If you’re a father in Houston, TX who is headed into a custody battle, you probably have many questions, especially if you’ve heard horror stories about fathers’ rights. Fortunately, fathers are afforded the same rights as mothers are in the eyes of the law, but you may want to hire an experienced divorce lawyer to help make sure those rights are protected.
Eight Things to Know About Fathers’ Rights in Texas
You Have the Same Rights as Mothers
In previous decades, such as the 1980s and 1990s, mothers were often presumed to be the most suitable parent for custody of children in a divorce. Conversely, the courts frequently considered fathers as ancillary providers for their children. Thankfully, the law in Texas and in other states has changed, and child custody cases are required to be gender-neutral with regard to adjudication. The law now recognizes that fathers should be considered as equal partners in the child-rearing process.
Even if a father is not awarded primary custody, there is the expectation that he receive equal parenting time, and in fact, in most cases, the father’s involvement in their children’s lives post-divorce is no longer referred to as “visitation,” but instead as “parenting time.” This change reflects the modern notion that fathers spend as much time as mothers caring for their children and deserve equal consideration for custody in the eyes of the law.
The Best Interests of the Children Are the Primary Consideration
Rather than presuming that either parent presents the best caretaking option for children, Texas law has adopted the practice of only considering the best interests of the children. This practice was put in place to eliminate the gender bias that previously favored mothers. Now, instead of assuming the father should be financially responsible for the kids and the mother for the actual raising of the kids, the law considers all circumstances and rules according to what’s best for the children.
This means that each case is adjudicated based on its own set of circumstances rather than on the stereotypical parenting plans that assumed mothers would automatically gain full custody. In many cases, both parents are responsible for financially supporting their children and will share equal parenting time. Of course, the financial resources of each parent will be taken into account so the children can be properly cared for, but other factors will be considered as well.
Joint Custody Is Considered First
In Texas, as in most states, judges will consider joint custody first, as it is generally believed to be the best option for children. Joint custody is an arrangement where both parents share equal custody of the children that were the product of a relationship between the father and mother. Typically, you will both have equal parenting time on a weekly basis and will alternate holidays with the children, switching holidays each year.
If the judge decides that joint custody is not an option, they will determine the primary custodian, in whose care the children will be most of the time. In the past, this was usually the mother, but as mentioned previously, this is no longer the case, and fathers are frequently given primary custody of their children in Texas and elsewhere. In a non-joint custody situation, the non-custodial parent will still have visitation rights as determined by the court.
Standard Possession Orders Are Usually Present
Texas courts will often issue what are known as standard possession orders, or SPOs, that dictate the visitation schedule for the non-custodial parent, which is the parent who doesn’t have physical custody of the children. This order states that the non-custodial parent will receive visitation on the first, third, and fifth weekends of each month, usually from 6:00 p.m. on Friday to 6:00 p.m. on Sunday. Additionally, they are allotted 30 days of visitation in the summer and alternating holidays.
There is also an expanded SPO, which extends visitation rights to include after school on Friday and before school on Monday. Moreover, the non-custodial parent can visit their children between 6:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. under the SPO, or keep their children overnight from Thursday to Friday under an expanded SPO. If you are the non-custodial parent, it is important for you to understand your visitation rights and ensure they are enforced by the custodial parent.
You Can Present Your Own Parenting Plan
In Texas cases where custody and visitation are contested by one of the parents, you and your former spouse will meet with mediators, parenting counselors, and attorneys to attempt to create a parenting plan that meets the best interests of the children. During this process, you and your ex-spouse will each have the opportunity to propose your own parenting plans that will provide for the children’s emotional, physical, and mental needs.
These plans will be used to create the joint parenting plan that will be put into place once custody is determined. You will want to participate in this process so that your voice contributes to the parenting plan development. You have the right to have a say in how your children are raised and to be in their lives post-divorce, so contributing to the parenting plan is one of the best things you can do.
You Can Seek Legal Custody
Even if the mother is given primary residential or physical custody, you still have the right to file for legal custody, which means you will have the ability to make decisions on behalf of your children. You should always have a say in major life choices like religion, education, and medical situations. You can share legal custody with the mother even if your children live primarily with her. A divorce attorney can help make sure you retain legal custody.
You Can Refile for Custody
If you’ve already lost physical custody of your children, all is not lost. You can refile for custody after you’ve remedied the reasons why a judge awarded the mother primary custody in the first place. Moreover, if the mother starts to practice parental alienation by preventing your children from seeing you or influencing them to choose her over you in joint decisions, you can take her back to court to re-evaluate the parenting plan.
The message here is that you still have rights, even if you weren’t awarded primary or joint custody of your children. You have the right to see your kids according to the parenting plan and you have the right to not be alienated from your children, especially if the mother is doing it purposefully or maliciously. When you have the support of a divorce attorney, they’ll help you determine when or if you should refile.
You Don’t Have to Go to Court
You may be able to work out a parenting plan with the mother of your children without ever seeing the inside of a courtroom, but unless you have a legal document, it’s possible for the mother to change the rules at any time. You may want to avoid the legal hassle of a child custody fight, but it’s in your best interests to ensure your rights are protected and avoid an even bigger fight down the road.
At one time, being a father meant that you were already at a disadvantage inside a Texas courtroom. However, that’s just not the case anymore, as fathers are considered as important as mothers in the lives of their children. Contact Skillern Firm today to schedule your initial consultation and make sure your rights are asserted every step of the way.