The one thing you can count on in life is change. As your kids grow up, their wants and needs will undoubtedly change. That means you and your former spouse or partner might need to revisit court orders governing things like child custody, child support, and alimony. However, judges in Texas are hesitant to change these court orders without a good reason. Below, we’ll go over the logistics of modifying orders in family court.
Conservatorship, Not Child Custody
To avoid confusion, you should know that what we think of as “child custody” is actually called “conservatorship” and “possession” in Texas. Possession refers to the living arrangements of children and how they split their time between parents. Co-parents who are conservators have the legal authority to make certain decisions about their children (religious, educational, etc.).
How Do You Modify a Possession Order?
To reiterate, there is a relatively high bar to clear in order to secure a modification in Texas. Any modifications of conservatorship or possession orders must be in the best interest of the child. This legal doctrine consists of more than a dozen factors that must be considered when setting court orders. To start the process, you must file a petition with the district court clerk. To be successful with your petition, you must show the modification would be in your children’s best interests and that there has been a substantial and material change in circumstances since the original possession order was finalized.
A substantial and material change in circumstances is something that was not foreseen at the time of the original court order and is unlikely to change. A job change or relocation often qualifies, as do remarriages and a diagnosis of serious medical conditions (for parents or children). Child abuse or substance abuse are also good reasons for modifying a possession order.
If there has not been a substantial and material change in circumstances, your modification petition may be successful if your child is at least 12 years old and has expressed a desire for his or her living arrangement to change. In this case, the judge will usually want to speak directly with the child and affirm that the modification would be in the child’s best interest.
If you and your ex both agree to the modification, the process is quite simple. You’ll still need to propose the modification in your petition and have the judge approve the changes.
In cases where one parent does not agree with the modification, however, the petitioner must serve the other parent (respondent) with the court papers and enter into the formal court process. The respondent will have a certain number of days to respond, after which there will be a court hearing. If the respondent does not file a response within the allotted time frame, the judge will likely grant the modification by default.
Having a Lawyer is Vital
You are not required by law to hire a child custody attorney when petitioning for a modification, but it is highly recommended to have one guide you through the process. Judges will not grant anyone leniency based on their status as a non-attorney; even minor mistakes can sink your chances of success. When you retain our firm, you’ll get a strong legal team who will stand by you and exhaust all options to help you reach your goals. Get in touch with us today to discuss your legal needs.