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Answers To Your Questions About Texas Custody Laws

At Coldwell | Bowes, L.L.P., we know that custody matters strike at the heart of most parents. What does Texas law say about parents’ rights to custody and financial support? Our attorneys provide honest answers and dedicated representation to protect your children’s best interests during divorce or parental separation.

If you have further questions this page does not answer, call our office in downtown Austin at 512-472-2040 or send us an email to arrange a consultation with one of our experienced lawyers.

Below are answers to some of the questions we frequently receive.

How does the court determine who gets custody?

The court operates under the doctrine of preserving the best interests of the child in any custody situation. It will look at factors such as:

  • The home environment each parent offers
  • Each parent’s ability to serve as caretaker
  • Each parent’s employment situation and financial ability to support a child at home
  • Parents’ ability or willingness to work together
  • Whether any allegations of child abuse, neglect or violence have been raised
  • The child’s preference (if he or she is 12 or older)

In most cases, this means that, absent any allegations of domestic violence, both parents will be granted equitable parenting time. Note that equitable does not mean “equal” under the law. It’s rare that parenting time is split exactly 50/50. Instead, parents receive equivalent amounts of time with the children according to a schedule set forth in their parenting plan.

What is ‘shared parenting’?

Shared parenting, or co-parenting as it is often called, refers to the way parents work together in raising their children even after they have split up. Children thrive when supported by both parents. For this reason, the court prefers that parents adopt a shared parenting model for child custody, if feasible.

Being able to cooperate in raising the children after a divorce or breakup is a skill that most parents must develop over time. Sometimes, divorced parents can take co-parenting classes to help them work on communication skills, flexibility and how to resolve conflict in healthy ways.

Can my child choose which parent to live with?

In Texas, children may voice their preferred living situation from age 12 onward through a guardian ad litem (children cannot represent themselves in court). However, their preference will not be the sole deciding factor when it comes to determining physical custody. The judge must still weigh the other factors outlined above when making a final decision.

What if we aren’t married?

Unmarried parents have the same rights as divorcing parents. The only difference is they may need to go through a few extra steps to establish parenting time and child support. If the child’s parentage is in question, for example, the court will order a paternity test before proceeding with custody and support orders. In Texas, mothers are automatically granted legal and physical custody of their newborn infants, but an unwed father may petition the court to establish his paternity and seek parenting time.

What if my ex doesn’t want to pay child support?

Quite simply, child support is not a parent’s individual choice. By Texas law, children have the right to be financially supported by both parents until they come of age. Divorced and unmarried parents alike can use Texas child support guidelines to determine how much they must pay. Single parents can also enforce child support obligations by petitioning the court.

Can I limit visitation if my ex doesn’t pay child support?

In a word, no. If you have court-ordered visitation (through a parenting plan), refusing visitation is breaking the law. You yourself could be held in contempt of court. If your children are not receiving the court-ordered support they deserve, however, you can ask the court to take action. This usually means wage garnishment or, in extreme cases, criminal arrest for nonpayment of child support.