By: Leslie Barrows
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Divorcing with Children 102: Child Custody
Divorcing with Children: Child Custody Issues
When divorcing with children, child custody must be determined by agreement or ordered by the court. The terms custody and visitation are commonly used by people when talking about conservatorship and possession or access to the child, the terms used in the Texas Family Code. Everything decided should be in the best interests of the child. When custody orders need modifications or enforcement, separate proceedings are available.
Conservatorship decisions involve parents’ rights and responsibilities to make decisions for the child. Possession of and access to the child is the visitation element of a child custody order. The parties or the court must set a possession and access schedule. In the beginning of a divorce with children, at a temporary orders hearing, it is initially determined where and with whom the child will live during the divorce. At the end of the divorce, at the final trial often incorporates on a permanent basis, the temporary orders regarding conservatorship (custody) and possession of and access to the child (visitation).
In the Southlake area and around Tarrant and Denton Counties, Attorney Leslie Barrows is well known and respected for her work in divorce and child custody negotiation and litigation. She and her team at The Barrows Firm can develop the right strategy for you and your family.
In case you missed it, please see our first blog article in this series, Divorcing with Children 101, focusing on reducing the child’s anxiety and maintaining a mentally and emotionally safe and secure environment.
Joint Managing Conservatorship
When parents share the responsibility for making decisions in the best interest of the child they are appointed and named joint managing conservators. In a parenting plan, the joint managing conservators are identified and assigned specific decisions to be made together or independently and by whom.
One of the specific rights assigned to one parent is the exclusive right to determine the residence of the child, and this is a significant determination, often negotiated and litigated in high conflict divorces with children.
When both parents are joint managing conservators, one parent is deemed the primary parent, with whom the child lives primarily, as the other parent has periods of possession or access.
Joint managing conservatorship requires the cooperation of both parents as they share decision making responsibilities. Hopefully, they can actively participate in the child’s activities and their emotional and educational development. When communication breakdowns, changes in circumstances and conflict prevent effective co-parenting, the joint managing conservatorship may no longer be effective. The rights and duties of the parents can be modified in a separate legal action so that one parent will be a sole managing conservator and the other a possessory conservator.
Sole Managing Conservatorship
A sole managing conservator is one parent who must make decisions in the child’s best interest and exclusively determine the primary residence of the child. In divorces with children where one parent, by credible evidence, engaged in past or present child neglect or abuse or family violence, the other parent will be the sole managing conservator because a joint managing conservatorship is prohibited by the law stated in the Texas Family Code.
A separate modification suit is required to change the rights and responsibilities of conservators from joint managing to sole managing conservators. The modification requires proving material and substantial changes in circumstances or proving evidence of family violence or a conviction for child abuse, an automatic ground for modification.
Possession of and Access to the Child
In most divorces with children, child custody agreements incorporated into parenting plans are based on a standard model for shared parenting time which is called a possession schedule. Each county may adopt a standard possession schedule with a few expanded versions and options to fit different families.
Parents may use a standard possession and access order as a starting point and can negotiate a custom schedule that works for everyone involved. Especially where one parent has a challenging work schedule including travel obligations and other responsibilities that make it difficult to adhere to a fixed or standard schedule.
Being flexible with the needs of the other parent and making concessions in the schedule from time to time is appropriate. Planning ahead for holidays and adjusting for family events and vacations helps reduce conflict. Communication among parents and families is a key component of successful co-parenting with schedules for possession of and access to the child.
Mediation and Alternative Dispute Resolution for Determining Child Custody, for Modifications and Enforcement Actions
Parents must decide how they want to settle child custody conflicts. The parties can use mediation to resolve high conflict issues. One advantage of mediation is saving time and resources. Instead of setting, preparing and attending a contested court hearing, the parties can stay out of court. Mediation and other alternative dispute resolution methods usually take place at an agreed time and place where everyone can work at compromising and getting down to the bottom line. When divorcing with children, child custody conflict resolved by the parties out of Court is encouraged by judges.
Mediation used to reach an agreement and parenting plan in the original divorce and custody suit is similar to mediation used after the suit is over and co-parents have modification and enforcement issues. After the divorce time will test parenting plans and possession schedules. When things are not working and one of the parties falls out of compliance, mediation can be very effective in a suit to modify or enforce the Court’s order.
Divorcing with Children and Child Custody Lawyer, Leslie Barrows in Southlake, Texas
Attorney Leslie Barrows is the founding and principal divorce and custody lawyer at The Barrows Firm in Southlake, where she and her team of trial attorneys and paralegals are focused solely on divorce and family law cases, representing parents divorcing with children and child custody issues. Attorney Barrows is a divorce lawyer and mediator. She is a mother of boys herself and is an active member in several organizations in the Southlake and Tarrant County areas.
Contact us online or call us at The Barrows Firm in Southlake by dialing (817) 481-1583 to schedule a consultation with Attorney Leslie Barrows when divorcing with children and child custody is a primary concern.