Under Texas law, there is a strong presumption that the best interests of a child are served by awarding custody to a parent. However, such a presumption does not apply to modification proceedings, and a court may modify a custody order if the modification is in the child’s best interest and the circumstances have substantially changed.
The court may even award custody to a third party other than the parents, as seen in the recent Texas Court of Appeals case of Mauldin v. Clements.
Parental conflicts lead to grandparent intervention
The mother and father were divorced and had two children. Initially, the parents were appointed as joint managing conservators of the children, and the mother was given the right to determine the children’s primary residence.
Over the following years, a series of modification requests, claims and counter-claims occurred, with each party accusing the other of various incidents of neglect and abuse. Eventually, an attorney appointed to represent the interests of the children alleged that both the mother and father had caused the children to sustain mental and emotional injuries resulting in impairment of their development.
During part of this time, the children had spent the night with their paternal grandparents between one and four nights a week, and visited the house every day. As the conflict between the parents continued, the grandparents filed a petition requesting that they be appointed as the joint managing conservators of the children.
After a hearing, the trial court modified the parent-child relationship, removing the mother and father as joint managing conservators, and instead appointing the paternal grandparents as the new managing conservators. The mother would be allowed visitation several times per month under supervision. The parents were also ordered to pay child support to the grandparents. The mother appealed this ruling.
A stable environment needed
The Texas Court of Appeals felt that the children had a strong need for stability, regular discipline and support in their educational and emotional development. The mother had failed to meet these needs in the past.
While in the mother’s custody, the children had severe behavioral and academic performance problems at school and did not attend court-ordered counseling. The mother had also made several false accusations of abuse against the grandparents and had manipulated the children into making false accusations, placing the children in emotional turmoil.
In contrast, the evidence showed that the grandparents were a steadying influence on the children and that the mother had regularly relied on them for child care. Thus, the decision to award child custody to the grandparents and only supervised visitation to the mother was affirmed.
Changes in a child’s situation?
If a past divorce decree no longer reflects your child’s situation, you should arrange a consultation with an experienced family law attorney. Seek representation from an attorney who will attempt to keep negotiations amicable, but who is also willing to battle in court, if that is what is necessary to achieve the best result for you and your children.