If you have children and are facing a divorce or ending a relationship, you probably have questions and concerns about child custody. In Texas, the law refers to child custody and visitation as “possession and access” and presumes that shared parenting benefits children, but does not provide for 50/50 sharing. Instead, the state sets out “standard” and “extended” schedules providing for parenting time between custodial and “possessory” or non-custodial parents. Unless parents agree upon a custody sharing plan approved by the court, these schedules guide the court’s award of custody, down to the days of the week and times of pick up and return. The law additionally favors ordering “joint management conservatorship” so that parents share in decision making on significant issues.
Whether sharing physical custody and decision-making under a court’s standard possession order, or crafting an agreement for greater or lesser sharing, securing custody that best protects the interests of your children and parental rights involves complex considerations and decisions. In fact, shared custody has both recognized benefits and drawbacks.
What is the law for shared possession and access (custody) of children?
The law recognizes it is the “policy of this state to encourage frequent contact between a child and each parent for periods of possession that optimize the development of a close and continuing relationship between each parent and child.” The law contains a “rebuttable presumption” that its standard schedule (including expanded times) for shared parenting is in the best interests of the child for children aged three and older. A standard possession order awards the possessory parent the 1st, 3rd, and 5th weekends each month, as well as Thursday evenings, and sets pick up and drop off time and thirty days during the summer. Parents alternate spring break, Thanksgiving, and the first and second half of Christmas break yearly. (An extended possession order turns Thursdays and Sundays into overnight visits.) The court may approve a parent agreement sharing parenting time differently, if it finds the agreement serves the best interests of the child. Texas law also presumes “joint management conservatorship” serves the best interests of the child and courts often order that both parents share decision-making on important issues, such as health care, schools, religious upbringing.
What are the general benefits of shared custody?
The move toward shared parenting reflects changing attitudes about the role of gender in parenting that have taken place over the last few decades in the U.S. Although countries such as Belgium and Sweden have embraced 50/50 parenting for some time, 50/50 agreements are not the norm in most of the U.S. Whether sharing custody under Texas’s statutory framework or creating an agreement providing for 50/50 sharing (or another agreement), parents should carefully consider the benefits and drawbacks of shared parenting for their children, keeping in mind that possession orders are meant to promote the children’s best interests.
Past research indicated children benefited from shared custody because it helped counteract “the negative consequences of separation and divorce.” Per the data collected from these studies, “results point to a general tendency of positive outcomes on children in joint physical custody (except in conflictual or violent situations which we will elaborate on later). Even though effects are usually small, they point to a higher wellbeing of children in shared care arrangements compared to sole physical custody.” This wellbeing is reflected in the children’s mental health, reduced stress levels, and higher self-esteem. Some studies even found that “risk behaviour is lower than children in sole physical custody… and the children in joint physical custody tend to have less health related problems.”
Research published by Dr. Linda Nielsen of Wake Forest University also reviewed multiple studies of shared parenting. Her research found that children whose parents shared equally in parenting had better academic outcomes and familial relationships, and were more likely to be financially successful later in life.
Finally, shared parenting may become the default here because of the ways the laws are structured regarding relocation. A parent who wishes to move and retain custody must petition to the court to do so depending on where he or she wants to relocate. (So if you live in San Antonio and want to move to Calaveras, you should be fine. But if you get a job in Houston, it’s a different story altogether.) Because of this, may families end up living relatively close by to one another, even after a divorce. This physical closeness can make shared parenting easier.
Are there drawbacks to shared custody?
There may be. This is some question of the premises of these benefits:
- The experience of some experts that the presumptions favoring shared custody put parental interests ahead of children’s best interests. If courts fail to accurately judge the children’s best interests, shared custody may place parental and judicial views of “fairness” over children’s needs.
- Some of the same research that found benefits to shared custody also suggested that the family’s characteristics influence the benefit of shared custody for adolescent children.
- Children may learn to suppress their developmental and emotional needs to comply with “fairness.”
- Children must travel and live between two households. Some describe feeling pressured and rootless, and report feelings of:
- Academic failure
- Reduced self-esteem
- Disruption of social relationships
It is worth noting, too, that shared parenting may not be possible in some cases, and that children can still grow up feeling loved and being cared for even if they don’t spend as much physical time with each parent. For example, if one parent is deployed overseas, or is stationed in a different state, that does not mean the military parent cannot contribute meaningfully and substantially to his or her children’s lives. If one parent works odd hours, or has a disability that prevents him or her from being able to physically care for the children, share custody would be detrimental, not beneficial.
If you are facing a divorce or ending a relationship, you should consider consulting with a San Antonio child custody attorney to consider the kind of custody arrangement that would be in the best interests of your child. A standard possession order might be appropriate for your family, but a different arrangement might serve your family better. The lawyers at Grable Grimshaw PLLC can help you discover the best solution and assist you in obtaining a possession and access agreement that benefits your child and protects your parental rights. We can represent you through all aspects of child custody, as well as divorce, including representing you in court. Our attorneys are here to advocate for the best interests of your family. Call 210-963-5297 or fill out our contact form today to set up a free, initial consultation with a member of our San Antonio legal team.