Children and Parents: Five Keys for Child CustodyThe Texas Family Code statutes outline child custody and support requirements like this:
"The best interest of the child shall always be the primary consideration in determining child custody, without regard to the sex of the parent or child. Sole or joint custody may be awarded, but presumption shall be for joint managing conservators. A finding of a history of family violence involving the parents of a child removes the presumption under this subsection. The court shall use the following factors in determining custody:
- Whether the physical, psychological, or emotional needs and development of the child will benefit from the appointment of joint managing conservators.
- The ability of the parents to give first priority to the welfare of the child and reach shared decisions in the child's best interest.
- Whether each parent can encourage and accept a positive relationship between the child and the other parent.
- Whether both parents participated in child rearing before the filing of the suit.
- The geographical proximity of the parents' residences.
- If the child is 12 years of age or older, the child's preference, if any, regarding the person to have the exclusive right to designate the primary residence of the child"
These requirements are similar across all 50 states, but what do you need to know as a divorcing parent? What are the Five Keys for your child custody settlement?
ONE: Who has legal and physical custody of the child? Parents usually use one of three types of child custody arrangements:
Sole custody gives one parent both legal and physical custody of the child.
Joint custody gives both parents shared physical and/or legal custody of their child.
Split custody gives one parent legal and physical custody of one or more of the children, and the other parent gets legal and physical custody of the rest of the couple's children. All child custody agreements make clear who has custody of the children and what type of custody they have.
TWO: Visitation Schedule.
The child custody agreement should spell out the non-custodial parent's visitation schedule. Is it on a weekly basis, during school vacations and/or on holidays? It should also be made clear how changes to the visitation schedule will be handled. Parents awarded joint child custody will get direction from the court on how physical custody will be split between the two parents.
THREE: Who is the decision maker?
Raising a child involves a series of important decisions, some quite significant. A child custody agreement should address whether - and to what extent - the non-custodial parent will be involved in major decisions involving the children. At the very least, each parent's role in decisions regarding education, religion and health care should be specified. How the children will be disciplined, and an agreement to keep it consistent no matter which roof they're under is key, too.
FOUR: How will expenses be divided?
The child custody agreement should also describe which parent will be responsible for major costs that are not covered by child support. For example, decide which parent is responsible for including the child on his or her health insurance plan. Who will cover the child's school tuition and other related expenses? Which parent is entitled to claim the child as a dependent for tax purposes?
FIVE: How will you deal with the miscellaneous?
Any family law attorney will tell you that no child custody agreement is perfect. Disagreements will, and often do, occur. Parents have to be flexible. Sometimes when the child custody agreement is being forged, things are overlooked. It's natural. It's a very stressful time. As the child custody agreement takes shape, both parents must be willing to anticipate bumps in the road, and be committed to smoothing them out. Your children will depend on it.