If you are facing a child custody case, it’s a critical concern that may consume you. The courts can seem arbitrary, and you may not know how best to protect your parental rights.
To best understand what to expect in your custody case, you should know that Texas courts are guided by the best interests of the involved children in every child custody case they handle. These best interests are guided by considerations called “Holley factors” that were derived from a historic divorce case.
Having a better understanding of these factors can afford you a better understanding of your own custody case. In addition, having an experienced Killeen child custody attorney in your corner from the outset will give you a leg up on your case’s proceedings.
Child Custody Determinations
Judges are often called upon to make primary determinations regarding child custody, and they have immense discretion in the matter.
While Texas courts are required to base their decisions on the involved children’s best interests, this determiner can be extremely hazy when both parents are equally qualified for the job of parenting. As a result, these cases often end in all-out battles that amount to nothing more than two-sided character attacks.
To avoid this outcome, many courts turn to the Holley Factors for guidance.
Holley v. Adams
The Holley Factors are drawn from a divorce case between David Adams and Nanci Adams Holley.
In this divorce case, David was granted custody and managing conservatorship of the son he shared with his wife, Nanci, who was not ordered to pay child support. Later, David filed a suit to terminate the parent-child relationship between Nanci and their shared son. The trial court proceeded to terminate the parental relationship based on the following considerations:
Nanci’s conduct endangered the boy’s emotional well-being.
Nanci failed to support her son.
The termination of the parent-child relationship was in the child’s best interest.
At appeal, the trial court’s ruling was upheld. David’s stated reason for bringing the termination case was his belief that if he, the child’s father, died, his son would be better off being raised by his current wife, the child’s stepmother, than being raised by Nanci, his biological mother.
The Supreme Court of Texas found otherwise, concluding that there was no evidence supporting the claim that the mother had endangered the child's emotional well-being. They also found that terminating the parent-child relationship was not in the child’s best interests.
The Court’s careful analysis of the best interest standard in this context makes the case especially important in relation to later child custody determinations in Texas.
The child’s preference
The current and future emotional and physical needs of the child
The current and future risk either parent poses to the child
The parenting ability of each party
The programs available to assist each parent’s efforts
Each parent’s plans for the child
The stability of each parent’s home and any acts or omissions that could be indicative of an improper parent-child relationship
Any valid excuses for either parent’s acts or omissions concerning parenting
A skilled Killeen custody attorney will be very familiar with these factors and how they will play out in your case. Contact a custody lawyer today to discuss your unique case.
The Child’s Preference
There is no exact age at which a child becomes old enough to weigh in on the matter of their preference about custody arrangements in Texas. A child who is at least 12 years old can obtain an interview with the presiding judge, but the court also has the discretion to consider the preferences of younger children when appropriate.
The Purpose of the Interview
Judges must rule according to what they determine is in the best interests of the child overall. However, the interviews that judges conduct with children about their custody preferences can play a significant role in the final ruling. When a Texas judge interviews a child for custody purposes, they do so to understand the child’s feelings on the matter better.
Judges are required to follow careful procedural requirements when interviewing children for custody hearings. This process typically involves the following guidelines:
The judge conducts the interview either in his or her chambers or at another location that’s deemed suitable.
The interview is recorded, and copies may be made accessible to both parties.
The judge may appoint a guardian ad litem to represent the child’s best interests throughout the legal process, including the interview.
The Current and Future Emotional and Physical Needs of the Child
It cannot be denied that a child’s needs evolve at a rapid clip, and parents must be prepared to address them as they evolve. As such, Texas courts are called upon to address not only a child’s current needs but also their evolving needs – in the context of how well equipped each parent is to address them.
For example, a nursing infant obviously needs to be with their mother frequently and consistently. Teenagers don’t require this level of careful attention and can easily handle more open-ended arrangements.
When a divorcing couple has children of various ages, it presents a unique challenge. Generally, children’s interests are considered best served when they aren’t separated from their siblings for significant periods of time. However, the physical and emotional needs of siblings who are several years apart in age can be vastly different, and Texas courts must proceed accordingly.
When considering the ability of each parent to meet the children’s needs, the court is interested in facts and evidence rather than in accusations that parents hurl at one another. This preference can be seen in the Holley case, in which the Court ultimately found that the father’s claim of the mother’s failure to support the child's emotional well-being was unfounded.
Clearly, the element of meeting current and future needs can become complicated very quickly. Enlist the help of a skilled Killeen custody lawyer for help navigating your child custody case.
The Current and Future Risk Either Parent Poses to the Child
Typically, neither parent has any glaring fault that puts a child at risk, but if either parent can demonstrate that any of the following serious concerns exist, the court will take the matter into careful consideration:
Serious concerns related to alcohol or drug addiction
The court looks for convincing evidence to support claims of the other parent putting a child at risk.
The Parenting Ability of Each Party
Parenting is an immense responsibility, and it is undeniably in the best interest of children to be cared for by parents who are capable of living up to this responsibility. While no parent is expected to be perfect, some people are ill-equipped or ill-prepared to fill the shoes of a parent – and others are uninterested in doing so.
The court looks to past parenting behavior to predict parenting ability moving forward. As such, when one parent has been far more involved in raising the children to date, it can play a key role in the court’s child custody determination.
When a parent isn’t interested in pursuing more than minimal visitation with their child, the court is very likely to comply with this parental preference.
If you believe that your ex is not a suitable parent for your children, you will need to present proof to the judge. Get help building your case from an experienced Killeen custody lawyer.
The Programs Available to Assist Each Parent’s Efforts
The court considers every child custody case from a holistic perspective. For example, if one parent doesn’t have the resources to address a child’s unique needs but has access to community programs that bolster their ability to do so, the court won’t ignore this fact.
Further, if a child has special needs that are addressed well by the school district that one parent lives in, it can affect the court’s decisions regarding child custody.
Texas courts also factor in resources like immediate family members and close friends who assist with childcare and form close relationships with the child.
Each Parent’s Plans for the Child
Parenting is not only a huge responsibility but also requires a good deal of planning for each child’s future. These plans can include the child’s education, opportunities, extracurricular participation, travel, and college plans. A parent who considers a child’s future demonstrates that they are focused on the child’s current and future best interests.
The Stability of Each Parent’s Home
The stability of each parent’s home is a critical element of every child custody decision. For example, a parent who has lived in a well-maintained home in a good school district for many years and who has solid ties to the community is generally preferred over a parent who couch surfs or bounces around from apartment to apartment.
Between these two extremes, there is a lot of room for variance, but the court looks for signs of greater stability instead of less.
The court will also carefully consider any acts or omissions that could indicate an improper parent-child relationship. These actions can take many different forms, so it is up to the court to determine if any particular action is not in the best interests of the children. Primary examples of such actions include the following behaviors:
Leaving the child with someone other than the other parent with no intention of returning
Knowingly allowing the child to remain in unsafe circumstances or conditions
Engaging in conduct that endangers the child
Leaving the child with others who are known to engage in conduct that could endanger the child
If you believe that your children are in danger when they visit your ex, contact a Killeen custody lawyer right away. He or she will help you identify your best path forward to protect your children.
Any Valid Excuses for Either Parent’s Acts or Omissions in Parenting
Child custody cases are often so fraught with emotion that they come down to he-said-she-said battles with many accusations thrown around. For example, in the Holley case, the mother was accused of not supporting her child for a year. However, this claim was not upheld in light of several factors, including not receiving a child support order in the first place.
Best Interest Factors
The best interest factors that Texas courts use in child custody cases are rooted in these Holley factors and include all the following considerations:
The preference of each child who is considered mature enough to voice their opinion
The preference of each parent
Each child’s unique needs, including any special needs that require special attention
Each child’s age and developmental needs
Each child’s overall mental and physical health
Each parent’s overall mental and physical health
Each parent’s ability to continue addressing each child’s unique needs
The proximity of each parent’s home to the other’s
Each parent’s work schedule
The viability of the status quo – in terms of how well each child has adapted to the current home, school, and community
Each parent’s commitment to continue engaging in successful co-parenting with the other parent, including keeping the lines of communication open
Each parent’s commitment to continue fostering each child’s ongoing relationship with the other
The stability of the home each parent provides
The closeness of the relationship between each parent and each child
Any other factors deemed important to the case at hand
It’s important to note that when both parents are determined to be fit parents who afford their children the love and care they need, best interest factors tend to play a far less significant role.
Texas courts consistently find that children’s best interests are best served when they’re allowed to spend a significant amount of time with both parents. As such, barring a reason for ruling otherwise, Texas courts generally order shared custody.
If the court orders shared custody, one parent may take on the primary custodial role if doing so better suits the circumstances, but the other parent can expect to receive a generous visitation schedule.
Reach Out to an Experienced Killeen Child Custody Attorney Today
Brett Pritchard is a focused child custody attorney at The Law Office of Brett H. Pritchard – proudly serving Killeen, Texas – who dedicated his imposing practice to skillfully defending the parental rights of valued clients like you.
Child custody cases are stressful, but we will leave no stone unturned in our quest to obtain child custody arrangements that uphold your and your children’s best interests. Learn more by contacting us online or calling us at (254) 781-4222 today.