Whether you are facing a child custody dispute or anticipate coming to a relatively straightforward agreement regarding parenting your children, it is likely that you plan to meet with an attorney. While the legal process may seem daunting, keep in mind that the more thoroughly you prepare, the more easily you will be able to devise a suitable parenting plan.
Texas law clearly states that the best interest of the child is the main factor the court will look at in making custody decisions. Accordingly, Texas strives to ensure that a child has contact with both parents when it is in the child’s best interest. The law also encourages parents who are no longer married to cooperate with one another in raising their children.
With that in mind, consider the following suggestions as you prepare for custody proceedings.
Communicate with the other parent. You and your children’s other parent will need to communicate with each other over the years as you share parenting time and major childrearing decisions. Talking now with the other parent will lay the groundwork for future cooperation. It is possible that you will be able to outline a basic custody schedule if you work together.
Consider alternative dispute resolution. Two main types of alternative dispute resolution can be helpful in child custody matters. Collaborative law is a process in which both spouses and their lawyers meet as a group to negotiate solutions to the issues in the divorce. This process most often includes a neutral mental health professional and a neutral financial professional. The mental health professional will assist the parties with a parenting plan, address the expected emotions that arise in the divorce process and assist with keeping the communications at a high level. While parties are in the collaborative process, they commit not to go to court to resolve disputed issues. Mediation is a process in which both spouses and their attorneys work with an impartial mediator who facilitates negotiating a settlement. Most Texas child custody cases are required to go through mediation before they can go to trial.
Think about the ages of your children. The custody arrangement may differ based on the ages of the children involved. Children have different needs at different stages. If the custody matter goes through the court, the judge may speak with the children outside the courtroom. The older the child, the more likely it is that the child’s wishes will be taken into consideration.
Write down what you do. Document how you take care of your children. Note how much time you spend with them and what you do together. This could be important for the determination of parenting time.
Remember the children’s best interest. Ultimately, child custody decisions should be about what is best for the children involved. While you may have strong negative feelings about your spouse, ask yourself whether acting on these feelings will be in the best interest of your children. Often, the answer is no. Most kids simply need their parents to work together to create a balanced parenting plan.
An experienced Texas family law attorney can advise you further as you seek solutions to your child custody dispute.