If you’re preparing to file for a divorce in Texas that involves children, are facing a child custody modification, or are facing a child custody case with someone to whom you were never married, obtaining child custody terms that honor your parental rights and work for you is paramount.
If this is the challenging situation you find yourself in, it’s important to know that there are steps you can take to improve your chances of securing favorable child custody terms. One of the most important steps you can take is working closely with an experienced Austin family law lawyer.
Know the Court’s Position
If you and your children’s other parent are unable to resolve the matter of child custody between yourselves – no matter how much you attempt to negotiate a mutually acceptable parenting plan schedule – you’ll likely need the court’s intervention. As such, it’s important to understand the court’s position on these matters.
In Texas, the best interests of the involved children guide every child custody decision. The court believes that it is universally beneficial for the children to maximize the time both parents spend with the children unless there is a compelling reason to rule otherwise. Keeping this tendency in mind will help you strategize a parenting plan that aligns with the court’s position.
While one of you may become the primary custodial parent, which means having the children for the majority of overnights, the other parent will likely receive a generous visitation schedule.
Best Interest Factors
When Texas courts make child custody determinations, they look to a range of factors that help them determine the children’s best interests. The factors that are most significant in terms of your ability to obtain desired child custody terms include all the following considerations:
Each parent’s level of involvement with the children to date
Each parent’s ability to meet each child’s physical, educational, and emotional needs, including any special needs any of them may have
Each parent’s commitment to co-parenting well with each other
Each parent’s commitment to support the other’s ongoing relationship with the children
By making yourself shine in each of these categories, you demonstrate to the court that you are committed to being there for your children and being the best parent you can be. Work closely with an Austin family law attorney to help you build a strong case that highlights everything you’re doing right as a parent.
The Status Quo
The status quo refers to your children’s current living situation. The court will be interested in how well your kids have adapted to their home, their school or daycare, and their community. Divorce can be especially hard on children, so the court seeks to minimize the change they’ll be required to endure. If the status quo is working well, the court may be hesitant to disrupt it.
For this reason, you should think twice before moving out of the home while your divorce is pending. If your soon-to-be ex can demonstrate to the court that the children are doing well without you at home, at school, and in their community, it can work in their favor. A better strategy is to find a way to stay in your home with your children.
Maintain a Reasonable Attitude Throughout
If you’re facing a child custody case, it’s a hectic time that is also highly emotional, and it’s only natural to have an unreasonable thought or two. The court, however, expects both parents to act reasonably, and doing so can only work in your favor.
It is essential to be prepared for your court dates, maintain your cool in court, and put your best foot forward as you move through this legal process. It may not be easy, but it’s a good way to let the court know that you’re up to the task of handling a more expansive parenting time schedule. Work with an Austin family law attorney to help you present a strong case to the court.
A Note about Communication
It’s not unusual for communication to fall apart between two parents facing a child custody case, but putting some thought and effort into keeping the lines of communication between you open as your case progresses is in your best interest. Consider the following counsel as you move through your case:
Generally, the clearest form of communication is speaking to each other directly, which you can do in person or over the phone. However, this method may not be even remotely possible in the face of a contested child custody case. Fortunately, there are other options.
When face-to-face communication breaks down, keep your communication with one another strictly in written form by sending messages back and forth electronically. Communicating via text, email, or a parenting app gives the added advantage of saving proof of your interactions.
If even written correspondence devolves into a battle between the two of you, communicating through your respective Austin family law attorneys is likely your best bet.
No matter your chosen communication style, it is always best to avoid turning every issue into a legal battle. Such a stance can let the court know neither of you is invested in mature negotiations.
Put Your Kids First
As mentioned, divorce and child custody concerns are hard on your children – who are naturally your first priority. While you may not be able to make the issue go away, there are steps you can take to protect your children throughout the legal process:
Always consider your children’s feelings and best interests before making a decision that relates to your child custody case.
Never communicate with your soon-to-be ex through your children. Putting your children in the middle in this way puts additional stress and pressure on them.
Provide your children with the assurances they need at this difficult time. It can be especially helpful to include assurances about you and their other parent’s undying love for them and remind them that the reason for the divorce lies solely with the adults – without going into specifics.
While there is no denying that the whole family is going through a difficult transition, you shouldn’t let all the joys of family life fall by the wayside. Make time to continue building happy memories with your children. This can mean reading a story together in the evening, watching a favorite cartoon together before school, or doing anything that is meaningful to you.
Give Social Media a Hard Pass
Social media serves many roles in our lives, but it can be a slippery slope if you’re facing a divorce involving children or a child custody case.
Even if your soon-to-be ex is acting terribly and you really want to share, blasting out your thoughts on social media sends a message that you’re not as committed to effective co-parenting as you would like the court to believe. Even posting pictures or making silly comments can have an effect.
If your divorcing spouse is looking for a way to discredit you, social media can be an excellent source. Even if your posts are perfectly innocent, meanings can be twisted, and you may be revealing more than you realize.
In the end, you should expect anything that you post to live forever – regardless of how private your settings are. The best strategy is to take a social media break while your case is pending. Consult with an Austin family lawyer to learn more about how you can protect yourself from other common custody slip-ups.
You are going through a difficult time, and you naturally need to get some things off your chest. However, remember that there are appropriate and inappropriate ways to share your feelings. All of the following tactics are appropriate and can help you make it through this challenging juncture in your life with the support you need:
Sharing with a loyal family member or friend
Reaching out to a trusted clergy member to discuss the concerns you’re facing
Joining a support group made up of other parents who are going through something similar
Finding a counselor to work through some of your emotional baggage
Sharing privately with people who support you and are there to listen can do you a world of good, and doing so may help you find unique solutions to some of the child custody concerns that are weighing on you.
Just as there is a right way to share, there is also a wrong way. All of the following sharing tactics are not advised when going through a custody case:
Shouting your problems to the rooftops – regardless of who is around
Venting in front of your children, which only increases the pain they’re experiencing
Spreading the word at work, which can feel like gossip and get out of control (Sharing with a trusted friend who is also a coworker is a different matter.)
Discussing your problems with your ex’s family members or friends, which is a bad look that can backfire spectacularly
Ultimately, you’ll want to use discretion when it comes to venting about your divorce, but bottling up your feelings and not finding a healthy way to share your concerns can hurt you and your children.
Consider Requesting an In-Home Evaluation
Child custody cases often come down to a classic “he said,” “she said” – and the court may not have much to go on regarding which parent is more credible. This situation can lead to the assignment of a guardian ad litem.
Ad litem means for the suit or case at hand, and a guardian ad litem is a professional who represents the children's best interests in child custody cases. This responsibility generally involves an in-home evaluation.
If you choose to request an in-home evaluation, meet with your Austin custody lawyer to ensure that you are prepared for this important step in your case.
If Your Case Is Stalled
If your case is at the point where the judge doesn’t know what to think, you can help nudge things along by proactively requesting an in-home evaluation. This request lets the court know that you are confident in your ability to withstand an inspection of your home life with your children and helps ensure that you will be well prepared for the visit when it happens.
Your Home Does Not Need to Be Perfect
The court is not looking for perfection in your home and lifestyle. In fact, a house that runs seamlessly with no wiggle room for the stuff of life – and children – can be a red flag. Instead, the court wants to see a home that’s running smoothly and that does so with a lot of love – just like yours. That said, you’ll want to address all of the following issues before a home visit:
If your home has any dangerous risk factors, take care of them before the home visit.
Your home should be tidy, but there’s no need for it to be spotless.
There’s no need to coach your children prior to the visit. Kids are kids, and they’re good at it. If your children seem stiff and robotic, the guardian ad litem will take notice.
Working yourself into a tizzy before the home visit isn’t going to serve you well – and it doesn’t reflect who you really are as a parent.
Think of your home visit like taking a driving test as an adult. Suddenly, you’re in the car with someone who is judging your driving – even though you’re an accomplished driver with years of experience under your belt. While this may make you nervous, you’ve got this parenting thing down, which makes simply being yourself the best approach.
Don’t Go It Alone
Child custody is a critical matter that is legally complex. Attempting to address the matter without the legal guidance of a seasoned attorney focused on Austin family law leaves you vulnerable to inferior results.
Your trusted lawyer will help you focus on your child custody priorities – rather than fighting over every point with no real plan. Additionally, your attorney will help you successfully navigate the legal process ahead – avoiding common pitfalls while fiercely advocating for your parental rights and terms that work for you.
Turn to an Experienced Austin Family Law Attorney Today
Brett Pritchard at The Law Office of Brett H. Pritchard is an accomplished attorney focused on family law in Austin, TX. Mr. Pritchard has decades of impressive experience helping clients like you successfully resolve their child custody cases with their parental rights intact. Learn more by contacting us online or calling us at (254) 781-4222 today.