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Child Custody and Relocation in Texas

By Ferguson Law Practice

Divorce can take a heavy emotional toll on anyone. For couples with children, the legal proceedings can be even more stressful. Child custody can be a highly contentious part of marriage dissolution for Texas families, leaving parents and guardians with a range of valid concerns regarding the health and safety of their little ones. How do family courts decide child custody cases? What constitutes unfit parenting? Are custody decisions set in stone?

In this blog, we’ll answer these questions and more by reviewing some key elements of child custody laws in Texas.

Understanding Conservatorship under Texas Law

Child custody, also known as conservatorship in Texas, refers to parents’ legal rights and responsibilities regarding their child’s upbringing and well-being after divorce or separation. In Texas family law, conservatorship outlines the roles and duties of parents and determines how major decisions are made for the child.

There are two main types of conservatorship in Texas:

  1. Joint Managing Conservatorship (JMC): This is the most common form of conservatorship in Texas. Under JMC, both parents share the rights and duties related to the child, including decisions about education, healthcare, religion, and extracurricular activities. While both parents have a say in these matters, the child may still primarily reside with one parent (known as the “primary conservator”), and the other parent typically has visitation rights or parenting time.
  2. Sole Managing Conservatorship (SMC): In this form of conservatorship, one parent has the exclusive right to make major decisions for the child, including where the child will live. The noncustodial parent may still have visitation rights, but their decision-making authority is limited. Sole managing conservatorship is typically awarded in cases where the court determines that it is in the child’s best interests to limit one parent’s rights significantly, such as in cases of abuse or neglect.
The court’s primary consideration in determining conservatorship arrangements is the child’s best interests. The court aims to ensure that the child’s physical, emotional, and developmental needs are met while fostering a continuing and meaningful relationship with both parents when possible.

It’s important to note that conservatorship is distinct from physical custody (possession and access) and legal custody (the right to make decisions for the child). While conservatorship defines the legal framework for parental roles and responsibilities, physical custody determines where the child primarily resides, while legal custody addresses decision-making authority.

Together, these aspects establish a comprehensive structure for co-parenting by addressing the child’s needs following a divorce or separation.

Understanding Conservatorship under Texas Law

Family courts are legally obligated to always prioritize the child’s best interests when determining custody arrangements. Factors such as the child’s emotional and physical well-being, stability, and the ability of each parent to provide a safe and nurturing environment are taken into consideration.

What Constitutes an “Unfit” Parent in Family Court?

No parent is perfect, and no parent should feel obligated to meet perfectionistic standards when it comes to childrearing. While letting the court decide your child’s living conditions and upbringing can be stressful and frustrating at times, you can take heart in knowing that the court likely shares the same desire as you: to love and care for your child as best as possible under the circumstances.

By no means do family courts expect perfection from co-parents; however, there are several key factors that Texas judges can take into consideration when establishing child custody or unfit parents, including (but not limited to):

  • Each parent’s relationship with the child
  • Any history of domestic violence or substance misuse
  • Each parent’s living environment
  • The co-parenting relationship
  • The health of each parent
  • The earning capacity of each parent
  • The child’s preference, if age-appropriate
  • Each parent’s financial stability and consistency

Child Relocation Under Texas Family Law

Parents with custodial rights cannot simply relocate with an active parenting plan in place without first obtaining permission from the court or the other parent’s consent. First and foremost, the petitioning parent must demonstrate “a material and substantial change” in circumstances that significantly affect the existing visitation and custody arrangement.

5 Steps to Modify a Parenting Plan in Texas

When parents with custodial rights wish to relocate, the court can consider various factors to determine whether the move is in the best interests of the child. These factors include:

  • The reasons for the proposed relocation: The court will evaluate the motives behind the move, such as employment opportunities, educational prospects, or better living conditions.
  • The impact on the child’s relationship with the noncustodial parent: Relocation can affect the frequency and quality of visitation between the child and the noncustodial parent. The court will assess the potential disruption caused by the move.
  • The child’s preference: Depending on the child’s age and maturity level, their preference regarding relocation may be considered by the court.
  • The ability to maintain a stable, loving environment for the child: The relocating parent must demonstrate their capacity to provide a secure and nurturing environment for the child in the new location.

Child Custody: 5 Steps to Relocation with an Active Parenting Plan

If a parent with custodial rights wishes to relocate with an active parenting plan, they can take the following steps:

  1. Secure experienced representation: When navigating a child custody or relocation case, it’s imperative to seek sound counsel from a qualified family lawyer. An experienced Texas attorney can guide you through the legal proceedings, fortify your claims with relevant evidence, and work to present a compelling argument in court.
  2. Maintain open communication with the other parent: It’s crucial to discuss the proposed relocation with the other parent and attempt to reach an agreement that benefits the child. Voluntary consent from the noncustodial parent significantly simplifies the process.
  3. Consider mediation or negotiation: In some cases, if an agreement cannot be reached directly, parents can consider mediation or negotiation with the assistance of legal professionals. These methods can help explore alternative solutions and potentially find common ground.
  4. File a petition for modification: If an agreement cannot be reached through negotiation, the relocating parent must file a petition with the court to modify the existing parenting plan. This petition should contain detailed information about the proposed move and the reasons behind it.
  5. Demonstrate the best interests of the child: The relocating parent must present strong evidence to support their case, emphasizing how the move will ultimately benefit the child’s overall well-being. This can include factors such as improved educational opportunities, better living conditions, or proximity to extended family.
Family matters like relocation and parenting plan modifications can be highly complex. It’s critical for parents with custodial rights to navigate family court proceedings wisely to achieve a favorable outcome. By understanding the terms of the existing parenting plan and taking appropriate action to secure qualified legal representation, Texas families can prepare for court while protecting the health and safety of their little ones.

Contact a Trusted Family Lawyer in ATX

At Ferguson Law Practice, our compassionate advocates are proud to provide straightforward, solution-oriented representation to our clients throughout Central Texas. Our Travis County attorneys are well-versed in various legal practice areas, including business, civil, and family law, giving them a diverse skill set and unique knowledge of Texas law. From mergers and acquisitions to estate planning and probate, our team has the rich experience needed to fight for a favorable outcome in court. Reach out to our family lawyers today to learn how we can help protect your rights and prioritize your goals from start to finish.
Texans deserve reliable representation in family court. Call (512) 872-5925 to schedule a consultation with a skilled family lawyer in Travis County.