When parents divorce, the children involved are typically at the center of the most contentious battles. Possession and visitation determinations carry not only financial implications but also significant emotional weight, affecting the family dynamic in the long term.
During the child custody legal proceedings, you and your ex-spouse may arrive at the point where you need the court to settle a dispute on parental roles and responsibilities. This is important because there are clear and consequential differences between “custodial” and “non-custodial” parents in Texas.
You may have questions like, “What does custodial parent mean?” according to Texas law. As a family law attorney, I will help you understand this distinction, your rights as a parent, and your expected duties to arrive at the best possible outcome post-divorce.
“Custodial” vs. “Non-Custodial” Parents Defined
In Texas, the custodial parent (or “managing conservator”) and the non-custodial parent (“possessory conservator”) can be determined by an agreement between the parents or by the court.
Texas courts typically assume joint legal custody if both parties are determined to be fit parents. This only means that both parents will be able to make decisions regarding their children, such as their health care and education. One parent will still earn primary conservatorship when the court determines physical custody.
Custodial parents have primary custody of their children, with their home being where the children spend the most time. Non-custodial parents adhere to a visitation schedule set either by an agreement between parents or by a court ruling. The non-custodial parent will also be responsible for making child support payments.
Custodial vs. Non-Custodial Parental Rights in Texas
It is critical to understand that both custodial and non-custodial parents have rights that the other parent’s unilateral decisions cannot deny.
Custodial Parent’s Rights
- To choose the child’s primary residence
- To authorize mental health treatment and health care procedures (e.g., surgery) for their child
- To receive child support payments and appropriate their use for the child’s benefit
- To set legal representation and make legal decisions pertaining to the child
- To make decisions regarding the child’s education
- To use the child’s services and earnings
- To act as an agent of the child’s estate if required by state or federal law
- To consent to marriage and enlist in the armed forces
Non-Custodial Parent’s Rights
In most cases, the Standard Possession Order (SPO) dictates the non-custodial parent’s rights in Texas law. This is primarily based on their living distance from the children.
Unless determined otherwise by the court, the non-custodial parent retains similar rights to the custodial parent with the exception of choosing the primary residence and receiving child support. Limitations may be placed on the non-custodial parent’s ability to make medical or educational decisions regarding the child.
Under the SPO, non-custodial parents have the following visitation schedule:
- When the parent lives LESS than 100 miles away from the other parent:
- First, third, and fifth weekend of each month
- Every Thursday evening
- Every other holiday (e.g., Christmas every other year)
- Extended 30-day span during summer vacation
- When the parent lives MORE than 100 miles away from the other parent:
- Weekend visitations may remain unaltered or be reduced to one weekend per month
- Alternating holidays as normal
- Every spring break and an extended 42-day period during summer vacation
An expanded SPO can also be granted by the court, which increases the visitation hours and changes pickup and drop-off on weekends and Thursdays.
Custodial Parent Determinations Between Mother and Father
Although the mother is most often the custodial parent, there are still opportunities for fathers to be designated as the custodial parent. This happens about 10 percent of the time, according to the Office of the Attorney General (OAG).
Custodial and non-custodial parents are determined by the best interests standard, which determines the most suitable arrangement for the well-being of the child and the parent-child relationship. The following are some factors that are considered in making the decision:
- The child’s preference, if they are over 12 years old
- The child’s immediate and future mental, physical, and emotional needs
- Stability of the home and potential dangers to the child
- Availability of assistance programs for parents to support the child’s best interests
- Parental acts or omissions and their associated excuses
How Child Support is Determined
Along with determining the custodial and non-custodial parent, the court will strive to make a child support determination. The court will assess the financial situation of both parents to determine how much and how often the non-custodial parent should pay in child support.
The amount is normally based on net income and Texas state guidelines:
- 10 percent of net income for one child.
- 10% of net income for one child
- 25% for two children
- 30% for three children
- 35% for four children
- 40% for five children or more
Despite these guidelines, special circumstances can cause the amount to adjust up or down. You will want to work with a family law attorney to help protect your rights as a parent and look out for your financial situation.
Work with a Family Law Attorney to Protect Your Rights
In child custody cases, it is absolutely critical to honor any court summons and supply the most accurate information for fair rulings. Missed court dates and inaccurate or outdated information can allow courts to make decisions without your input.
Furthermore, it is equally vital to fully understand the details of any legal documents before you sign. These are difficult or impossible to reverse in many cases. That’s why partnering with a family attorney is the best way to protect your rights and accurately represent your interests in court.
As a Texas family law expert, I am intimately familiar with the challenges and emotions inherent to the delicate nature of child custody. I will work passionately to ensure that you receive the most beneficial ruling. I have helped countless parents in Fort Bend County, Brazoria County, and Harris County arrive at the best possible outcome.
If you have questions about a pending child custody case following a divorce or want to know more about what a custodial parent means for your situation, contact my offices today.
You can reach my offices at 281-944-5485 or 979-267-7660 to find legal support during this challenging time for you and your family. Let’s get to work on your case!