Child Custody Attorney in Dallas, TX
Compassionate Counsel that Puts Children First
Child custody cases are some of the most complex and contentious cases for both parents and children. The Law Office of Ellen Schutz has provided dedicated child custody representation to Dallas, Collin, and Denton counties for over 20 years. Attorney Ellen Schutz has extensive knowledge of family law and tailors her representation so that the children’s best interests are at the forefront.
During a child custody case, the courts take a number of factors into consideration when deliberating a child custody arrangement. Some of these factors include love and emotional ties to the parents, what disrupts a child’s life the least, the child’s physical safety, maintaining a sense of familiarity and stability for the child, the child’s community and cultural background, and whether there’s any history of violence or drug use with a parent or within a household.
What Determines Child Custody in Texas?
The legal principle, “best interests of the child,” applies when determining the most appropriate child custody arrangement. The idea is to ensure the child maintains emotional and physical stability, while also maintaining a close, loving relationship with the parent who has custody. An arrangement that favors maintaining some form of custody with both parents would be ideal.
Some of the factors that will be considered when deciding custody include:
- How each parent plans to financially support the child
- The child’s education, medical needs, or religious upbringing
- The quality of the relationship that the child has with each parent
- If one or the other parent has had a history of domestic violence or abuse
- If one or the other parent has had trouble with drugs or alcohol
- The child’s wishes
Once the decree has been settled, it becomes a court order that each parent must legally abide by. If a parent is unhappy with the outcome, it may be possible to bring forward a claim in court and begin a custody modification matter.
Types of Conservatorship
There are two main types of child custody in Texas, which are "conservatorship" and "possession and access." Conservatorship refers to the rights and responsibilities that a parent has. That includes making decisions for the child's school, medical care, and many other important matters in the child's life.
Due to the fact that custody fights are often expensive and can often harm children and family relationships, parents often reach a custody agreement without the court’s help. However, when an agreement cannot be reached, the court will appoint conservatorship. Generally, this will be one of the two main types of conservatorship.
Joint Managing Conservatorship:
Rather than establishing how much time parents are allowed to spend with the child, this type of custody determines the parents’ post-divorce rights, powers, duties, and responsibilities. In typical joint managing conservatorship, these rights and responsibilities are distributed evenly to the parents. However, certain rights pertain only to the parent at the time they have the child—such as immediate discipline. During this type of custody, both parents must work together to make important decisions for the child, including setting up a schedule for joint physical custody. Typically, one parent is awarded child support and is determined the primary residence of the child.
Sole Managing Conservatorship:
This means that only one parent is awarded custody of the child and that the child only lives with the parent awarded custody. However, the parent who does not have sole custody may have visitation rights. The parent who is awarded sole custody of the child is able to make decisions that affect the child’s life. Sole custody is commonly awarded to protect the child in situations concerning domestic violence or child abuse. Just because a parent is not awarded custody does not mean that they are relieved of child support duties.
Texas Child Custody Process
A child custody case begins with a petition, or a formal request asking the court to make a decision regarding parents’ custody rights. In Dallas, this means that a parent must file a petition with the local court’s family law division. The other parent is then given the opportunity to respond with an answer. Should they not respond, that parent could potentially lose the right to participate in custody determination.
The five reasons why a Texas court can hear a child custody case are:
- The child’s home state is Texas
- The child’s home state was Texas within the last six months and a parent still has residency in Texas
- A court of a different state refuses to take the case
- Other than just living in Texas, the child or parent has a significant connection to the state
- Substantial evidence is available in Texas regarding the child’s care, protection, training, and personal relationships
- All other courts that could hear the case decided it would be best and most appropriate for Texas to take the case
To determine custody, the court will hold a number of hearings before the final hearing/trial. During this time, the court may issue a temporary custody order stating which parent has the child for the duration of the child support case. Additionally, any child 12 or older has agency to express a preference regarding which parent they want to live with.
Determining Child Support
Once a custodial parent has been determined, the non-custodial parent may be required to make child support payments. This is to create equality in parents’ providing for their children: Because the custodial parent pays for the child’s expenses, the non-custodial parent provides monetary support to help pay for these necessities. These support payments must continue until the child turns 18 or graduates high school (whichever occurs later) or the child marries, dies, or becomes emancipated.
The Texas Family Code contains guidelines that govern how much child support needs to be paid per month. These guidelines typically govern situations where the non-custodial parent has monthly net resources of $8,550 or less and utilize the number of children to establish the percentage of monthly income that needs to be paid. Other children from previous relationships are taken into consideration and could lead to a decrease in the amount that needs to be paid.
Other reasons the court may stray from the guidelines include:
- The specific needs of the children
- The ability of the parent to pay child support
- Any debts a parent acquired or assumed as part of the divorce
- Any travel expenses incurred for visitations
- Any support a parent provides for another child attending college
In addition to child support, Texas parents must also pay for health insurance for as long as child support is required.
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