Child Custody and Visitation

By Martha Akers

In all cases involving children, the best interests of the child is the governing standard when deciding about custody and visitation.  These cases generally have three primary issues: conservatorship, possession and support.

Various factors that a court may consider in deciding conservatorship and possession issues include:

  1. The stability of each parent
  2. The relationship between the child and each parent
  3. The age of the child
  4. In some cases, the desires of the child provided that the child has the maturity to make such a decision and that the parents have not pressured the child

As a rule, courts do not like parents to fight in front of a child and do not like either parent to discuss the facts of the case with the child, to speak negatively about the other parent or that parent’s family in the presence of the child, or to try to persuade the child to make a decision about where the child would like to live.  This “putting the child in the middle” is frowned upon by most courts, and both parents should be careful never to engage in this type of behavior.

Conservatorship is the name of the legal relationship that each parent has with his or her child.  In Texas, there are two types of conservatorships.  One type is when both parents are appointed as a joint managing conservator, and the other type is when one parent is appointed as sole managing conservator while the other parent is appointed as a possessory conservator.  In Texas, most parents are appointed as joint managing conservators.

An important aspect of conservatorship is the allocation of various rights and duties a parent has with respect to his or her child.  Frequently, many of these rights and duties are shared equally between the parents.  These duties may include, but are not limited to:

  1. The right to decide where the child lives primarily
  2. The right to make educational decisions on behalf of the child
  3. The right to consent to medical, dental and psychiatric treatment
  4. The right to access medical and educational records of the child
  5. The duty to support the child
  6. The duty to provide the child with moral guidance

A possession schedule refers to the time or times that each parent has visitation with or possession of the child.  Again, the best interest of the child is the starting point for determining when each parent has possession of the child.

The courts prefer for parents to agree on a possession schedule; however, sometimes parents are unable to do so.  The Texas Family Code contains a schedule called a Standard Possession Order, which in many instances the court will order if the parents are unable to agree.

Sometimes a parent will not be allowed to have visitation with his or her child pursuant to a Standard Possession Order.  If a parent is abusive to or neglectful of a child and that abuse or neglect is proven, the court may order that the abusive or neglectful parent’s visitation be supervised, restricted or, in some very rare instances, denied.

Children are the happiest and healthiest when fighting between their parents does not occur or is minimized.  When both parents are actively and positively involved in the child’s life, the child ultimately benefits.

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