When Texas parents divorce, the most contested issues often involve conservatorship, possession and access. Conservatorship, also known as child custody in many other jurisdictions, is the legal right and responsibility of a parent to make decisions about the health, education and welfare of the child. This can be granted jointly or given to one parent. Possession and access, known as visitation in other states, is the right of a parent to spend time with their child who resides primarily in the other parent’s home.
But what happens when an unrelated third-party with a close relationship to the child, such as a stepparent, wishes to have conservatorship over the child? According to Texas law, certain unrelated third-party adults have the right to ask a court for conservatorship of a child.
A third-party unrelated adult has standing to seek conservatorship of a child if he or she lived with the child and the child’s parent for at least six months and the child’s parent has died. Other non-family members who can pursue custody rights include legal guardians appointed by an authority outside the State of Texas and foster parents who cared for the child for a period lasting last 12 months that ended no more than 90 days before the filing.
Earlier this year, one Denton man found himself in a custody battle with a third-party unrelated adult after the mother of his daughter died suddenly. The parents had shared joint managing conservatorship and the child roughly split time at each home. When the daughter was with her mother, they lived with her mother’s fiancé as well. Following the mother’s deadly accident, her fiancé sought joint managing conservatorship with access and possession rights. According to Texas law, the fiancé had standing to do so because he had lived with the child’s mother and the child for more than six months. The girl’s maternal grandparents petitioned for custody rights as well.
An appellate court dismissed the grandparents’ case because grandparents are only allowed intervention if maintaining sole conservatorship would “significantly impair the youth’s physical health or emotional development.” However, the appellate court permitted the fiance’s case to go forward as a similar standard does not exist for unrelated parties seeking conservatorship. In the end, however, the Texas Supreme Court ruled in favor of the father. While there was a happy ending for the father, it cost him a great deal of time and money.
While the courts always try to make custody decisions in the best interest of the children, even cases that seem simple might contain hidden complications. That is why it is important to hire an experienced Texas family law attorney to advocate on your behalf.
If you need assistance with a Texas divorce or child custody matter, the experienced attorneys at Hayes, Berry, White & Vanzant, LLP will advocate on your behalf. We have offices in Denton, Flower Mound. Gainesville and Celina. Call us at 940-230-2386 or contact us online.
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