Filing for Full Custody: What You Need to Know

how to file for full custody in texas

There are valid reasons why a parent would want to have full custody of their children. As a parent, you can file for full custody, either as part of the divorce process or by filing for a modification to the parenting plan. Regardless of when you file, you will need to overcome the policy interests baked into the law, which support both parents being a part of their children’s lives. Determining how to file for full custody in Texas correctly and come to a satisfactory agreement requires the guidance of an experienced child custody lawyer who can help both sides see through emotions to create the best plan for the children. While each parent has custodial rights, courts also view child custody as a significant responsibility.

How Child Custody Is Managed in Texas

Judges care little about a parent’s personal wishes and only consider disputes between the parents through the prism of what is best for their child or children. Judges will not award full custody to one parent just because that parent wants it more than the other. There are two types of child custody in Texas: legal and physical.

Legal custody (also referred to as conservatorship) can be granted to both parents, regardless of their physical custody status. Legal custody allows a parent to make decisions about the children’s education, religious upbringing, medical care, and other concerns. Typically, legal custody is granted to the non-custodial parent unless they exhibit factors that the judge deems detrimental to the children’s wellbeing.

Physical custody refers to where the child will live primarily. Parents with full physical custody have their children live with them full-time. The other parent will have visitation rights as determined by the court to be in the best interests of the children. It is possible for parents to share physical custody of children, even when the children have a primary residence.

Both Parents Can Usually Participate in Major Decisions Involving Their Children

Unless there are clear arguments against it, Texas prefers to allow both parents the right to participate in making fundamental decisions about their children. It is considered a basic parental right to provide input for choices in the following areas:

  • Legal
  • Health and medical care
  • Education
  • Moral and ethical
  • Religious
  • Relationships affecting the child’s wellbeing
  • Where the child lives

There are very few situations in which a parent would willingly give up their custody rights. Therefore, if a parent wants full custody, they will most likely need to go to court to secure it.

Seeking Full Custody Can Be Challenging

A court will not take it lightly when one parent is seeking an arrangement that takes away the basic rights of the other parent. This remedy goes against the norm and is generally reserved for unusual cases.

The court’s presumption is that both parents should be involved in their children’s lives to the fullest extent possible. The children’s best interests are served when both parents are participating in decision-making. Therefore, if you intend to file for full custody, you will need a good reason and supporting evidence to show why the court should grant it. If the other parent is opposing your effort, you must overcome the default starting position of shared custody.

Reasons Why a Court May Award Full Custody

how to file for full custody in texasThere are valid reasons why a court would grant full custody to one parent. The first reason involves the parents’ relationship itself. When there is a history of abuse in either the relationship between the spouses or a parent’s relationship with their children, the court may decide the parent should not have a role in decision-making or in their children’s lives at all.

Parents may also be at an impasse and simply not able to get along in order to co-parent. In that event, the court may decide to award full custody to one parent because decisions still need to be made for the children. If the parents cannot work together for the benefit of the children, the court may award one parent full custody.

The court will also look at the history of each parent’s relationship with the child or children prior to the filing. If one parent had little to nothing to do with the decision-making or had very little role in the children’s lives, the court may be less likely to allow them to participate through joint custody.

How Full Custody Can Benefit You and Your Child

When you are facing frequent heated discussions with the non-custodial parent that put your child at risk, you may consider filing for sole custody to eliminate these stresses. Some of the ways securing full custody can benefit your family include:

  • Increased sense of peace: Full custody can reduce fights and scheduling problems for you with the other parent and reduce the stress and disappointment your children experience.
  • Better decisions: When the other parent is engaged in activities that cloud their judgment, they may not have the ability to think clearly about critical decisions. Removing their legal right to influence choices can make doing what’s best for the children much easier.
  • Consistency and stability: When an unfit parent cannot maintain a mandated visitation schedule, children suffer from a lack of consistency. In addition, if they never know what they’re walking into with the other parent, it decreases their emotional and psychological stability. Sole custody allows one parent to provide a calm and loving home life.
  • Safety: When the other parent engages in substance abuse or other risky behaviors, the children’s physical and emotional safety is at stake. By providing evidence of their unfit status, it can be easier to win full custody, as courts recognize the need to keep children away from dangerous situations.

If you intend to file for full custody, you should be prepared to explain what your role has been in your children’s lives thus far. You should also present evidence showing the other parent has not been involved. Showing a disparity of effort may not be enough, however. You will also need to show the other parent has had little involvement in your child or children’s lives.

It’s also important to examine your own situation and identify any potential problems that full custody could cause. For example, if you are a single parent who works long hours, having your children full time without visitation with the other parent leaves you with very little time to spend with them or rest. However, in unsafe situations, the court will usually side with the parent who can provide the most stability in comparison.

Applying for Full Custody in Texas

parents making decisions for childTo apply for full custody, known as sole conservatorship in Texas, you must begin by filing a legal petition known as a Suit Affecting the Parent-Child Relationship (SAPCR) with the clerk of court in the county where the child resides. The petitioning parent will need to provide substantial evidence showing how awarding full conservatorship to them serves the child’s best interests.

The court will examine your evidence and multiple other factors to determine if your arguments are valid. The judge will assess elements of parental fitness such as:

  • Criminal history: If the other parent has a criminal record or is currently incarcerated, the court may decide the individual has low moral character and engages in dangerous behavior. They may use this to terminate parental rights if the crimes are violent or substance-related, or the parent will be in prison for a long time.
  • Distance: Asking for sole custody may make the most sense in situations where the other parent is not unfit but moves so far away that visitation is nearly impossible. Additionally, if the other parent purposely abandons the child or cannot be located, a request for sole custody allows the remaining parent to have full control of their children’s lives.
  • History of abuse: If the other parent has a documented history of physical or emotional abuse against family members or children, they are often considered unfit and will lose custody of their children.
  • Mental state: While a diagnosis of some mental issues may not be enough to render a parent unfit, severe mental illness could leave them unable to make the best choices for their children. Even if they are an otherwise loving parent, the stability and safety of the children could be at risk in the eyes of the court.
  • Substance abuse: If the other parent consistently demonstrates addiction to drugs and alcohol, the court may deem them at risk of putting their addiction ahead of the children’s best interests and safety. In addition to exposing them to substance abuse, the parent could be under the influence while driving with the children in a car.

In a custody battle, it’s important to know that the court will also examine your history and parenting skills to ensure you are providing the best solution for the children. You can expect the other parent to fight back to keep their rights. You should discuss any concerns you have with an experienced child custody attorney to prepare and defend your petition.

Prepare for an Uphill Legal Battle to Win Full Custody

Winning full custody is difficult in Texas but not impossible. Even if you share custody with the other parent, you may still be awarded a greater role in decision-making if you are successful. The court will establish a parenting plan that assigns roles and responsibilities going forward. The judge may assign certain roles to parents based on what they were doing before the divorce. In other words, if you made certain decisions largely on your own before the separation, the court may look to continue that.

The important takeaway is that not every parent who wants full custody will receive it. In fact, only a small percentage will be successful in court. However, it is not impossible to get full custody if the circumstances dictate it, and it is in the best interests of your children, but you will need to work with an experienced family lawyer to achieve this goal.

At Terry & Roberts, we know family law and how to help you prepare for your bid to win full custody. We are ready to listen to your concerns during an initial consultation so we can provide the guidance and legal representation you need. Contact our Brazoria County, Texas family law attorneys today.

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