Are you a father looking to win primary child custody in Texas? Working with an experienced Texas family law attorney can help you to build a strong child custody case to present to a judge in the state of Texas court system.
It is fully possible for fathers to get full custody of their children. However, there are aspects of a custody case where fathers may have an additional burden to prove that mothers do not. These include paternity, the primary caretaker role, and home environment quality.
There are two ways to determine paternity: biologically or legally. Under the Uniform Parentage Act, a man is an “alleged father” if they have not established biological paternity or achieved presumed fatherhood.8 The law often distinguishes between the legal and biological recognition of paternity: “Where such births result from sexual intercourse between consenting adults, genetic ties almost always themselves determine legal motherhood, but often only help determine legal fatherhood.”6
However, legal parentage is required to receive the constitutional rights that make the tender years doctrine unlawful.
In cases where the father is not married to the mother, but another man is, courts have ruled that fatherhood may be determined by who the mother is married to, rather than biology.9 If a father is not married to the mother, or if he does not sign an acknowledgment of paternity, he cannot be granted custody or visitation rights.6
Primary Caregiver Role
A primary caregiver is a person who consistently is responsible for the housing, health, and safety of another.10 In custody proceedings, courts assume the primary caretaker is experienced and knowledgeable regarding the child’s educational needs, medical needs, and more. As family dynamics shift from stay-at-home mothers and working fathers, there may be a presumption on who mostly handles the roles of primary caretaker. Fathers must show their engagement in caring for their child academically, medically, and in other critical areas.
In families where the mother does stay home or work less, there is a preconceived notion that children’s bond with the stay-at-home parent is stronger than their bond with the working parent. As part of making decisions within the child’s best interests, a change in primary caregiver is typically considered as causing at least some distress to the child.11
Because of this, courts are hesitant to change a child’s primary care provider unless it is in the child’s best interest.11 The non-primary caretaker parent should offer some other evidence counterbalancing this finding, such as the child’s aptitude to adjust to new environments.
The mere fact that a parent balances work and family needs should not be determinative in decisions regarding their aptitude to connect with their children. Therefore, it is necessary to examine the working-parent and child relationship on an individual basis. Doing so would provide that parent with the opportunity to demonstrate the strength of their relationship during a custodial proceeding.
Mothers, whether they work or not, statistically, tend to have more responsibility for parenting aspects such as attending parent-teacher conferences, school plays, doctor visits, playing at parks, helping with homework, and other activities. In fact, studies have found that 48% of fathers in the U.S. participated in their children’s school activities once a year or less.12
A father seeking custody may need to overcome this and demonstrate to the court that they participate in all aspects of parenting, not just financially. Courts appear to want the primary caretaker to be an experienced and knowledgeable parent who knows how the child learns best, their major health needs, etc.7 Demonstrating involvement in these crucial aspects of care is important.
Quality of the Home Environment
The quality of the home environment is another element of the “best interest standard” that may further burden fathers due to beliefs about their parenting when compared with mothers.11
When looking at this element, the courts consider things like intellectual, emotional, and cultural factors. Courts weigh the quality of the home environment for both parents, however, when neither home is harmful in any way, courts will also take into account which home is just better.11 For example, a parent filing for primary physical custody may cite superior academic opportunities and zoning catchments, showing the court that they have a well-developed educational plan for their child.
In addition, there may be incorrect assumptions about the father’s capability to meet the child’s emotional needs. Thus, a father should demonstrate his understanding of his child’s emotional needs. The emotional wellness of a child is an important factor in determining where a child should live.
Working with an experienced family law attorney can help responsible fathers win custody of their children in Texas.
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