Many times, parents maneuver the court system without a clue as to how to get started filing a child custody case or how child custody even works in Texas. It's always helpful to do a little bit of research regarding how the child custody laws work in Texas and the standards that Judges use when making decisions that bind both parties. I'll be doing a series on the child custody basics to simply issues and make it easier for those who are currently deciding on how to start the child custody process. 

So first is first. How do I get custody of my children? 

Every state has its own laws and rules regarding initiating custody procedures to start the process. In this blog I will solely be addressing how to get custody of children at the initial stage when no prior court orders have been rendered. 

1. Petitioning the Court for Custody

Here in Texas, custody of your children can begin both ways. The first is through what we call the Suit Affecting Parent Child Relationship (SAPCR). Through this process you can petition the court for custody if you are a parent of a child whether you are a spouse or not. The second is through the vehicle of filing for a Divorce. Here the court will rule on issues regarding the divorce as well as child custody all in the same case. This is different from the SAPCR because the judge will not rule on issues regarding community property in a SAPCR. If you are on the receiving end of a SAPCR or a divorce proceeding it is very important that you file a countersuit requesting the court what you want in terms of custody. A general answer is not a request of relief before the court which often confuses most Pro Se clients when they leave court disappointed because the judge did not give them what they want. In short, I tell client's you cannot ask the court to give you something you did not ask for. 

2. Child Custody Standards 

When entering into a contested case for child custody it is important to understand that the court uses what we call "THE BEST INTERESTS OF THE CHILD" to determine which parent is better suited to be the primary parent. Often times parents get so wrapped up in their personal biases towards each other they often forget that even though they may not particularly like the other parent, does not mean the child should not love them or like them too. You hear judges and attorneys like me throw around the "best interests of the child" phrase very frequently. Why? Because it's very important. This will make or break your case. So what exactly will courts look for when determining this interests? Take a look" 

  1. Stability of a parent 
  2. Financial Resources and
  3. Parenting abilities and support 
  4. Criminal records (in some cases like domestic violence or abuse)
  5. Time spent with Child 

3. How Involved Are You? 

I see this time and time again. One parent who has not seen the child in months comes to the court and requests that the court make them the primary parent. Do you notice how crazy that sounds? That's because it is? Judge's aren't stupid. Your involvement with your child plays a huge part in the court's decision when they make their ruling. Helpful things like knowing their school activities, their primary physicians, and their daily activities, shows that you are involved and have your children at the forefront. 

4. The Parents 

Sometimes, a parent opens up a custody suit because of issues like abuse or domestic violence. Filing a Temporary restraining order or a protective order depending on the facts is another option to exercise when filing your SAPCR or divorce suit. Be ready to testify under oath regarding the behavior as well as present documents and evidence to the court as to why such an order should be granted. Orders like a protective order have a very long lasting effect in a child custody case so it is very important to make sure you exercise all your options and understand exactly what it is your asking the court to do.