Should I Agree to Joint Custody?
Child custody and child support are often the most difficult and emotional aspects of a divorce. Here at Setzer Law Firm, we offer child custody legal services in Southlake. While our family law attorneys are here to help guide you through this process, there are a few things we can help you start thinking through here.
For the purposes of this article, we have to stay specific to the state of Texas since this is where we are located and licensed to practice, but if you are in a different state, a lot of this information is relevant. Still, please consult a lawyer or law firm in the state where you live. Joint custody discussions and agreements in a court in Texas do not look the same three states over, and we cannot express how extremely personalized and customized this experience is for parents going through a divorce and their child (or children).
What Is Joint Custody?
If you are in the process of getting a divorce and have a child or children, joint custody agreements are discussed to solidify an arrangement between separated parents regarding the right both parents have to make decisions about their child (or children). In Texas, these decisions include health care, religion, and education, but there are a lot more specifics depending on the family situation.
You might hear joint custody being used interchangeably with joint conservatorship, so we want to try and clarify. There are two categories of custody in Texas: “conservatorship” and “possession and access.”
Conservatorship refers to who can make the ultimate decisions for the child and defines the parental parameters for those decisions. In other states, you might hear this being referred to as “legal custody.”
Possession refers to who the child lives with primarily (primary residence), what days the child lives with which parent, holiday time, and things like that. In a joint custody agreement, possession will be discussed in-depth, and a joint parenting plan is completed and approved. This plan includes everything from specific days a child will live with a given parent, schedules for transportation, who pays for what when, and vacation and holiday rotations and times.
If a custody case results in visitation rights only, access refers to how often and under what circumstances a parent can see their child.
Ultimately, during a divorce case, custody specifics will be reviewed, approved, and agreed upon by all parties. These agreements are bound by the laws of the state of Texas, and both parents need to understand them fully to limit violations and misunderstandings.
Factors for Joint Custody
If you’re in the state of Texas, the majority of judges and courts will assume that joint custody is in the best interest of the child (or children). While every divorce case and family situation is different, unless a parent has a history of violence and/or substance abuse, a judge will probably lean toward trying to have both parents be as involved in their child’s upbringing as possible. This is not a “one size fits all” decision though.
There are multiple factors that go into deciding a child’s best interest. Factors such as ensuring living essentials (food, clothing, shelter, etc.), each parent’s living situation, work history (including history of moving or relocating for work), and the elements of a parent’s relationship with their child can all impact the decision.
After a divorce case is finalized and custody agreements solidified, there are protections in place that allow for modifications if needed. This also protects the child and parent if something in the custody agreement is violated. After a divorce, anything regarding a change or adjustment to a custody agreement should be discussed with a lawyer.
So, Should I Agree?
In theory, having both parents involved in their child’s upbringing is extremely beneficial. After a divorce, when parents can cooperate and keep the best interests of their child in mind, joint custody can be done respectfully and works. Aspects like agreed-upon parenting plans can minimize conflicts and simplify discussions, and they can always be reviewed and revisited as a child gets older and situations change. Raising a child alone is extremely stressful and expensive, so having the ability to share the responsibilities with the other parent is also beneficial to the adults in this situation.
However, joint custody can also be extremely detrimental to a child if there is a difficult situation at hand or if parents simply are not able to co-parent. Depending on the parent dynamics, joint custody might not work, and the long-term effects on a child in this situation cannot be understated. Joint custody means parental responsibility together, and you will need to work with the other parent of your child fairly, compassionately, and often. When this cannot be the case, joint custody is not recommended, and your lawyer will discuss other options.
Over 30 Years Combined Experience
As we mentioned above, you do not have to go through this on your own; please reach out to the team at Setzer Law Firm in Southlake for more information if you need help with a joint custody agreement. We strive to make this difficult experience as stress-free as possible, and we understand that everyone’s situation is different.