Child Custody Lawyer Serving Denton, Lewisville, Sanger, Ponder, Carrollton, Corinth, Frisco, Flower Mound, Aubrey, Oak Point, Pilot Point, Little Elm, Lake Dallas, and The Colony, Texas.
Having to fight for custody of your children is heartbreaking. Whether you are seeking custody for the first time in a divorce or a paternity dispute, seeking more decision-making rights, or seeking to enforce an existing custody order, we understand what you are going through. As an experienced child custody lawyer, Ms. Parker also understands what it takes to win custody rights or enforce existing custody orders in Texas courts.
About Texas Child Custody (Conservatorship) Orders
In Texas, child custody is referred to as “conservatorship.” The Texas Legislature created this term to mean "decision-making" and provides a laundry list of decision-making rights in the Texas Family Code. A parent named in a court order is also called a "conservator" (decision-maker).
In granting conservatorship rights and duties (decision-making rights and duties), the courts want to hear evidence pertaining to the best interests of the child, and grant custody to a parent who exhibit behavior that supports the best interest of the child. This is true even when the child is of the appropriate age (twelve years or older) to express his or her wishes to the court.
A conservatorship order may include:
- Grant sole decision-making rights (sole managing conservatorship (SMC)) to one parent or another suitable family member, giving that person exclusive decision-making rights for the child. If a parent is awarded an SMC, then the other parent is designated a possessory conservator (PC) who has the right to visit the child, but not the right to make decisions for the child; or
- Grant joint or independent decision-making rights (joint managing conservatorship (JMC)) to both parents or to a parent and another family member, giving those individuals equal or independent decision-making rights for the child. If both parents are awarded JMC of the child, then both parents will be given a set of visitation schedule and a list of decisions they may make independently of the other parent; or
- Grant joint decision-making rights (JMC) subject to agreement of the other parent. This means that the Court may order each parent to have a list of rights but they may not make a decision without the agreement of the other parent.
Most parents (i.e. conservators or decision-makers) in a court order are entitled to the following rights and subject to the following duties:
1. The right to receive information from any other conservator of the child concerning the health, education, and welfare of the child;
2. The right to confer with the other parent to the extent possible before making a decision concerning the health, education, and welfare of the child;
3. The right of access to medical, dental, psychological, and educational records of the child;
4. The right to consult with a physician, dentist, or psychologist of the child;
5. The right to consult with school officials concerning the child's welfare and educational status, including school activities;
6. The right to attend school activities;
7. The right to be designated on the child's records as a person to be notified in case of an emergency;
8. The right to consent to medical, dental, and surgical treatment during an emergency involving an immediate danger to the health and safety of the child; and
9. The right to manage the estates of the child to the extent the estates have been created by the parent or the parent's family.
10. The duty to inform the other conservator (parent) of the child in a timely manner of significant information concerning the health, education, and welfare of the child;
11. The duty to inform the other conservator (parent) of the child if the conservator resides with for at least 30 days, marries, or intends to marry a person who the conservator knows is registered as a sex offender under chapter 62 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure or is currently charged with an offense for which on conviction the person would be required to register under that chapter.
12. The duty to inform the other conservator (parent) of the child if the conservator establishes a residence with a person who the conservator knows is the subject of a final protective order sought by an individual other than the conservator that is in effect on the date the residence with the person is established.
13. The duty to inform the other conservator (parent) of the child if the conservator resides with, or allows unsupervised access to a child by, a person who is the subject of a final protective order sought by the conservator after the expiration of sixty-day period following the date the final protective order is issued.
14. The duty to inform the other conservator (parent) of the child if the conservator is the subject of a final protective order issued after the date of the order establishing conservatorship.
When a parent has the child in their possession, Texas law imposes the following duties:
1. The duty of care, control, protection, and reasonable discipline of the child;
2. The duty to support the child, including providing the child with clothing, food, shelter, and medical and dental care not involving invasive procedure;
3. The right to consent for the child to medical and dental care not involving an invasive procedure; and
4. The right to direct the moral and religious training of the child.
The following decision-making rights are allocated to each parent by the Court based upon the best interest of the child:
1. The right to designate the primary residence of the child within a restricted geographic area. In cases where a parent is named a sole managing conservator, there is no residency restriction for the parent.
2. The right to consent to medical, dental, and surgical treatment involving invasive procedures.
3. The right to consent to psychiatric and psychological treatment of the child.
4. The right to receive and give receipt for periodic payments for the support of the child and to hold or disburse these funds for the benefit of the child.
5. The right to represent the child in legal action and to make other decisions of substantial legal significance concerning the child.
6. The right to consent to marriage and to enlistment (by the child) in the armed forces of the United States.
7. The right to make decisions concerning the child's education.
8. Except as provided by section 264.0111 of the Texas Family Code, the right to the services and earnings of the child.
9. Except when a guardian of the child's estate or a guardian or attorney ad litem has been appointed for the child, the right to act as an agent of the child in relation to the child's estate if the child's action is required by a state, the United States, or a foreign government.
10. The duty to manage the estate of the child to the extent the estate has been created by community property or the joint property of the parent.
So Many Rights - What To Do?
Because the laundry list of rights and duties (listed above), parents come into the office of Ms. Parker and provide her with their objectives and their list of rights. There is no "one size fit all" for each client that comes through the door. That is why a parent going through a custody battle should consult and retain an experienced attorney to help the parent navigate the many permutations of parental rights and duties.
In other words, should a parent have the sole right to make some or all decisions for the child, or should a parent have a right subject to the consent of the parent, or should a parent have a right after consultation with the other parent, or should a parent have an independent right to make decisions without consulting with the other parent? What about tie-breakers? Who should be the tie-breakers? What is considered an invasive versus a non-invasive medical procedure?
These are just some of the many questions that a parent has to consider when negotiating custody with the other parent.
Seeking or Defending Against a Modification of Texas Child Custody (Conservatorship) Orders
When circumstances change in a parent's life or in the child's life, such that the best interests of the child are no longer being served, concerned parents – and in appropriate cases, other relatives – may seek modification of the court's conservatorship order. A modification proceeding can either be agreed upon (if both parents agree that the child's best interests would be served under an alternate conservatorship arrangement), or adversarial (if only one parent seeks modification). More often than not, when a parent is seeking to modify a custody or visitation order, the other parent does not agree, and inevitably, both sides end up in court to defend their position.
Common reasons for seeking modification of Texas conservatorship or visitation orders are:
- Changed financial or living circumstances
- Allegations of mental or physical abuse
- The child's living environment has become dangerous or harmful to the child's mental, physical, or emotional health
- The primary conservator has relinquished custody for at least six months
- The child is at least 12 years old and has informed the Court of his or her living preference
- Any other significant change in circumstance to warrant a modification
The most common defense against a parent seeking modification of a Texas custody or visitation orders are (1) it is not in the best interest of the child, (2) nothing has changed, and/or (3) the other parent is bringing this modification to harass or torment. If the parent wins a defense against a modification, that parent may request a reimbursement of attorney's fees and costs.
The language in the Texas Family Code states generally that a court may modify a prior conservatorship or possession order if the modification would be in the child's best interest and the circumstances of the child, a conservator, or other party affected by the order have materially and substantially changed.
There are additional requirements to support a modification of a prior custody or possession order, but this general requirement should give notice to the parent that a modification is not as easy as it appears. The Court requires the conservator (parent) to "prove up" their case by submitting evidence.
Parents and relatives should not seek to “modify custody” by simply altering the child's living arrangement and doing it without a court order. Changing the child's primary place of residence could likely be a violation of the court's conservatorship order, and may make it much more difficult to obtain legal custody, not to mention the possibility to having to pay the other parent's attorney's fees and costs.
Case law in Texas is replete of situations when the Court has granted or denied a request for modification. So, each client's case is fact-intensive and each client should be prepared to provide extremely detailed affidavits in support of their position.
Ms. Parker has extensive experience representing parents seeking or defending against a modification of Texas conservatorship order, and will help you navigate the nuances of the law on modifying a Texas custody or possession order, including helping you prepare evidence to support or defend against the argument of changed circumstances, and present your case to the Court.
Seeking Enforcement of or Defend Against Texas Child Custody (Conservatorship) or Visitation Orders
If your former spouse or partner is refusing to honor the terms of your conservatorship order, Helene Parker & Associates, L.L.C., can represent you in court to seek an enforcement of your decision-making or visitation rights. Ms. Parker can also represent you in defending against an enforcement of those rights.
The pleadings to enforce a court order must be fact specific and detailed. A general statement accusing the other side of not following a court order is insufficient. Case law in this area requires the parties to plead specifically in order to win their enforcement action. If a parent wins an enforcement action for visitation or custody, that parent may ask the Court to order the other side to reimburse their attorney's fees and costs.
From relatively simple disputes over whether a parent has complied with the visitation order to cases involving international parental kidnapping (Hague Convention cases), you can rely on Ms. Parker's experience to help you protect your child. In Hague Convention cases, it is imperative that a parent seek legal counsel to assist them navigate the requirements under the Hague Convention and submit a timely application through the Department of Texas.
Visitation and Child Support
Visitation rights and child support rights are addressed separately from conservatorship (child custody). In other words, they are not linked. If your custody rights are being violated, you must still respect any visitation and child support orders as they currently exist. Failure to do so could result in a finding of contempt by the court, making it more difficult for you to obtain modification of custody.
Speak with Child Custody Lawyer Helene Parker
Contact Helene Parker & Associates, L.L.C., today to schedule a free 30 minute consultation with Helene Parker about seeking or defending against a modification or enforcement of your conservatorship (child custody) order. We serve clients in Denton, Corinth, Little Elm, Sanger, Ponder, Cross Roads, Pilot Point, Oak Point, Frisco, Aubrey, Carrollton, Lewisville, Flower Mound, The Colony, and surrounding areas.