Texas Child Custody Laws for Unmarried Parents
The right of parents to share custody of their children doesn’t arise because of marriage; it arises due to the fact that they had a child together. That said, custody decisions and disputes regarding unmarried parents are in many ways more complex to sort out than disputes among married couples who are going through a divorce. Different rules and laws may apply, although the primary interest of the courts in both cases is in doing what is best for the child. Read on for a discussion of Texas child custody laws and how they apply to co-parents who had a child together but were never married. For help with child custody, divorce, or related matters in Harris County, contact the Law Office of Maria Lowry to speak with a knowledgeable and experienced Houston family law attorney.
Establishing Paternity: The First Step
In Texas, the legal process differs for unmarried parents, with the initial focus on establishing paternity. For married couples, the law automatically recognizes the husband as the child’s legal father. However, for unmarried parents, paternity must be legally established before any custody, visitation, or support discussions can occur. Establishing paternity can be done voluntarily by both parents signing an Acknowledgment of Paternity (AOP) or through legal action in court. Establishing paternity is crucial as it sets the stage for custody discussions and allows the child to benefit from both parents’ rights and responsibilities, including financial support, access to medical records, and inheritance rights.
Understanding Custody and Conservatorship in Texas
In Texas, child custody is often referred to as “conservatorship.” The state recognizes two types of conservatorship: Joint Managing Conservatorship (JMC) and Sole Managing Conservatorship (SMC). JMC is the most common arrangement, where both parents share the rights and duties of raising their child, even if the child primarily resides with one parent. SMC may be granted when one parent is deemed unfit due to reasons like substance abuse, neglect, or domestic violence, or if sole custody is in the child’s best interest.
Decisions about conservatorship focus on the child’s welfare, with courts considering various factors, including the child’s physical and emotional needs, each parent’s ability to care for the child, and any history of family violence. The goal is to ensure a stable, safe, and supportive environment for the child.
Rights of Unmarried Fathers
For unmarried fathers, establishing paternity is the gateway to securing custody rights. Once paternity is established, fathers have the right to seek custody and visitation arrangements, just like married (or divorced) fathers. The courts encourage active involvement from both parents, recognizing the importance of having both a mother and a father in a child’s life. Fathers can seek JMC or request specific visitation rights, ensuring they remain an integral part of their child’s upbringing.
Support Orders Are Essential
In a Suit Affecting the Parent-Child Relationship, or SAPCR for short, a judge can enter orders regarding child custody and visitation as well as child support and medical and dental support. Even if the parents are currently in a relationship and raising the children together, getting a support order in place is not inappropriate. In fact, it is a lot less expensive and simpler to get an order while everyone is getting along than down the line if the relationship breaks down and the parents split up. If one parent takes the child without an order in place, it can be difficult for the other parent to get the child back. It’s not mean to get a support order and shouldn’t be viewed as a negative by either party but rather as a positive step to ensure adequate and proper support for the child.
Crafting a Parenting Plan
Texas courts often require parents to submit a parenting plan during custody proceedings. This plan should detail each parent’s rights and duties, including living arrangements, visitation schedules, and decision-making responsibilities regarding the child’s education, health care, and religious upbringing. A well-crafted parenting plan can prevent misunderstandings and conflicts, providing a clear framework for co-parenting. The Law Office of Maria Lowry can assist clients in developing a comprehensive parenting plan that serves the best interests of the child while protecting parental rights.
Legal Guidance and Support
Navigating Texas child custody laws as an unmarried parent can be confusing and complex. The Law Office of Maria Lowry practices extensively in family law and is dedicated to supporting clients through this challenging process. With a deep understanding of Texas law and a commitment to prioritizing the best interests of the children, our firm can provide the guidance and representation needed to achieve a favorable outcome.
We encourage unmarried parents to seek legal advice early in the process to understand their rights and obligations fully. Whether it’s establishing paternity, negotiating custody arrangements, or crafting a parenting plan, the Law Office of Maria Lowry is here to help. Our goal is to ensure that every child in Harris County benefits from the love, care, and support of both parents, regardless of their marital status.
Contact The Law Office of Maria Lowry for Help With Child Custody and Family Law in Houston
While the journey through child custody laws for unmarried parents in Texas may seem like a formidable challenge, understanding your rights and responsibilities is the first step toward securing your child’s future. With the right legal support and a commitment to working together for the best interest of your child, you can navigate this process successfully. For help with child custody and other family law matters in Harris County, call the Law Office of Maria Lowry in Houston at 713-850-8859.