Reason a Judge will change a child custody order in Texas

In Texas, a court-ordered child custody agreement is designed to provide the most beneficial circumstances for a child’s upbringing. The court always prioritizes the child’s best interests, as specified under Texas Family Code §153.002. However, life’s circumstances often change, necessitating a review and possible modification of the initial child custody order.

There are several reasons a judge may decide to change custody, or conservatorship, as it’s known in Texas. Here we provide a comprehensive analysis of those reasons based on the provisions of the Texas Family Code.

Section 156.101 of the Texas Family Code

The most common reason for a judge to change custody is a significant change in the circumstances of the child or a person affected by the order. This requirement is laid out in Section 156.101 of the Texas Family Code, which states that to change an existing custody order, it must be in the best interest of the child, and there must have been a material and substantial change in circumstances.

What Constitutes a “Material and Substantial” Change?

The statute doesn’t define “material and substantial” change, so it’s left to the court’s discretion. However, various factors can contribute to such a change, including:

  • Relocation: One parent moving a significant distance away can trigger a review of the custody agreement. This is particularly relevant if the move affects the child’s access to education, healthcare, or family support systems.
  • Changes in the Home Environment: This could be due to issues such as substance abuse, child neglect, or the introduction of a person with a criminal history into the child’s home. Changes that disrupt the stability and safety of the child’s living environment are taken seriously.
  • Alterations in Employment: Changes in work schedules, loss of job, or a new job that requires extensive travel or relocation may warrant a custody modification. The impact on the child’s routine and care arrangements is a key consideration.

Voluntary Relinquishment

Section 156.104 of the Texas Family Code

According to Section 156.104, if a parent voluntarily gives up physical custody for at least six months, this is considered grounds for modifying the custody order. This does not apply if the parent gave up custody due to military deployment, military mobilization, or temporary military duty. It’s important to differentiate between voluntary relinquishment and temporary arrangements made for the child’s benefit.

Child’s Preference

Section 153.009 of the Texas Family Code

In Texas, a child who is 12 years or older has the right to speak to the judge in chambers regarding their preference for custodial arrangements. While the child’s preference does not solely determine the outcome, it is an influential factor under Section 153.009. The court assesses the child’s maturity and the reasons behind their preference, ensuring that their choice is made independently and without undue influence from either parent.

Parental Alienation

Parental alienation, where one parent deliberately attempts to damage, and in some cases destroy, the child’s relationship with the other parent, is another significant factor. If a court finds this behavior is occurring and is detrimental to the child’s emotional well-being, it could result in a custody modification. Courts may rely on expert testimony from psychologists or child behavior specialists to identify signs of alienation and assess its impact on the child.

Abuse or Neglect

One of the most serious considerations for a judge when deciding on custody arrangements is any evidence of child abuse or neglect. Any sign of physical, emotional, or sexual abuse, or neglect towards the child will likely lead to a change in custody, as per the child’s best interests rule (Section 153.002). The court may involve child protective services and require substantial evidence, including reports from child advocates or guardians ad litem, to substantiate claims of abuse or neglect.

Failure to Follow Existing Court Orders

If a parent consistently fails to adhere to the current court order—for example, by denying visitation rights or not following the agreed-upon decision-making process—the court may consider this when reviewing custody arrangements. Repeated violations can lead to legal consequences, including filing for contempt of court, which underscores the seriousness of adhering to court orders.

Parent’s Ability to Care for the Child

If a parent becomes unable to care for their child due to physical or mental health issues, addiction problems, or financial instability, the court may consider modifying the custody agreement. The assessment includes evaluating the parent’s overall ability to provide a stable and nurturing environment, considering factors like economic stability, living conditions, and the availability of support systems.

Conclusion

Understanding the legal grounds for custody modification and demonstrating that such changes serve the child’s best interests can be complex and challenging. The experienced family law attorneys at The Blacknall Firm are equipped to guide you through every step of this process, ensuring that the child’s welfare remains the foremost priority.

To retain an experienced Texas divorce lawyer for your divorce or child custody case in DallasDentonCollin or Rockwall County, please schedule a consultation with us today.