Joint custody is becoming more common for many families as fathers seek more time with their children. As a result, more women than ever are paying child support.
A common sentiment expressed by many men is that the family courts favor the mother in child custody decisions. In divorce cases, however, no presumption exists in favor of either parent and the court cannot base a child custody or child possession decision on gender.
In Texas, the policy of the courts is to ensure that children continue to have frequent and continuing contact with their parents. The best interests of the children along with maintaining a safe, stable and nonviolent environment must be at the forefront of all decisions related to where the child will live.
In a Texas custody matter, a parent is either deemed to be a sole or a joint managing conservator. Under the Texas Family Code, it is presumed to be in the best interest of the child for the parents to be named Joint Managing Conservators. However, there is still a presumption that even if the parents are named as Joint Managing Conservators, the child should live primarily with one parent and have visitation with the other parent.
More and more, fathers are being named as the Joint Managing Conservator who has primary possession of the children. In addition, the Texas Family Code provides for what is called an expanded standard visitation schedule which appears to be an attempt to maximize the time children spend with both parents. Between 1997 and 2007, a survey found that the percentage of divorces where the mother received sole custody fell from 60 percent to 45 percent. The number of cases where the father had at least equal possession time with his children doubled.
The every other weekend and one weeknight model is often not enough for a father who still wants to be involved in his children’s lives. But more equal time allotment in a parenting plan often requires living in the same town and the same school district for school-aged children. Seeking the assistance of an experienced family law attorney to negotiate a parenting plan is one way to maximize the time with your children.
Perceptions are starting to change with the realization that father’s are very capable caregivers. A movement in the courts toward a preference for a “friendly parent” could penalize a parent who limits the other parent’s visitation and involvement.
In one case, a mother and father had shared parenting duties during their marriage. While the mother took off Fridays to spend with the children, the father transported the children to day care and was very involved. During the divorce proceedings, the mother accused the father of abuse and neglect. An investigation found the accusations unfounded. Father was awarded 50 percent custody and the mother’s custody was contingent on repairing the relationship with her ex-spouse.
As joint custody arrangements increase, there is also a shift in who must pay child support. The American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers recently reported that mothers are increasingly paying child support. Many women never considered the possibility they would have to pay child support and these cases can become contentious.
If your marriage is beyond repair, talk to a Texas family law attorney to discuss your individual situation. As communication starts to break down, having an outside advocate is one way to ensure you can continue to maintain a close relationship with your children.
Keywords: father’s rights, child custody, joint managing conservators, visitation