Killeen Child Custody and Relocation Lawyers
Smart legal guidance for parents in Harker Heights, Copperas Cove and throughout Central Texas
Negotiating and determining child custody is complex and challenging under any circumstances, but when a custody negotiation turns into a custody battle, things can spiral out of control. Whether you’re dealing with low-conflict or high-conflict child custody matters, it’s important to be aware of all state laws and regulations – as well as what’s best for your child, as that will ultimately be the priority of the court. To gain custody of your child(ren) after a divorce, you’ll need to prove to the court that maintaining custody is in their best interests.
The Killeen family law attorneys at the Mary Beth Harrell Law Firm can help when you’re seeking custody of your children. We combine compassionate guidance with aggressive representation, protecting the rights of your children and your family. Our job is to listen, get to know you and ensure the entire child custody process goes as fairly and efficiently as possible. We understand – we’re parents, too, and we all want the best for our children. Contact us today.
Understanding child custody in Texas
Unlike most other states, Texas uses different terminology for child custody. Here, the legal term for custody is “conservatorship.” The person with court-ordered custody of the child is called the “conservator.” Remember, without a court order, a judge can’t enforce any informal child custody agreement. Even if you and the other parent are able to agree on a custody and visitation schedule, it’s imperative to have the agreement reviewed and approved by a judge in the event you need to enforce or modify it in the future.
The court can order three types of conservatorships.
Joint Managing Conservator (JMC)
In most divorce and custody cases, the courts are required to name both parents Joint Managing Conservators. Being named JMCs is like joint custody, where both parents share the rights and responsibilities of caring for their children. These include:
- Decisions regarding the child’s education, medical care and religious upbringing
- Providing for the child’s physical needs (food, clothing, house)
- Providing guidance and discipline
Being JMCs doesn’t mean that each parent has equal, 50/50 time with the child. Typically, one parent is named the Primary Managing Conservator. The child lives with this parent the majority of the time. However, both parents still have the decision-making rights as listed above.
Sole Managing Conservator (SMC)
The court may also name one parent as a Sole Managing Conservator. An SMC has the right to make all or the majority of decisions regarding the care of the child. This means they can exclude the other parent from decisions regarding things like medical care, education, where they will live, and the like.
Reasons the court may decide to award one parent SMC depend on the family’s specific circumstances, but common issues include:
- Absence or unreliability of the other parent
- Alcohol/drug abuse by the other parent
- Child abuse or neglect by the other parent
- Domestic violence by the other parent
When one parent is named SMC, the other parent is usually named the Possessory Conservator.
Possessory Conservator (PC)
The Possessory Conservator is what’s more commonly called the non-custodial parent. When one parent is the SMC, then the other will usually be the Possessory Conservator. The PC has narrower rights to make decisions for instance regarding, healthcare, education, or including:
- Access to child’s health records and opportunity to consult with medical professionals treating the child
- Attending child’s school and extracurricular activities
- Access to child’s educational records and opportunity to consult with school officials
- May consent to non-invasive medical procedures but usually not invasive medical or surgical care
If these sound confusing to you, our child custody attorneys can break down all of these terms into easy-to-understand language, and answer all of your questions.
How does TX determine child custody?
Texas doesn’t favor either parent when determining child custody – it’s neither a “mother” or “father” state. That time is long gone, and the courts use only the best interests of the child when determining matters of custody and conservatorship. Today’s courts are required to name both parents as joint managing conservatorship absent other evidence, but overall their rulings are always based on the best interest of the child.
The court considers a variety of factors when making a decision regarding child custody, including:
- Each parent’s plan to provide financial support for the child
- The child’s medical, educational and religious needs
- Emotional bond and relationship the child has with each parent
- Any history of domestic violence or abuse from either parent
- If either parent has issues with drug or alcohol abuse
- The child’s wishes, if they are old enough
Once the court makes a decision, it’s legally binding and both parents must follow it, or risk a contempt of court action.
Child custody and parental relocation
Another area of child custody our attorneys handle is parental relocation. Parental relocation, like it sounds, is when the custodial parent wants to move to a new city, state (or even country) with the child. This could be for a variety of reasons – a promotion, a remarriage, family or simply a fresh start. However, when parents have a custody agreement in place, the custodial or joint custodial parent can’t just pick up and move. The original custody agreement likely contains geographic restrictions. If you or the other parent want to relocate, the court order must be modified and approved.
The court finalized your original custody agreement based on the best interests of your child or children. Part of your child’s best interest is ongoing and consistent access to both parents, in a stable and caring environment. Whether or not a parent can relocate depends on the child’s well-being, and how they might adjust to a potential move and less access to their other parent.
When a custodial parent plans to relocate, they must notify the other parent of their intent with at least 60 days’ notice. When informing the other parent, the custodial parent should include the planned move date and new address. The custodial parent will need to prove to the court that the move is in the best interest of the child and for legitimate reasons.
Our Killeen child custody lawyers can help you design a new child custody and parenting plan to accommodate any life changes or relocations. We’ll work with you to ensure you’re successful in your goals for the best for your family.
What does the “best interest of the child” mean?
In matters of child custody and conservatorship, you’ll hear the term “best interest of the child” used often. However, do you know exactly what it means? We know that the court makes every decision that affects a child, whether it’s child support or custody, using the child’s best interest as a priority. The most cited and popular legal case regarding the criteria for “best interest” is the 1976 Texas Supreme Court decision Holley v. Adams. The Court wrote the following factors should be considered when determining the best interest of a child:
- The desires of the child
- The emotional and physical needs of the child now and in the future
- The emotional and physical danger to the child now and in the future
- The parenting abilities of the individuals seeking custody
- The programs available to assist those individuals to promote the best interest of the child
- The plans for the child by these individuals or by the agency seeking custody
- The stability of the home or proposed placement
- The acts or omissions of the parent which may indicate that the existing parent-child relationship is not a proper one
- Any excuse for the acts or omissions of the parent
The divorce attorneys at the Mary Beth Harrell Law Firm have considerable experience with all kinds of family law matters, including child custody and conservatorship orders. Let us know how we can help you.
Experienced Killeen child custody and relocation attorneys
Child custody negotiations can quickly turn confrontational without skilled legal counsel. At the Mary Beth Harrell Law Firm, our lawyers are compassionate with our clients but tough in the courtroom. Our comprehensive knowledge of Texas family law ensures your child’s best interests are always the priority. Let us protect the rights of your family. Contact us today at 254-680-4655 or by filling out our contact form below or here. We have offices in Killeen, Harker Heights, Copperas Cove, and Waco.