Waco Child Custody Lawyer 

Waco child custody attorneys at Dunnam & Dunnam have the experience, results, and service to get exceptional outcomes. One of the most heartbreaking parts of the divorce process is the chance that you will no longer live with your children all the time. Child custody fights are regularly painful for children and parents. Custody of children was given to the mother some time ago. But that has changed. Child custody issues now involve incredibly complex legal problems and should be discussed with an attorney. Talk with one of our experienced, respected child custody lawyers in Central Texas by calling 254-753-6437. 

How is child custody decided?

In making a child custody or visitation order, Texas courts are guided by the child’s best interests, meaning the court will aim to make an order that best serves the child’s physical, mental, and emotional needs. The Texas Family Code uses the complicated terms “joint managing conservatorship” and “sole managing conservatorship.” In other states, these custody arrangements are called joint custody and sole custody. These terms do not refer to the physical possession of the children. Instead, these terms relate to which parent has the legal right to decide on the child’s behalf. Someone who has a joint conservatorship (joint custody) does not split time with the child 50-50. Instead, it means that they have mutual rights to make decisions for the child with the other parent.

The court can award physical and legal custody to one parent alone (called a “sole conservator”) or both parents together (called “joint conservators”). A conservator has the right to make decisions about the child’s school, doctors, legal needs, and extracurricular activities. If the parents are joint conservators, they share in the decision making. The court’s goal is to provide the child with active involvement by both parents, and it encourages the parents to work together to provide a stable environment for the child. Texas courts have a duty to make their decision based upon what is best for the child. 

How does a court decide what is in the child’s best interest to determine child custody in Texas? 

The court will consider many factors when deciding what is in the child’s best interest, including:

  • If one parent is the main caregiver of the minor
  • The parenting abilities of every parent
  • The child’s closeness with siblings and extended family members
  • The atmosphere in each home
  • The work schedule of the particular parents and child care arrangements in each house
  • For a child with special needs, which parent is appropriately equipped to accommodate for those special needs
  • The emotional balance and mental and physical fitness of each parent
  •  Whether drug abuse is an issue for either parent
  • If the child is over age 12, which parent the child prefers to live with
  • Any history of family violence
  • The ability of each parent to cooperatively work together and to develop a positive relationship with the other parent, when contact is not detrimental to the child

Joint Managing Conservatorship

Texas family law presumes that parents should act together as joint managing conservators. This does not mean that both parents have equal responsibility or time with the children. Even though they have joint custody, the Waco family court designates each parent specific duties and rights. 

In this arrangement, parents share responsibility for significant decision-making on behalf of the child, including religion, education, and medical emergencies. Joint custody does not mean that both parents spend the same amount of time with the child. 

In this arrangement, one of the parents is appointed as the primary managing conservator. The child may live mainly with this parent, who will have the day-to-day responsibility of caring for the child. The primary managing conservator ordinarily receives child support from the other parent. Either mothers or fathers can be designated primary joint managing conservators.

Sole Managing Conservatorship

When a parent makes all the significant decisions for the child, Texas law calls that parent the “sole managing conservator.” This means that one parent makes all the significant decisions regarding the child’s health, religion, and education.

Such decisions typically involve:

  • Where the child lives
  • Educational decisions
  • Mental, dental, surgical, and psychiatric treatment
  • Legal representation of the child
  • Consent to military enlistment
  • Permission to marry

The other parent, also called the “noncustodial parent,” and in Texas as the “sole possessory conservator,” can make decisions for the child only when he or she is in physical possession of the child. 

What does the court like to see in child custody cases?

The court encourages parents to work together to create a custody and visitation plan before the judge has a conservatorship (custody) hearing. A child custody dispute is seldom in the best interests of the child. It is far more beneficial for the parents to work together to develop arrangements that they, and the child, can support. A plan should specify which parent the child will live with during the week, on weekends, holidays, and school breaks. The parent without the child’s day-to-day possession (called the noncustodial parent) should have a significant amount of visitation with the child. If the parties reach an agreement, the judge will likely adopt the parents’ plan. If the parents have a couple of issues that they disagree on, they may ask the judge to resolve them. For example, a holiday schedule may state that one parent has visitation with the child on Thanksgiving in odd years. The other parent will have visitation on Thanksgiving in even years. Still, the parents may not agree on Christmas. If the court sees that the parents are cooperating, the judge is more likely to work with the parents to make sure the schedule works for everyone.

If the parties cannot agree on a schedule, the Texas Family Code presumes that it is in the child’s best interest to enter a “Standard Possession Schedule.” In that schedule, the children live mainly with one parent and then see the other parent:

  • on Thursdays during the regular school term from 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.,
  • from Friday at 6:00 pm to Sunday at 6:00 pm on the first, third and fifth weekends throughout the year, 
  • spring break in even-numbered years from 6:00 p.m. on the day school is dismissed for spring break and ending at 6:00 p.m. on the day before school resumes,
  • alternating holidays, and
  • thirty days in the summer.

Once a child custody and visitation order is in place, it generally cannot be modified unless both parents agree to modify it, or there is a significant change in circumstances of one party or the child.

Contact a Waco child custody attorney

Our attorneys have the experience, results, and attention to service that will provide you with superb child custody representation. To discuss your case with an experienced Waco child custody lawyer, contact one of our child custody attorneys at 254-753-6437.

What do our child custody clients say about Dunnam & Dunnam?

Wacoan Magazine regularly chooses our law firm as the best in Waco, including best family law attorneys. You can read many of our client’s family law reviews on our family law page. Some of our child custody clients have said,

“I have known Jim Dunnam for 30 years, back in the day when it was unheard of for the man to get custody of the kids during a divorce Jim fought for me and got custody of both my children for me, if you are lucky enough to have Jim as your attorney then you have the piece of mind knowing he will fight for your case till the very end, a stand up guy who tells you straight up front what your facing and what he can do for you, I highly recommend Jim Dunnam to anyone who is in need of an attorney for any circumstance.” –Greg Key

“I recently used Dunnam and Dunnam for a family case. I was pursuing custody of my son. Brittany Cleere helped me navigate and successfully gain custody of my son. She was amazing and helpful through out the entire mentally taxing experience. I’ve recommended and will continue to recommend the law firm of Dunnam and Dunnam for all legal matters but I will especially recommend Brittany for being such a kind fantastic person. I finally have peace of mind and I owe it all to her diligent efforts.” -Travis Dwayne

Hire a Board Certified Child Custody Lawyer

An attorney becomes board certified only after being in practice for many years, obtaining rigorous experience in the practice area and taking a challenging examination. Of the 100,000 lawyers in Texas, only about 900 are board certified in family law. Dunnam & Dunnam has three board-certified family lawyers representing many McLennan County residents in divorce. Our attorneys are respected by judges, juries, and opposing counsel for their tenacity and knowledge of the law.

Jim Dunnam Waco Attorney at Dunnam & Dunnam

Jim Dunnam

Jim Dunnam is a Board Certified Specialist in both Civil Trial Law and Family Law.

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Merrilee Harmon Waco Lawyer at Dunnam & Dunnam

Merrilee L. Harmon

Merrilee L. Harmon is a Family Law specialist, Board Certified by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization since 1985.

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Vance Dunnam Waco Attorney at Dunnam & Dunnam

Vance Dunnam

Vance has 60 years of experience as a lawyer in Waco, Texas handling all types of cases in both the office and the courtroom.

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Hire a Knowledgeable, Experienced Child Custody Attorney

Other child custody lawyers in Waco include these attorneys at Dunnam & Dunnam:

Carolina Truesdale

Carolina G. Truesdale graduated from Texas Tech University School of Law, Cum Laude.

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Eleeza Johnson Attorney at Law Dunnam & Dunam

Eleeza Johnson

Eleeza's practice areas include: Personal Injury Law, Civil Trial Law, Commercial Law, Family Law and Pharmaceutical Law.

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Gerald R. Villarrial

Gerald R. Villarrial has practiced family law, criminal law and civil litigation for over 20 years.

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Mason Dunnam

Mason Dunnam is the fourth generation of Dunnam attorneys at the firm since 1925

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We have represented Central Texas families in child custody disputes for generations. Since 1925, our family has been serving Waco families in their most significant matters. Contact one of our child custody attorneys in Waco by calling us at 254-753-6437.