Emotional development
What does the best interest of the child mean?
The Texas Family Code provides limited guidance on what the best interest of the child means. However, the following is a non-exclusive list of factors courts may use in determining the best interest of the child:
- The caregiving provided to the child before and during the current suit
- How the child may be affected when separated from a parent
- The ability of a parent to personally care for the child
- The physical, medical, behavioral, and developmental needs of the child
- Physical, medical, emotional, economic, and social conditions of the parents
- Presence of other individuals during a parent’s periods of possession
- Child’s need to have healthy relationships with both parents
- Child’s need for consistency
- Distance between parents’ residences
- Age, developmental status, circumstances, and needs of the child
- History of contact with the child by a parent
- The ability of parents to share in responsibilities, rights, and duties of parenting
- Circumstances of each parent
- Desires of the child
- Emotional and physical needs of the child now and in the future
- Emotional and physical danger to the child now and in the future
- Parental abilities of each parent
- Each parent’s plans for the child
- Acts or omissions of the parent
- Any other relevant factor or evidence of the best interest of the child.
How does the court determine a child’s best interest?
Courts will generally look to the parent’s own testimony, a testimony of witnesses, and evidence presented to make a determination of what is best for your child.
Parents can testify about their own experiences, what they have witnessed, and what the other party has told them. Witnesses can also testify as to what they have observed by one or both parents as it relates to their ability to care for the child’s needs. Parents and witnesses can also present photographs, videos, audio records, text messages, emails, social media postings, and other records to help show the court why one parent may be better positioned to provide for the child’s needs over another.
Is abuse a consideration in a child custody case?
The Court will first look to any major concerns about either parent, such as drug or alcohol use; physical violence; sexual abuse; emotional abuse; or neglect, whether those acts were committed against the other parent, the child, or another party.
After hearing concerns about safety and abuse, courts will also hear testimony and review evidence about who primarily handled activities or needs of the children. The court will look at which parent did the following:
- Got the child ready for school in the morning
- Took the child to school
- Picked the child up after school
- Worked on homework with the child
- Prepared meals for the child
- Cared for the child during the day
- Arranged playdates for the child
- Bathes and gets the child ready for bed
- Puts the child to bed
- Makes the child’s medical appointments
- Takes the child to the medical appointments
- Attends parent-teacher conferences
- Is the child involved in extracurricular activities
- Arranges for the child’s extracurricular activities
- Stays home with the child when the child is sick
- What are the parent’s work schedule
- Does the child have any special needs
- Are either of the parents considering relocating out of the area
- Who drinks more alcohol and more often
- Which party seems more willing to work with and inform the other
- Are there specific concerns about the child’s safety with a parent or their family members; and
- If the duties or responsibilities of a parent recently changed, why, etc…
Are there other parties that can influence a court’s decision on my child’s best interest?
Sometimes courts will enlist the assistance of other parties to help provide information on what might be in the best interest of the child. Some of the other types of parties courts can involve are psychological or custody evaluators, therapists and others. In addition, a court may appoint one of the following to protect your child’s best interests:
- A guardian ad litem represents the best interests of the child. This person could be an attorney, but does not have to be.
- An amicus attorney provides legal services directly to the court to protect the best interest of the child.
- Attorney ad litem advocates for the child based on what the child believes is in his or her best interest.
Psychological or custody evaluators have often licensed psychologists who interview and evaluate the parties. In a custody evaluation, the evaluator will also meet with the child and observe how the child interacts with each parent. Then, the evaluator will then make recommendations to the court based on the testing, observations, review of documents, and interviews of witnesses.
Occasionally, the court will order the parties to co-parenting counseling or family therapy.
We care, we can help
If you find yourself needing orders for custody, visitation, and child support, contact one of our qualified family law attorneys today. Our team is ready to assist you in Bell, Coryell, Milam, Lampasas, Williamson, Hays, Travis, Bastrop, and Burnet counties. Call us at 800-359-5690 to schedule a free consultation today.