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BY THE TEXAS BOARD OF LEGAL SPECIALIZATION
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Houston Family Law Blog

Prosecutors fight child custody request of grandmother

Many parents in Texas could never imagine abandoning their child, but it happens more often than anyone would like to believe. In a recent out-of-state case, a teenager's abandonment of her newborn son resulted in prosecutors filing charges against her for attempted first-degree murder. Now, the child's grandmother is attempting to obtain child custody, and prosecutors are fighting that request.

At present, the teenage mother is living with her mother -- the boy's grandmother -- while she is on home detention awaiting the disposition of the criminal charges. The local office of the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) believes that the best interests of the child necessitate him being placed with a biological family member. Prosecutors argue that leaving the baby with a foster family better serves his needs.

Emotions and finances do not mix during a Texas divorce

Regardless of what a Texas couple decides are the issues that led to the end of their marriage, it is most often a conclusion based in emotions.  That may serve the parties in making such an important choice, but it could be counterproductive when it comes to making financial agreements during the divorce process.  If one or both parties approach the division of their assets and liabilities from an emotional standpoint, the futures of both individuals could be in jeopardy.

Dealing with the couple's finances requires more than just deciding who gets what after a cursory review of the assets and liabilities.  The value of an asset is more than a number on an appraisal.  Those numbers do not take into account any money that will be required to maintain or grow the asset and/or the tax implications associated with a particular piece of property.  This is true whether it is the marital home or a retirement account.

What are the two types of child custody in Texas?

Parents going through a divorce are often primarily concerned with what will happen to their children.  The first thing that parents need to know is that child custody in Texas is described as a conservatorship that outlines the legal responsibilities and rights of each parent.  Two types of conservatorships are used in our state -- sole managing conservatorship and joint managing conservatorship.

In a sole managing conservatorship, one parent is responsible to make certain decisions on behalf of the children.  These decisions include where the children will live, go to school and what treatment the children will receive medically, dentally and psychologically.  This parent is also entitled to child support from the other parent and is considered the children's emergency contact, if needed.  The other parent will be afforded visitation with the children based on a schedule created or approved by the court.

Creating a school friendly child custody agreement

Texas parents who are going through a divorce have a plethora of logistical issues to resolve.  As the school year begins, it provides an important reminder for parents to incorporate school related provisions into their child custody agreements.  Doing so could forestall any future miscommunications or confrontations.

For instance, each child's school will need contact information for both parents, but the agreement can designate one party to be the primary contact.  That parent would also be responsible for providing the school with any information, documentation or the like.  This not only helps the parents, but also reduces any confusion on the school's part. The agreement can also outline how the parties will split school-related expenses.

Relocating the children after a Texas divorce

When a parent is given primary physical custody of his or her children, the majority of the day-to-day decisions most likely rest with that parent.  Therefore, it can be disconcerting when that parent must obtain the consent of the other parent and/or the court to relocate the children from Texas to another state or country.  This may not be something that either parent considered at the time of the divorce.

If the custodial parent does want to move out-of-state, the easiest course of action would be to work things out directly with the noncustodial parent.  If an agreement can be reached without involving the court, that would save everyone the time and expense of going to court.  However, it does not always work out that way, and the other parent has the right to object to the relocation.

Monetary considerations in a Texas divorce

In many marriages, one spouse takes care of the finances. Therefore, the other spouse may not be involved very little -- if at all -- in the family's money matters. This may work well for a Texas couple while they are married, but if they get a divorce, this could cause issues in the future.

In some cases, one party will be eligible for alimony or spousal maintenance. However, relying only on an ex-spouse to continue supporting him or her after the divorce is final can be problematic. Any number of things can happen that will leave the person receiving the support without an income. Further, a Texas court may only award temporary support until the receiving party is able to obtain gainful employment.

Protect your parental rights as an unmarried, biological father

Many men and women in Texas are not married when their children are born. This creates a problem for an unmarried couple because a biological father is not considered to be the legal father of the child until paternity is established. Therefore, it is important to protect your parental rights by becoming recognized as the legal father of your child.

At the time of the child's birth, both the mother and biological father of the child can sign an Acknowledgement of Paternity (AOP). This form is sent with the birth certificate to the Bureau of Vital Statistics by the hospital. The father's name is then put on the child's birth certificate, which establishes paternity and makes the you the child's legal father.

Considerations for granting Texas grandparents visitation rights

For one reason or another, some Texas grandparents are denied the right to see their grandchildren by the children's parents. It is possible to petition the court for the right to see them. Whether granting grandparents visitation rights is in the best interests of the child depends on many factors.

In general, the safety, welfare and emotional and physical health of the children are the most important factors in granting visitation to grandparents just as they are in custody decisions. The wishes of the adults involved may be taken into consideration, but only insofar as they do not interfere with the well-being of the children. In addition, the wishes of the children may be considered as long as each child is old enough to make his or own decisions.

Dealing with child custody arrangements for the school year

When Texas parents get divorced, one of the primary issues to resolve relates to the custody of the children. Child custody arrangements in the summertime can allow for time that is more equal with the children since they are not in school. However, children spend the bulk of the year in school, so any custody agreement needs to focus on how to work around the children's school schedule and any extracurricular activities.

Regardless of what terms are agreed to by the parties, consistency is paramount. When everyone knows where the children will be and when, not only is there something to which to look forward, but it limits confusion. This can be especially helpful during the school year.

When an older child wants to change a child custody agreement

Texas parents can spend a good deal of time and money negotiating a custody agreement during a divorce. As the children age, however, one of them may decide he or she wants to live with the other parent. If the parents are willing to discuss this option, it could require some changes to the family's child custody agreement.

Simply letting a child move in with the other parent is not enough. The current arrangement may not give the non-custodial parent the authority he or she needs in order to make decisions necessary to properly care for the child. If both parents agree that the child can move in with the current non-custodial parent, going to the court to modify the existing agreement may be necessary.

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