When a custody lawsuit commences, parents need to be thinking primarily about what is in the best interest of the child(ren). The needs and rights of the child(ren) are of paramount importance in a child custody case and the court’s primary focus.
In accordance with Section 153.002 of the Texas Family Code, parents are ordinarily considered to be equal in their right to parent their child(ren). It is the best interests of the child(ren) that are paramount, and the aim of the Texas Family Code is to:
1. Assure that child(ren) will have frequent and continuing contact with parents who have shown the ability to act in the best interest of the child(ren);
2. Provide a safe, stable, and non-violent environment for the child(ren); and
3. Encourage parents to share in the rights and duties of raising their child(ren) after the parents have separated or dissolved their marriage. If you are a parent who is preparing for a custody battle, you would do well to make this your primary goal throughout the litigation.
Vengeful parents often engage in destructive conduct by trying to move out of state in an attempt to separate the child(ren) geographically from the non-custodial parent. If vengeance is the custodial parent’s primary motive, this has many benefits: it becomes more difficult for the non-custodial parent to exercise visitation, and at the same time makes it more difficult (and expensive) for the non-custodial parent to seek relief through the courts for denied visitation or other wrongful acts by the custodial parent. A move-away, depending upon distance, can also isolate the child(ren) from the non-custodial parent. If you suspect your spouse may do this, you need to be prepared and act proactively. A key item to have incorporated into final paperwork is an “anti-move-away” clause. Essentially, this states that if the custodial parent moves more than a certain number of miles away, custody changes to the remaining parent and/or restricting the permanent domicile of the child(ren) to designated counties.
Stay meaningfully involved in your child(ren)’s lives on a regular and continuing basis. Being heavily involved with your child(ren) for very short periods of time will not bring favor in the eyes of the court.
Keep a detailed record or diary of the details of how much you have been involved with your child(ren)’s school and extracurricular activities. Attend school meetings. Take pictures. Schedule family vacations. Visit relatives and friends and schedule sleepovers with your child(ren)’s peers. Take your child(ren) to the dentist and the doctor. Don’t spoil your child(ren), reasonably discipline your child(ren) when necessary and document why you took such action. Take advantage of extra time extended you by your spouse and try to extend visitation when possible if only for a couple of hours. Initiate and support birthdays, school activities, and college requirements. Document all relevant case issues and facts.
Keep in mind that your child(ren) are not equipped to deal with the range of emotions experienced by an adult, and that ventilating your personal difficulties on them is not only unhelpful, but can be a form of abuse and can create lasting emotional scars and is viewed with disfavor in the courthouse.
Parents preparing for custody cases before the court in Texas must be mindful of the extraordinary damage they can do when denigrating the other spouse in front of their child(ren). Such behavior is not only damaging to the child(ren), but may and usually will, be taken into consideration by the court. A noticeable failure to maintain self-control may be considered an indicator of an inability to parent.
If you can remain involved in your child(ren)’s lives enough to find out how his or her relationship is with your former spouse, you may be able to build a better case to show the court you are the better custodial parent, and in the meantime productively provide for your child(ren) in his or her best interest.