Custody of the children is the most emotionally charged issue with divorcing parents!!!
HOUSTON CHILD CUSTODY/CONSERVATORSHIP
When do I go to Court about the custody of my children?
What is "Conservatorship?"
A Conservatorship or "custody" order determines the rights and duties of each parent. The Order explains which parent will make particular decisions concerning the child, such as education decisions and where the child will live.
What is “Joint Managing Conservatorship?"
The Court WILL usually appoint both parents as “joint managing conservators” in most circumstances because it is in the best interest of the child to have a close, on-going relationship with both parents.
In order for one parent to have “sole managing conservatorship," there must be severe reasons negatively affecting the physical health or emotional development of the child.
Do the parents have the child an equal amount of time If the conservatorship is joint?
Not necessarily, although it could be "close" to equal.
The “joint” aspect of conservatorship refers to the fact that each parent has certain rights and duties regarding the children. Some rights and duties always belong to both parties; some may belong only to one party; some belong to one of the parties while they have possession of the children; and some are shared by the parties.
Normally, the "visiting parent" is given a Standard Possession Order ("SPO"). There are separate guidelines for those parents who live within 100 miles of each other and for those who live more than 100 miles apart.
The most important aspects of the order deal with weekends and mid-week visitation. Usually, weekend visitation begins at 6:00 on the first, third and fifth Friday of the month and ends at 6:00 p.m. on Sunday. Mid-week visitation is 6:00 to 8:00 p.m. on Thursday of each week during the regular school term. An SPO with "extended options may include a Sunday overnight and/or a Thursday overnight.
There is a special schedule for holidays, spring and summer vacations. If your religion is other than Christian -- or if your family has special celebrations for different holidays not normally considered, your attorney can customize your visitation schedule accordingly.
What if the parents want a different visitation schedule?
The first line of the Standard Possession Order advises that parents are able to allow different visitation so long as they are in agreement. Parents rely on the Standard Possession Order when they are not in agreement.
The parties can also agree to some variations of the Standard Possession Order to meet their specific needs. In that case, they would have a “Modified Possession Order.”
Please remember that the Order needs to be approved by the Court. Judges and courts in various counties differ on what they will and will not allow. Consult with your attorney about your particular circumstances and the kind of modifications you wish to make.
Can one parent move the child out of State?
Normally, the Court will require a geographic restriction of, for example, “Harris and contiguous counties.” This means that if the parties are living in Harris County at the time they divorce, that the person with whom the child lives must continue to live in Harris County – or any county which shares a border with Harris County.
While this is, by far, the most common "geographic restriction," sometimes the parties agree to a different, less severe restriction such as the following:
* The two counties in which the parents are living at the time the court order is finalized,
* A region of 100 miles,
* Two cities and the "corridor" of locations in between the two cities.
Below is a map of Harris County and the Counties that Border it, ie, the "usual" area of a geographic restriction for Harris County.
What if I want to be able to move further away after the divorce?
The Court will usually approve a divorce decree with no “geographical restriction” if the parties agree to this. If the parties do not agree, however, this is an important issue which could result in the divorce suit going to trial. The time to resolve this issue is definitely before the divorce decree is signed and filed with the Court, because it can be difficult to get the other party to agree to remove the restriction later.
What if my ex-spouse is transferred or moves away for some other reason?
If the PARENT WHO HAS THE VISITATION SCHEDULE relocates outside the area of the geographical restriction, then the parent with whom the child lives is no longer required to live within the "restricted area." We say that the geographical restriction is thereby "lifted." (Note: this language should be contained in the divorce decree.)
What If the visiting spouse already lives far away or moves before the divorce is final?
This would support an Order with no geographical restriction.
What does “supervised visitation” mean?
This is usually imposed when there are issues of family violence, or drug or alcohol use by the visiting parent causing a concern for the safety and well-being of the child.
Visitation, in this case, may not be allowed except in a specific time and place, and with another adult present. Visitation may be ordered to occur through a special program called SAFE.
Can my child decide which parent to live with?
The Court will consider the desires of the child, but will make its decision based on a “best interest of the child” standard.
The child may sign an affidavit regarding his or her living preferences at age twelve or older for the Court's consideration.
What is an "amicus attorney?"
The Court may appoint an “amicus attorney” to assist in determining the parent with whom the children should live. This attorney represents the children. Both parties are usually responsible for the fees of the amicus attorney, although the Court may decide to apportion the fees on an unequal basis.
The amicus attorney talks to the parties and the children and visits their homes; and may talk to teachers, doctors, counselors and other family members. The purpose of these interviews is to gain enough information to be able to make an informed recommendation to the Court on the conservatorship and visitation issues.