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Your Dallas Child Custody Case: The Basics

The child custody process in Dallas can be confusing for both parents and children. Whether this is the first time you are involved in the court system or whether the child custody case stems from a divorce or separation, you probably have a few questions. The following is an overview of the child custody process in Dallas which will explain the basics of a typical child custody case.

Overall Purpose of a Child Custody Case

In the court's view, the entire purpose of a child custody case is to determine and act on what is in the best interest of the child. This means that the court does not favor either the mother or the father. Courts will consider a number of factors when deciding on a child custody arrangement. Some of those factors include physical safety, love and emotional ties to the parents, not disrupting the child's life, maintaining a sense of familiarity and stability, the child's community and cultural background, and any history of violence or drug use.

Types of Child Custody

Legal Custody: Legal custody means that a parent or guardian has the right to make the important decisions in a child's life. Some of those decisions cover education, medical and dental care, and religion.

Physical Custody: Physical custody means that the child lives with that parent, and the parent provides for the day to day needs of that child. It is common for a parent who does not have physical custody to pay child support to the parent who does have physical custody.

Joint Custody: Joint custody means that both parents have custody over the child. Joint custody can apply to both physical and legal custody. If the parents have joint legal custody of a child, both parents have to work together to make important life decisions for the child. If parents have joint physical custody, the child lives with both parents, often according to a schedule set by a judge.

Sole Custody: Sole custody means that only one parent has custody over a child. If the parent has sole physical custody, the child only lives with that parent. The parent who does not have physical custody may have visitation rights. If a parent has sole legal custody, only that parent has a right to make decisions about the child's life. This is common in situations involving domestic violence or child abuse. It is important to note that not having custody does not mean that a parent does not have to pay child support.

Child Custody Process

Child custody cases begin with a petition, which is a formal request to a court asking for the court to make a decision on the parents' custody rights. There are five reasons why a Texas court is allowed hear a child custody case. They are:

(1) Texas is the child's home state; or
(2) Texas was the home state of the child in the last six months, and a parent is still in Texas; or
(3) A court of a different state will not take the case; and
(a) The child or a parent has a significant connection with Texas, more than just living in Texas; and
(b) Substantial evidence is available in Texas concerning the child's care, protection, training, and personal relationships; or
(4) All courts of other states which might be able to hear the case have decided to not hear the case because hearing the case in Texas is more appropriate; or
(5) No court of any other state would qualify under (1) or (2).

In Dallas, a parent files the petition with the family law division of the local court. The other parent will have the opportunity to respond with an answer. The answer gives the other parent the opportunity to be involved in the case. If a parent does not respond to the initial complaint, that parent may lose the right to participate in the child custody determination.

The court will hold a number of hearings before the final hearing or trial. Also, the court may issue a temporary custody order that will say which parent will take care of the child during the child support case. One of the hearings will be to appoint a Guardian Ad Litem to the child. Because the Guardian is a court officer, he or she does not favor one parent or the other and is assigned to ensure that the final decision is in the child's best interest.

Child Custody Modifications

A court may make a modification to child custody orders, as well. In order to make a modification, a court must find that there has been a material or substantial change in circumstance. One example of substantial changes is if the child lives with someone other than the person named in the original child custody order for more than six months. Courts also consider the child turning twelve years old to be a material and substantial change, because at that age the child is allowed to choose which parent to live with.

The child custody process can be daunting and confusing. Missteps and failing to respond to child custody petitions can lead to the loss of a parent's rights. Fortunately, there are many child custody attorneys in Dallas and there may also be legal aid groups available to help.

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