Going through the process of determining child custody, whether due to divorce, adoption, or transfer of conservatorship, can be a complex and difficult situation. However, having a good understanding of how the process works can reduce stress and help everything flow as smoothly as possible. Many aspects of these types of cases are state-specific, so here are some of the most common steps to determining child custody in many states.
Before pursuing a child custody solution, it's important to understand the different possible outcomes. According to law in many states, the default custody arrangement is joint managing conservatorship. This essentially means both parents have equal, independent rights and responsibilities to the child. Sole managing conservatorship gives only one parent the majority of rights and responsibilities and is usually the result in cases with problematic parenting issues.
Even in a joint managing conservatorship outcome, the child will have a primary residence with one parent. According to child custody lawyers and most common family law guidelines, primary residence decisions are made on a case-by-case basis. Generally, a child will live with the primary caregiver by default, unless extenuating circumstances indicate a better alternative. In Texas and other states, a child over the age of 11 can choose his or her primary residence.
In some family law cases, a judge may order a home study to be completed before determining custody arrangements. The study is meant to get an overview of the child's home environment and circumstances, including an evaluation of both parents and associated parties. The evaluator is a licensed therapist who uses written questionnaires and personal interviews to gather and analyze data on a child's circumstances.
Child support is another potentially complex aspect of child custody cases. Judges award child support amounts based on a strict formula set forth in the Family Code. A parent who refuses to pay child support is subject to legal actions, such as wage garnishment, suspension of driver's license, fines, or even imprisonment. A parent pursuing child support or a parent fighting child support payment amounts should consult with a child custody lawyer to help get through all the aspects of a child custody case.