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.Significant Change in Circumstances
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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 or emotional abuse, sexual misconduct, or neglect towards the child will likely lead to a change in custody, as per the child’s best interests rule (Section 153.002).
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.
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.
Navigating the process of custody modification can be complex and stressful. It requires an understanding of the legal grounds for such changes and a clear demonstration that the modification serves the child’s best interests.
The experienced family law attorneys at The Blacknall Firm, do family law well and are here to help you through every step of the process, ensuring that the child’s interests are always prioritized. If you believe that a modification to your custody order may be necessary, do not hesitate to contact us for legal guidance.