Articles Posted in Child Custody

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A parent may demand a jury trial in a Texas custody case.  After the jury decides certain foundational issues, the trial court then determines the specific terms and conditions.  The Texas Family Code prohibits the court from contravening the jury’s verdict on certain specified issues, including primary residence. Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 105.002.

A mother recently challenged a trial court’s possession order on the grounds it contravened the jury’s verdict and was not in the child’s best interest.  The father petitioned to be named joint managing conservator with the exclusive right to designate the child’s primary residence when the child was two months old.  The jury found the mother should have the exclusive right to designate the child’s primary residence within the state of Texas.  Following a bench trial on possession and access, the trial court orally ordered the father would have “week on/week off” possession.

The court issued a final order appointing the parents joint managing conservators with the mother having the exclusive right to designate the primary residence in Texas.  The order also granted the father week-on/week-off possession until the child turned five and started kindergarten.  In August 2022, the father would be subject to a standard possession order.

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Generally, a Texas child custody order can be modified only if the modification is in the child’s best interest, and there has been a material and substantial change in circumstances. Family violence may constitute a change in circumstances warranting a modification.

In a recent case, a mother challenged a modification, alleging that there was insufficient evidence of family violence to support a finding of a change in circumstances. When the child was an infant, the parents entered into an agreed order, appointing both of them as joint managing conservators, with the mother having the exclusive right to designate the primary residence.

The mother was subsequently charged with assaulting the father’s girlfriend.  In December 2016, the mother took the child to California to live with her mother and other children.

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Texas child custody law includes a presumption that a parent will be appointed sole managing conservator or both parents will be joint managing conservators of their children unless a court finds that doing so would significantly impair the health or emotional development of the children. Although it can be difficult for a third party to get custody of a child, it does occur in some cases.  Grandparents and stepparents, in particular, can play significant roles in children’s lives and may want custody.  A father recently challenged an order appointing him, the mother, and the stepfather as joint managing conservators of the child.

The father argued that the stepfather had not rebutted the parental presumption. He argued that the stepfather had to rebut the parental presumption in Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 153.131(a) to succeed in his petition to modify the prior order.  The appeals court found, however, that the statute and the presumption contained therein only apply to original custody proceedings.  The order at issue was not the original order, but it was instead a modification of the prior order.  The presumption was therefore not applicable, and the stepfather did not have to rebut it at this stage.

The father also argued that the stepfather did not have standing to petition for a modification.  The father argued that Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 102.004 applied.  Under this statute, a grandparent or another relative may file suit seeking custody if the child’s current circumstances would significantly impair his or her health or emotional development, or if the suit is filed or consented to by the parents or the managing conservator.

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Under Texas family law, a court may grant grandparents reasonable possession and access to a grandchild if three conditions are met.  First, at least one of the child’s parents, whether adoptive or biological, must have parental rights to the child.  Second, the grandparent must overcome the presumption the child’s parent is acting in the child’s best interest by showing that denying the grandparent possession or access would result in significant impairment to the child’s health or well-being.  Finally, the grandparent must be the parent of the child’s parent, and that parent must have been incarcerated during the past three months, have been found incompetent, be deceased, or not have possession or access to the child.  TEX. FAM. CODE ANN. § 153.433.

In a recent case, a father challenged an order allowing the maternal grandparents possession and access to his children.  The parents and children stayed with the grandparents while they looked for a house when they moved to Texas from California.  The grandparents supported the family so the parents could save up to buy the home.  After the parents bought a home nearby, the children regularly visited their grandparents, sometimes overnight.  The grandparents would take the children to school and attend school functions.  The grandmother testified she felt she had assumed the role of parent.

The grandmother testified both parents were alcoholics.  The mother’s friend testified the parents had a tense and unhealthy relationship.  There was testimony that the mother sent the children to stay with the grandparents when the situation at home grew tense.  The father’s friend testified the father left the children with the grandparents when he went to bars and nudist colonies.  He also testified the father told him he often argued with the mother, but did not state the arguments ever turned physical.

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Generally, a permanent injunction is difficult to obtain and requires proof that certain requirements are met.  In Texas child custody cases, however, a court may be able to issue a permanent injunction, even if those requirements have not been met, if it finds that the injunction is in the child’s best interest.  In a recent case, a father appealed an injunction prohibiting him from allowing contact between his girlfriend and his child.

The parents had agreed to temporary orders prohibiting any unrelated adult in a romantic relationship with one of the parents from spending the night in a home with the child.  The temporary order also stated that the father’s girlfriend would not be around the child while the father had possession.

Following a mediated settlement agreement addressing all other issues, the trial court held a hearing to address this issue. The trial court granted an “injunction” prohibiting contact between the father’s girlfriend and the child without hearing evidence.  The mother’s attorney stated they had been unable to serve the father’s girlfriend with notice of the hearing.  The court indicated it was entering a “permanent morality clause” based on the girlfriend not testifying. The father’s attorney argued there was no evidence to support a permanent injunction.  The court stated it was a “moral clause,” not an injunction, but then heard evidence from the mother, the mother’s other daughter, and the process server.

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Under Texas family law, a child’s parents have certain rights and duties regarding their children, including the right of possession and the right to make certain decisions related to them.  Parents also have the duties to support, care for, and protect their children.  Though in some cases, the parent-child relationship must be established.

In a recent case, a child’s alleged biological father petitioned to establish paternity several years after the child was born. The child’s mother had been married to her husband since 2008.  The child was born in July 2010.  According to the appeals court’s opinion, the mother also had a sexual relationship with the petitioner for about four years, including the approximate period of the child’s conception. The mother told the petitioner he was the child’s biological father during and after the pregnancy.

The husband believed he was the child’s biological father during the pregnancy and for at least the first four years of the child’s life.  The child knows the husband as his father.

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In some Texas custody cases, the parents live near each other and where the case will be heard is not an issue.  In other cases, however, one parent has moved away and there may be a dispute over jurisdiction.  Although the child’s home state generally has jurisdiction, there are circumstances where the child does not have a home state.

In a recent case, a mother challenged the Texas court’s jurisdiction over the child’s custody.  The family lived in South Carolina when the child was born, but moved to Texas a few months later.  They went to Michigan to celebrate the child’s first birthday. The father said it was a vacation, but the mother said she planned to move to Michigan then.  They all went back to Texas, but the mother moved to Michigan with the child early the next month.

The father then filed suit seeking temporary child custody orders in Texas.  He sought the exclusive right to designate the child’s primary residence.  The Texas court entered temporary orders. The father added a divorce petition.

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Texas divorce cases are never easy, but can become even more complicated when one or both parents have mental health problems.  Mental health problems may, but do not necessarily, affect a parent’s competence to testify or participate in the proceedings.  Depending on the nature of the mental health problems, they may also affect the parent’s ability to care for the child.

In a recent case, a mother challenged a trial court’s order appointing the father as sole managing conservator.  According to the appeals court’s opinion, the husband filed for divorce when the child was just eight months old.  The trial court issued a temporary order appointing both parents temporary managing conservators.  The father was working in Las Vegas at the time and was granted possession on weekends when he was in San Antonio, with the mother having the child the rest of the time.  Both parents were ordered to participate in psychological evaluations.

The court limited the mother’s contact with the child to supervised visits after receiving the psychological evaluations.  The child was to live with his paternal grandmother in San Antonio, but granted the father possession when he was in San Antonio.

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It can be very difficult for a non-parent to get custody of a child in Texas custody cases.  A presumptive father may, however, have an advantage over other non-parents.  In a recent case, the appeals court found a presumptive father did not have to establish non-parent standing even though the court adjudicated someone else as the child’s father.

The biological father challenged the order appointing him, the child’s mother, and the mother’s former husband joint managing conservators with the stepfather having the right to establish the child’s residence. The biological father had intervened in the divorce proceeding between the mother and her husband. Although the trial court adjudicated him as the child’s father, it gave custody to the stepfather, who also got custody of his own two children.

The father questioned the stepfather’s standing under Section 102.004 of the Texas Family Code, which provides that a grandparent or other person may not file an original suit for conservatorship, but may intervene in a pending suit if there is proof appointment of a parent or the parents as managing conservator(s) “would significantly impair the child’s physical health or emotional development.”

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Most Texas custody cases are between a child’s parents, but in some cases other family members may be involved.  In a recent case, an uncle challenged a modification of the access and possession terms of a court order related to his brother’s child.  Although the trial court expressed an intention to clarify the original order, the appeals court found it had improperly made a substantive change.

The child’s father is deceased.  In 2016, the father’s brother filed suit to be named as the child’s primary conservator.  The uncle and the mother ultimately reached an agreement, which was incorporated by the court’s order.  The order gave primary possession to the uncle and periodic possession to the mother.  The uncle had the right to request the mother undergo drug testing once a month.  She was required to appear for drug testing at a designated location within 24 hours of the uncle sending notice.  The uncle was prohibited from sending notice Friday through Sunday at 9:00 a.m. If the mother failed to appear within 24 hours, the results would be deemed positive.  If the drug test results were positive or deemed positive, the mother’s periods of possession would be suspended until there was a further court order.

The mother moved to enforce the order a month after it was entered.  She alleged the uncle did not make the child available to her during her time.  She sought criminal and civil contempt, additional periods of possession, and attorney’s fees.  She also asked the court to clarify the original order if it found any part of it was insufficiently specific to be enforced through contempt.

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