Suits Affecting the Parent-Child Relationship
When couples with children divorce, a Suit Affecting the Parent Child Relationship (SAPCR) is part of the divorce suit. A SAPCR may also be created without a corresponding divorce suit if the child’s parents were never married to each other or need to modify their divorce decree. The typical SAPCR governs issues of child custody and child support.
The key concept in any SAPCR is the “best interest of the child.” All decisions made regarding custody or support should be made according to what is in the affected child’s best interest. Furthermore, it is critical to understand that custody and support, though interrelated, are treated as separate issues under the law. It is unlawful for a parent to withhold support from the custodial parent even if that parent is wrongfully denying access to the child. Similarly, a custodial parent may not deny access to the non-custodial parent for failure to pay child support. If your child’s other parent is not following the court’s orders for child support or custody, you must seek enforcement through the court. Do not take matters into your own hands.
What is commonly called “custody” involves multiple related concepts under Texas family law: conservatorship, possession and access. Possession and access are sometimes referred to as “visitation” in layman’s terms.
There are two types of conservators: managing conservators and possessory conservators. Both types of conservators have the right to possession (i.e. having the child live with them for part of the year). The distinction between the two types is in the level of decision-making authority regarding the child’s care. A managing conservator has authority to make important decisions about the child’s residence, the child’s medical care, and the child’s schooling, among other things. A possessory conservator has limited decision making authority, but does have the right to possession of and access to the child.
A court can appoint both parents as managing conservators unless it is not in the best interest of the child to do so. If both parents are managing conservators, they are called “joint managing conservators.” This gives them similar decision-making power, but one parent will be designated as the “primary managing conservator.” This parent typically has the right to determine the child’s primary residence.
Possession and access, or visitation, generally refers to the amount of time that the child will spend living with either parent throughout the year. The Family Code contains a standard visitation schedule. In a child custody case, the judge may order a standard visitation schedule, or the judge may craft an order that is tailored to the circumstances of the parents and the child (or children) in a particular case. The judge may also order a customized visitation schedule based on an agreement between the parents. Some of the factors that a judge may consider in determining the possession schedule are: the child’s school schedule, the child’s extra-curricular activities’ schedule, each parent’s work schedule, the location of each parent’s residence, relevant religious holidays, each parent’s available vacation time, etc.
In certain cases, the judge may determine that it is not in the child’s best interest to live with one of the parents. This may occur, for example, if that parent has a serious drug problem or has been shown to be abusive. In such cases, that parent may be awarded supervised visitation.
Modification of Child Custody
Sometimes circumstances change, and the custody arrangements that made sense at the time of the divorce no longer work. Child custody orders may be modified on the motion of either parent. Modification must be justified by proving a “material change in circumstances.” What constitutes a material change is evaluated on a case-by-case basis.
Child support is a mandatory, regular monthly payment made to the parent with primary conservatorship of the child. The non-custodial parent will typically continue to pay child support until the child turns eighteen or graduates from high school, whichever occurs later. If the child is disabled, the support obligation may continue beyond this usual cutoff point.
The court will often determine the amount of the child support payments by applying a formula outlined in the Texas Family Code. The formula takes into account the non-custodial parent’s income and the number of children he or she is supporting. The court can also consider such factors as each parent’s relative income; whether either parent is deliberately unemployed or underemployed; any other support obligations of either parent; whether the parent paying child support is also incurring expenses traveling to see the child, etc.
Remember that child support payments are made through the Texas Attorney General’s office. Although it may seem unnecessary or overly formal, all support payments should be documented and paid through the proper channels. Informal payments do not count towards the obligor’s payments. This may become an issue if child support needs to be modified or if the parent receiving support claims that he or she has not received the required amount.
Enforcement of Child Support:
If one parent is not paying the required child support, the court can enforce the child support order. The court will often enforce the child support order by reducing the arrearage to a judgment for money. But, the court can alternatively or additionally hold the obligor in contempt of court.
The Office of the Attorney General monitors child support payments in Texas. There are severe consequences for failure to pay. These include: garnishment of wages, garnishment of accounts, suspension of driver’s license, and even suspension of professional licenses.
Modification of Child Support:
Because the consequences for failure to pay child support are serious, it is imperative that a child support obligor who is having trouble affording the ordered payments seek a modification as soon as possible. Child support arrearages are subject to interest, so unpaid support can quickly get out of control.
As with child custody orders, the court may modify the child support order on the motion of either parent. The parent asking for modification must prove a “material change in circumstances.” The parent owing child support might need a decrease in the amount of support if he or she loses a job. The parent receiving child support might seek an increase in payments if the child needs additional funds for care or even for extra-curricular activities. Whether the alleged change is “material” is determined on a case-by-case basis.
Other Family Law Matters
This firm also handles additional family law matters involving the parent-child relationship, such as:
- Grandparent Access/Visitation
- Grandparent’s Rights
- Involuntary Termination of Parental Rights
- Paternity Determination
- Protective Orders
- Stepparent Adoption
- Supervised Visitation
- Temporary Orders