Determining Child Custody in Texas Using “Best Interests” Standard

Last updated on: June 28, 2023

When it comes to divorce or separation involving children in the state of Texas, the primary concern is always the well-being and best interests of the child. Texas law follows the “best interests” standard when determining child custody arrangements, ensuring that the decisions made regarding custody and visitation are made with the child’s welfare as the top priority. Understanding how the “best interests” standard is applied and knowing the factors considered by the courts can greatly impact the outcome of child custody disputes, making it essential for parents to be well-informed and prepared.

Navigating the complexities of child custody proceedings in Texas can be overwhelming and emotionally challenging. This is where the help of a skilled Houston child custody attorney becomes invaluable. At The Law Office of Whitney L. Thompson, Texas child custody lawyer Whitney L. Thompson and our team of legal professionals may be able to provide crucial guidance and support, advocating for the best interests of the child while helping parents navigate the legal processes involved. From negotiating custody arrangements to representing their clients in court, we can help protect your parental rights and work towards securing the most favorable outcome for your child. Call us today at (281) 214-0173 to schedule a consultation.

Factors Considered in Determining Child Custody

When determining child custody in Texas, a court will seek to determine what living arrangement is in the “best interests” of the child. The trial court is given wide discretion in making its decision. The court considers the following factors in its analysis:

  • Child’s Needs and Development:

Ensuring the child’s needs are met and their development is supported is crucial for the custodial parent. This includes fostering their intellectual and social growth, providing essential necessities, arranging for medical and dental care, and creating a loving and safe environment that promotes the child’s physical, social, and emotional well-being, both in the present and the future.

  • Child’s Preferences:

When a child reaches an age where they can articulate their thoughts and preferences, their opinions regarding custody and other arrangements will be taken into account. The court takes into account factors such as living preferences, spending time with each parent, and any strong desires related to living with or without specific siblings.

  • Parenting Abilities:

The court assesses the parent’s understanding of effective child-rearing and their awareness of the child’s developmental needs. Factors such as involvement in the child’s education and consistent communication with teachers or caregivers are considered. The willingness to cooperate with the other parent also demonstrates a solid understanding of the child’s best interests.

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  • Parental Challenges:

Although perfection is not expected, the court exercises caution when evaluating parents with inconsistent earnings, mental or physical health issues, or substance abuse problems. In such cases, the child’s best interests take priority, and these factors may influence the court’s decision.

  • Support Programs for Parents:

The availability of programs and resources that assist in creating a secure and stable environment for the child is seen as advantageous. Government agencies, non-profit organizations, and community groups offer various programs that can support parents in meeting the child’s best interests. The court views access to such assistance favorably when assessing the parent’s ability to provide for the child.

  • Physical and Emotional Safety:

The court prioritizes the child’s immediate and long-term safety by examining any history of abuse or instances of domestic violence involving either parent. A home environment free from threats of physical harm and emotional trauma is crucial for the child’s well-being.

  • Plans for the Child:

Both parents are expected to articulate their plans for the child, considering both short-term and long-term aspects. This includes arrangements for child care or education, support for the child’s social and extracurricular activities as they grow older, and having a financial plan for future needs such as college education. Thoughtful consideration and preparation for the challenges of single-parenting are considered important factors.

  • Stability of Both Potential Homes:

The stability and security of both parents’ homes are evaluated. Factors taken into consideration include the suitability of each home, the length of residence, the presence of siblings, relatives, or roommates, and whether the child would have a dedicated space. The court also considers the incomes, employment stability, and the type of housing arrangement (owned, leased, rented) to assess the overall stability of each home environment.

  • Improper Parent-Child Relationship:

One parent may present evidence of actions or omissions by the other parent that indicate a failure to maintain a proper parent-child relationship. These instances could range from neglecting the child’s needs to disregarding other responsibilities. During the proceedings, the accused parent has the opportunity to provide an excuse or explanation for their actions or omissions.

Reasons a Judge Will Change Custody in Texas

When it comes to child custody, family law judges place a high value on stability. However, it is crucial to recognize that life is constantly changing and evolving. If there is a significant change in your circumstances that requires a modification to the existing child custody arrangements, it is important to present a strong argument to persuade the judge.

Here are some reasons that can support a request to modify child custody arrangements.

Physical Relocation

If the parent with custody of the child decides to move, the other parent who does not have custody can seek a modification of the child custody arrangement by approaching the court. It is important to understand that simply relocating is not automatically considered a strong reason to change custody, and the success of such a request is not guaranteed. However, the court will consider the impact of the relocation when making a decision.

In general, the court may deem a move as a valid reason to modify child custody if any of the following conditions are met:

  • The move would significantly burden the noncustodial parent, making it challenging to maintain the current custody schedule.
  • If the relocation would have a significant impact, either positive or negative, on the child’s life.

Both parents and the court have the authority to establish restrictions on the custodial parent’s ability to relocate with the child. This can be done through a custody agreement or a court order. For example, an agreement may require the custodial parent to provide advance notice before moving or prevent the custodial parent from moving to another state.

The Child is in Danger

The safety and well-being of children take precedence over the interests of either parent. This core principle guides judges in making decisions that prioritize the child’s best interests, even if it means denying certain requests made by the parents. Several common situations pose risks to children and may necessitate adjustments to child custody arrangements. These situations include:

  • Abuse: Abuse can manifest in various forms, such as physical, sexual, verbal, emotional, or psychological mistreatment.
  • Negligence: For instance, if a parent allows a young child to play in a dangerous area like a street.
  • Substance abuse: A parent’s drug abuse can jeopardize the child’s well-being by negatively affecting their development or impairing the parent’s ability to provide proper care.
  • Mental health issues: Concerns may arise if a parent’s mental health problems raise doubts about their capability to fulfill their parental responsibilities.

One Parent Disregards Custody Terms

When parents go through court proceedings to establish a custody order, whether, through mutual agreement or a judge’s decision, it is expected that both parents will follow the terms of the order. However, there are situations where one parent fails to comply with the agreed-upon terms, causing issues.

These violations can include consistently not returning the child to the other parent’s home on time each week or withholding information about out-of-town trips involving the child. When faced with such situations, it is possible to take legal action by filing a petition to modify the child custody order.

To initiate this procedure, the petitioner is required to give appropriate notice to the non-compliant parent and present evidence before the court. The evidence should establish that the violations constitute a substantial alteration in circumstances that impact the well-being of the child.

The Child’s Needs Have Changed

What works well for a baby may not be suitable for a toddler or a high school student. As a child progresses through different stages of life, their needs can change, and certain environments may be more advantageous for their overall well-being. If you can present compelling evidence to the court that demonstrates the changing needs of the child, you may have a valid reason to seek a modification in custody arrangements.

In situations where a child develops a mental, emotional, or physical condition, and one parent is better equipped to provide appropriate care, this can also be grounds for a judge to consider a custody change. The parent seeking the modification will need to initiate the legal process and substantiate that the changes are substantial and directly impact the child’s welfare. The judge will then carefully evaluate the situation and make a decision based on what is deemed appropriate in the best interests of the child.

A Parent’s Situation Has Changed

Courts recognize that parents experience changes in their situations over time, resulting in child custody orders that are not rigidly fixed. However, if you seek to request a modification of custody based on a parent’s altered circumstances, you must present evidence that the change is significant and will significantly impact the child’s life and well-being.

It’s important to note that not only negative changes but also positive changes in circumstances can justify a custody modification. For example, if the noncustodial parent previously battled substance abuse but can now demonstrate two years of sobriety and a stable job, they may be eligible for a modification that allows them to have increased visitation time with their child.

Reasons a Judge Will Change Custody in Texas Description
Physical Relocation Relocation by the parent with custody of the child, impacting the noncustodial parent and/or the child’s life.
The Child is in Danger Situations where the safety and well-being of the child are at risk, such as abuse, negligence, substance abuse, or mental health issues.
One Parent Disregards Terms When one parent consistently fails to comply with the agreed-upon custody terms.
The Child’s Needs Have Changed Changing needs of the child or a parent’s ability to provide appropriate care.
A Parent’s Situation Has Changed Significant changes in a parent’s circumstances that impact the child’s life and well-being.

Presenting favorable evidence in a persuasive manner is of utmost importance in legal proceedings. With appellate review being limited, it is crucial to rely on the experience of a knowledgeable and diligent attorney. 

At The Law Office of Whitney L. Thompson, PLLC, Houston child custody attorney Whitney L. Thompson may be able to provide the necessary assistance for your child custody matter. Our team of legal professionals can help you with gathering and organizing evidence, crafting compelling arguments, and presenting your case effectively in court. We understand the intricacies of family law and will work tirelessly to protect your rights and interests. 

Contact us today at (281) 214-0173 to schedule a consultation.

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