How Does Texas Decide Who Gets Physical Custody of a Minor Child?
It’s a common misperception that, when a couple divorces and there are minor children in the home, the mother will get physical custody, unless there’s a showing that the mother is unfit. The so-called “tender years” doctrine, now a vestige of the past in Texas, commonly produced that result. That theory, which asserted that a mother was best prepared and qualified to tend to the needs of small children (typically under the age of 5), has been generally rejected, both in Texas and across the nation. Under the law as it is now enforced, the court’s primary concern, when determining custody arrangements, is the “best interests of the child.” As a general rule, courts look for solutions that encourage and maintain strong relationships between minor children and both parents. Custody and visitation arrangements in Texas (now referred to as “managing conservatorship” and “possession”) now promote situations where minor children live with each parent on a regular basis.
How Do Texas Courts Determine the “Best Interests of the Child”?
Under Texas law, the judge may look at a number of factors when seeking to identify the best interests of the child:
- The physical and emotional needs of the child, both now and in the future
- The likelihood of physical or emotional danger to the child as posed by either parent, either now or in the future
- The demonstrated parental skills and abilities of both parents
- The demonstrated stability of the home of any parent seeking physical custody
- Any prior behaviors of either parent that compromise the parent-child relationship
- The wishes of the minor child
- Any programs that may be available to help the parties promote the best interests of the minor child
What Level of Custody Can a Father Reasonably Expect to Receive in Texas?
In Texas, as in many states, the current trend is toward full joint physical custody, where the minor child spends approximately half his or her time with one parent and the remaining time with the other parent. The courts are generally disinclined to grant either a father or a mother full physical custody, unless it can be shown that doing so is in the best interests of the child. For either parent to obtain full custody, he or she must typically introduce evidence that the other parent has a history of physical, emotional or sexual abuse of the child; that there is documented evidence of neglect; or that the other parent has engaged in any type of conduct that poses a threat to the safety or welfare of the child.
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