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McKinney Child Custody Lawyer: Helping Texas Families

At Nordhaus Walpole, PLLC, we represent North Texas parents in all custody-related matters. This includes establishing custody in the context of a divorce, establishing custody outside of the divorce process, and modifying and enforcing parents’ custody rights. Our McKinney child custody lawyer routinely assists clients with matters including:

When Should I Consider Hiring a McKinney Child Custody Lawyer?

Regardless of whether you and your children’s other parent are able to work together or you need to fight for custody or visitation rights in court, it is important not to overlook any issues that could lead to disagreements in the future. Whenever possible, our McKinney child custody lawyers help our clients craft comprehensive parenting plans and make informed decisions about issues such as:

  • Parenting time schedules
  • Vacations and holidays
  • Child transportation
  • School and extracurricular activities
  • Routine and emergency healthcare
  • Shared decision-making
  • Curfews, cell phone restrictions, and privacy
  • Pets and pet-related expenses
  • Discipline
  • Amicable conflict resolution

Child custody matters require careful consideration and a thorough understanding of the laws that apply. In Texas, all custody determinations must be made based upon the best interests of the children involved. While divorcing and separating parents have the option to negotiate a parenting plan without turning to the courts for resolution, negotiated parenting plans must clearly reflect the children’s best interests – and not be focused solely upon what is most convenient or most desirable for the parents.

Our McKinney Child Custody Lawyer Explains Texas Custody Terminology 

In Texas, the legal term for custody is “conservatorship.” There are two types of conservatorship under Texas law:

  • Managing Conservatorship – A parent with managing conservatorship has responsibility for making decisions about their child’s education, religious upbringing, healthcare and other matters of similar importance (in other states, this is known as “legal custody”).
  • Possessory Conservatorship — A parent with possessory conservatorship has the legal right to spend time with their child (in other states, this is referred to as “physical custody” and “visitation).

It is possible for parents to share managing and possessory conservatorship (commonly referred to as “joint conservatorship”); or, in some cases one parent may be granted sole conservatorship. The Texas courts generally favor some form of joint conservatorship, as ensuring that both parents maintain an active role in their children’s lives is generally viewed as being in the children’s best interests. However, there are exceptions (such as in the case of family violence), and any parent interested in pursuing sole conservatorship should discuss his or her options with an experienced McKinney child custody lawyer.

Additionally, many people confuse the basic terms surrounding custody. The distinctions are:

Legal Custody:  this refers to the decision making that parents have.  If it is joint, both parents have input in major decisions in the child's life, such as schooling, religious upbringing, and medical care

Physical Custody: this refers generally to the possession and access schedule the parents have with the child/children. the parent with primary physical custody has the child living with them usually greater than 50% of the time

Sole Custody (sole managing conservatorship):  one parent generally has exclusive legal custody (decision making) of the child and that same parent generally has primary physical custody (which doesn’t necessarily mean the other parent is denied access).

Joint Legal Custody:  the decision making for the child is exercised by both parents (this can be set up to be exercised independently, exclusively, by agreement, after talking to the other parent, and other ways)

Joint Physical Custody:  the child shares time between both parents

Protecting the Best Interests of Your Children

When assessing proposed parenting plans, judges in Texas assess a list of factors focused on determining the best interests of the children involved. As a result, when putting together a parenting plan, divorcing and separating parents should focus on these same factors. In Texas, the “best interests” factors for child custody determinations include:

  • Whether the children will benefit from the parents receiving joint or shared custody;
  • Each parent’s ability to give first priority to their children’s needs;
  • Each parent’s ability to reach shared decisions in their children’s best interests;
  • Whether each parent can encourage and accept a positive relationship between his or her children and the children’s other parent;
  • Whether both parents assisted in raising their children prior to their divorce or separation;
  • The parents’ geographical proximity; and,
  • The preferences of any child over the age of 12.

This list is not exclusive, and each factor can carry different weight depending upon the unique personal and family circumstances involved. With our extensive experience in complex custody matters, our McKinney child custody lawyers can help you craft a parenting plan (or seek a custody and visitation order in court) that gives due consideration to all of the relevant factors.

What are the Holley Factors for Child Custody Determinations?

Texas law does allow separating or divorcing parents to submit a proposed parenting plan to the court. If they do not, or if the plan does not reflect the child’s best interest, the court will decide on a custody arrangement. The factors Texas courts will consider are based on a 1976 decision of the Texas Supreme Court, Holley vs. Adams.

Our McKinney Child Custody Attorneys Explain The Holley Factors

  • The preferences of any child over the age of 12
  • The physical and emotional needs of the child now and in the future
  • Any emotional or physical danger to the child now and in the future
  • The parental ability of the individual seeking custody
  • Programs available to assist the parent and the children
  • The plans for the child by the parent seeking custody
  • The stability of the home for proposed placement
  • Acts or omissions of the parent that may indicate that the existing parent-child relationship is not a proper one
  • Any excuse of the acts or omissions of the parent

The American Bar Association has recommended that a child’s development be a paramount consideration of the court. The ABA suggests that the court would benefit from answers to certain age-specific questions.

For example, if the child is 0-18 months, whether the parent is aware of things that could endanger an infant may be considered. For a toddler, the ABA suggests the court should consider the kinds of learning opportunities the parent creates for the child to master physical and mental tasks. For elementary and middle school-aged children, the court should focus on the extent of the parent’s involvement in the child’s school and community, and whether the parent provides the child with time and place to do homework, and provides assistance when needed, as well as whether the parents recognizes the importance of peer friendships and fosters such relationships. For high school-aged children, the ABA recommends consideration of whether the parent is well informed of the adolescent’s school attendance and performance, and helps the teen to evaluate and assess decisions about the future. 

Preparing thoughtful answers to these and other age-specific questions about your child’s development with the help of a McKinney child custody lawyer is key to showing that the “best interest of the child” is served by awarding custody to you.

Texas Child Custody Evaluations

If you are preparing for a divorce and have been doing some research online, you may have come across the term, “child custody evaluation.” Most divorces can be resolved without a child custody evaluation. In fact, the Texas courts consider these evaluations a “last resort,” and they are generally only used for establishing parenting rights and responsibilities when there are unique issues at play and the parents cannot arrive at the terms of an acceptable custody arrangement on their own.

Nonetheless, if you are a parent and you are getting ready to go through a divorce, it is important to find out early in the process if you will be required to undergo a child custody evaluation.

The requirements and standards for child custody evaluations are set forth in Chapter 107 of the Texas Family Code. Unless one or both parents voluntarily agree to undergo an evaluation (which is a decision that needs to be made with the advice of an experienced McKinney child custody attorney), a child custody evaluation can only be conducted pursuant to a court order, and both parents are entitled to a hearing before the court renders its decision. During the evaluation, each parent is entitled to legal counsel of his or her choosing, and the court may appoint an amicus attorney or guardian ad litem to assist in representing the best interests of the child (or children) involved.

In order to make recommendations regarding the parents’ respective child custody and visitation rights, the evaluator may consider numerous factors and sources of information, including:

  • Personal interviews with each of the parents;
  • Interviews with each of the couple’s children;
  • Observations of the children in the presence of each parent;
  • Observations and interviews with any children who live with the parents but are not impacted by the current custody determination;
  • School records, physical and mental health records, criminal records, records from the Department of Family and Protective Services, and any other “collateral” sources of information;
  • Evaluations of each parent’s home environment;
  • Any evidence of abuse or neglect; and,
  • An assessment of each child’s relationship with each parent.

If you will be required to undergo a child custody evaluation, it is important to begin preparing as early as possible. There are steps parents can take to improve their chances of securing custody, and knowing what to expect during the evaluation can be critical to representing yourself in the best possible light.

Texas Child Custody FAQs Answered by Our McKinney Child Custody Lawyer

Does it matter where my children want to live?

Potentially, yes. Under Texas law, if you have a child who is over the age of 12, his or her preference is a factor to be considered when establishing custody. This, obviously, can be a very sensitive matter, and taking a child’s wishes into consideration requires a careful attention to the potential emotional and psychological consequences of asking a child to choose to live primarily with one parent rather than the other. Learn more: Does it Matter Where My Children Want to Live?

Will I be able to obtain custody if I work full-time?

Potentially, yes. In Texas, both parents are given equal consideration in all custody-related matters, and the child’s best interests are what matter most. If you work full-time and it is in your child’s best interests for you to have custody, then you should have custody. There are steps you can take to help prove that you should be designated as your children’s custodial parent. You can learn more in: Seeking Custody When You Work Full-Time.

Will I need to undergo a custody evaluation as part of my separation or divorce?

Maybe, but probably not. In Texas, child custody evaluations are used only as a last resort when parents are completely at odds regarding their wishes for custody and visitation. In most cases, even parents who are in disagreement initially will be able to reach an amicable resolution and avoid the need for court intervention. For more information, you can read: What Do Divorcing Parents Need to Know about Child Custody Evaluations in Texas?

What else do I need to know as a parent preparing for a divorce or separation?

Custody isn’t the only child-related issue that you will need to address during your divorce or separation. Your McKinney child custody attorney will also need to address child support, and there are certain child-related expenses that fall outside of the realm of child support as well. To learn more, read: 5 Key Facts for Parents Considering Divorce.

Schedule a Free, No-Obligation Consultation with an Experience McKinney Child Custody Lawyer

If you are preparing to go through a divorce or separation and would like to speak with a lawyer about child custody, you can contact our McKinney, TX law offices for a free, no-obligation consultation. To schedule an appointment at your convenience, please call (214) 726-1450 or send us a message online today.

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