Family Law in Texas: Divorce, Child Custody, CPS, SAPCR and Paternity
Our clients often seek us out during the most stressful times of their lives. Most of us are used to having private lives where we can make our own decisions about what happens without ever needing to hire an attorney or enter a courtroom. Divorce and child custody issues can bring laws and lawyers into our homes when our need for privacy and stability is very high. At Austin-based CHA Law Group, family lawyer Christine Andresen and her friendly, compassionate staff strive to make family law matters as stress-free as possible. We will explain everything we know about the type of case you have, and present you with all of your legal options. And, we will do it in real human language, not legal-ese. We might even make you smile once or twice.
Family law covers everything from Divorce to Child Custody to Paternity to CPS cases to Grandparents’ Rights to Reproductive Law. At CHA Law Group in Austin, Texas, we handle every law matter that comes under the family law umbrella. We welcome both traditional and non-traditional families. (LGBT folks and same-sex couples will find LGBT-specific topics, in our LGBT / Queer section. There are also separate pages for Reproductive Law and Wills.)
Please contact us to schedule an appointment to discuss your situation. If there’s a legal remedy for your family law issue, we will find it and fight for you.
Areas of Family Law
- Divorce in Texas
My wife and I are separated and want to get divorced—how do we figure out which type of divorce fits our situation?
We're always sorry to hear this news. Let’s talk about your options. At CHA Law Group, we always prefer reaching a divorce settlement through collaboration and mediation in a conference room rather than a hotly contested, antagonistic divorce in the courtroom. Sometimes, however, there is too much hurt and anger at the end of a marriage for any type of collaboration—in those cases, we are fully prepared to go to court and fight for you. Here is some information about the various types of divorces possible in the State of Texas. Austin-based family law attorney Christine Andresen and her friendly, experienced staff will help you through each step of the divorce process, no matter which one you choose. (If you are seeking to dissolve a same-sex relationship, please refer to our LGBT section, which includes Gay Divorce, Gay “Divorce” and Civil Union Dissolution. That said, there could be some helpful info for LGBT folks in the midst of a break-up on this page as well.)
- Traditional Divorce / Contested Divorce / Litigated Divorce
Sometimes divorce is a long time coming so it’s not a surprise when you or your partner finally decide to act. Other times, it takes you completely by surprise and it feels like the floor has been ripped out from under you. Your spouse unexpectedly moved out and a week later you are served with divorce papers. Your spouse calls you and tells you that he or she wants the house and primary custody of the kids, but you want the house and primary custody of the kids. If this situation sounds familiar, or if you and your spouse cannot agree on some basics like who will have custody of your children and who will get the major property items—nor can the two of you agree to try a more cooperative approach to divorce—you may be in the midst of a traditional divorce.
- Collaborative Divorce in Texas
Collaborative law is a special method for divorcing where the parties and their attorneys agree that the parties are going to negotiate their own divorce agreement without ever going to court until the agreement is completed and signed. Everyone agrees that the attorneys will not litigate the case. (This means that even if the collaborative process fails and the parties end up wanting to go to court, the original collaborative attorneys must withdraw and the parties must hire new attorneys to litigate the divorce.)
Collaborative divorce is a type of alternative dispute resolution process similar to mediation. The main difference is that certain mediations can be used early in the litigated divorce to gather information, and late in the litigation process to threaten. Alternatively, with a collaborative divorce, you have signed a contract where you lose your attorney if you cannot come to an agreement, giving you a financial incentive to complete the process.
One benefit of collaborative divorce is that other professionals are often brought in to assist during some negotiations. One such contributor might be a financial professional who will generally analyze the couple's assets and debts and then help design budgets for each party to use in thinking about his or her finances after divorce. A child specialist with a background in mental health issues will often be invited to divorces involving children to help the parties work out all the custody, visitation, and support issues.
Collaborative law gives the client far greater control than a litigation. The environment is designed to be a safe one to foster disclosures and constructive criticism—a fundamentally different environment than a courtroom. Communication between the parties is maintained in a way where future interactions (e.g. during co-parenting the children of the divorce) are more likely to be successful. Your needs and your interests control the direction of your divorce.
- Uncontested Divorce in Texas
An uncontested divorce is a divorce where not only do the parties agree to divorce, but they also agree on the division of property and all the child-related issues (custody, visitation, and support). If there are disputes about property or children, the divorce is not uncontested. Just because both parties have agreed to divorce does not mean the divorce is uncontested.
Some couples will come into an initial meeting having already decided all the issues they could think of. They only seek an attorney’s input to highlight any issues they have not thought of, and instructions on how to make their agreement legal. Other couples have only decided some of the basics, but want help to sort out the remaining issues with the goal of completing an uncontested divorce.
Austin-based family law attorney Christine Andresen will represent only one party in uncontested divorces and therefore will expect only one person to show up for the initial client meeting—even if all or almost all the terms are agreed.
- No-Fault Divorce in Texas
Texas has a divorce ground called “insupportability” —this is the no-fault ground for divorce. You can plead insupportability when “the marriage has become insupportable because of discord or conflict of personalities that destroys the legitimate ends of the marital relationship and prevents any reasonable expectation of reconciliation.” Essentially, a no-fault divorce is when you stop getting along and do not want to be married any more. Other states have different names for similar no-fault grounds; if you have heard of “irretrievable breakdown” or “irreconcilable differences,” these are basically the same thing as Texas’ insupportability ground.
- The Difference Between a No-Fault Divorce and an Uncontested Divorce
Many people confuse a no-fault divorce with an uncontested divorce but they are different things. Fault or no-fault grounds describe how you get the judge to say you deserve a divorce; contested or uncontested divorces refer to different ways to go about handling the procedure.
A contested/litigated divorce can be pled on no-fault grounds if none of the fault grounds apply to the facts of the case or (even if fault grounds are available in a particular case) for tactical reasons.
Attorney's Fees Vary According to Which Kind of Divorce You Get
An uncontested divorce, where the parties have agreed on all terms before meeting with an attorney, is always the least expensive option. Collaborative divorces cost more than uncontested divorces, but are almost always cheaper than traditional, litigated divorces. The only time a traditional divorce can end up being less expensive than the other options is when the parties successfully negotiate or mediate the case very early in the process, agreeing on all the terms of the divorce.
Austin divorce lawyer Christine Henry Andresen will represent you in whichever divorce process best fits your situation. CHA Law Group will file the necessary court papers and represent you in hearings. Christine’s office will also help you attempt to steer your spouse towards alternative dispute resolution, such as negotiation and mediation. If these are unsuccessful, her office will help you prepare for your temporary orders hearing and final hearing. Please contact us to schedule an appointment to get sound legal advice from an experienced family law attorney in Central Texas.
- Traditional Divorce / Contested Divorce / Litigated Divorce
- Child Cases / Suit Affecting Parent-Child Relationship (SAPCR) in Texas
I want to change the custody agreement that was part of my divorce—can I do this in Texas?
The way that you can try to first establish or change custody (or more properly in Texas—“conservatorship”) terms in Texas is through a Suit Affecting Parent-Child Relationship, or SAPCR. These law suits are filed in a variety of circumstances. Perhaps you are unmarried and things are no longer very friendly with the other parent to your child. In this case, you might need some orders in place to establish how things are going to work regarding each parent’s role with the child. If this is your situation, check out the Paternity section of this web page. Or perhaps you are trying to change some of the court orders relating to your children from a divorce with out-of-date orders, or you’re trying to defend against a former spouse trying to change those divorce orders against your wishes. (These are usually called SAPCR Modification suits, or Modification defense.)
- Conservatorship (Child Custody) in Texas
In Texas, the default is that each parent will receive Joint Managing Conservatorship (JMC), commonly called “joint custody,” of any child. For one party to have Sole Managing Conservatorship (SMC) and the other to have only Possessory Conservatorship is rare; SMC is usually only available in extreme circumstances, e.g. when there is a history of domestic violence. Even when both parties have joint conservatorship of the child, however, almost always only one party will have the right to decide on the child’s primary residence and the same party will have the right to receive child support. Because of this, even when both parents have joint conservatorship, the person who gets to make decisions about the child’s residence and receives child support is sometimes referred to as having “primary custody” since those two rights are so important.
When both parties end up with joint conservatorship, there are still questions about other child-related rights and duties and whether they will be:
• Exclusive to one party
• Joint (by agreement)
• Independent (meaning each has the right to make certain decisions while in possession of the children)
It is possible, when each parent has joint custody, for neither parent to have exclusive decision-making on residence so long as the child’s residence is restricted to a specific geographic area, e.g. Travis County. Some lawyers refer to this as “true joint custody.” This is normally only available in the friendliest of agreed divorces/SAPCRs.
- Possession (Child Visitation) in Texas
Texas has a standard possession order often used in divorces and SAPCR cases that dictates how the child’s time is shared—when and how often visits take place. It’s very detailed, and there is variation if the parties move to over 100 miles away from each other, but for the parent without decision-making on residence, it’s more or less: every Thursday evening during the school year, first/third/fifth weekends, a month in the summer, and every other Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Spring Break.
Parties are free to come up with other options. If they can agree on a possession schedule, then even if it is very different from standard possession, a judge will almost always approve it. Some examples are equal time possession schedules which can be week-on and week-off or a 2/2/5 schedule. (Sunday 6pm to Tuesday 6pm with Mom, Tuesday 6pm to Thursday 6pm with Dad, Thursday 6pm to Sunday 6pm either alternating weekends, or Mom gets 2nd, 4th, and 5th, whatever.) Any agreed schedule is a possibility. And those can vary greatly according to the work schedules of the parties.
Even if a case is contested in court, a parent can ask for and receive as a court order a variation from the standard possession schedule with sufficient proof about why that works best for the child and the family.
- Child Support in Texas
Child support is often an important sub-issue in divorces and SAPCR cases. For child support set-up or modification issues that stand alone without being combined with any other conservatorship or possession questions, often the least expensive solution for a child support establishment or readjustment is to contact the Texas Office of the Attorney General directly. However, sometimes a client may want to hire a private attorney to have more control over the matter or to try to reach a more creative solution with the other parent than the OAG would accept.
Other Child-Related Legal Information
Divorce in Texas: For more information on child issues that take place within a divorce, refer to Divorce.
CPS Cases in Texas: For more on child issues when CPS is a party, check out CPS Cases.
Child Issues in LGBT Families in Texas: For specifics about how child issues might be handled at the end of a same-sex / LGBT relationship, please refer to our LGBT section, which includes Gay Divorce, Gay “Divorce,” and Civil Union Dissolution.)
Austin-based family lawyer Christine Henry Andresen has handled child support matters ranging from simple to complex. Please schedule an appointment with her to figure out how best to protect your relationship with your child and forge a working relationship with your child’s other parent.
- Conservatorship (Child Custody) in Texas
- Change of Name in Texas
CHA Law Group has also helped families face a variety of circumstances where an adult or a child is interested in changing his or her last name. Some of these situations could include:
• A child wanting to take a mother’s last name instead of an absent father’s last name
• A child being adopted into a new family
• A divorcée who did not change her name as part of her divorce, but has decided later to go back to her maiden name
Do you see your situation here? If so, or if not, we can help you. CHA Law Group has a great deal of experience with Change of Name of Adult cases and Change of Name of Child cases, as well. Contact us to make an appointment to get you your name.
- Paternity in Texas
My ex-boyfriend and I have a child together but since our break up communication has gotten really difficult—can we still get court orders if we were never married? Can I get child support?
Absolutely. A conservatorship order is available for any two people that share a child. When people have a child outside of a marriage and their romantic relationship ends, it’s a good idea to put court orders in place. These orders serve to:
• Establish each party's rights and duties
• Set the details of the possession schedule (also known as visitation)
• Define child support
• Confirm any other parenting decisions that need agreement
These agreements are available and valid for both opposite-sex and same-sex couples sharing children.
In our extensive experience with Austin family law, we at CHA Law Group have seen both ends of the spectrum with this type of case. In some situations, the parents can still sit down together to discuss how to work out parenting details so Christine is needed only to file legal documents and a court order that the two parents have agreed on between themselves.
Other situations are more complicated. When the parents don’t agree, there may be a contested court case. In these cases, Christine will represent you—either the mom or the dad (or one of the child’s moms, or one of the child’s dads)—in front of the judge, who eventually has to make the parenting decisions because attempts at negotiation have failed.
CHA Law Group Helps Austin Parents Legally Establish Parenting Roles After They Break Up
If there is a question as to whether the man in question is actually the father, the case is usually called a paternity case, or a SAPCR Establishment case. Paternity cases in Texas are often combined with a Suit Affecting Parent-Child Relationship (SAPCR) Establishment case, because the alleged father is seeking conservatorship and possession or the mother is seeking child support from the alleged father.
If you need help hammering out a parenting agreement after the end of a relationship with your child’s other parent, please let us help. Contact family law attorney Christine Andresen to schedule an appointment to discuss your options.
- Grandparents' Rights in Texas
We are worried that our grandchildren aren’t being taken care of properly—do we have any legal right to intervene as their grandparents?
It depends. The legal rights that Texas grandparents have in relation to their grandchildren is extremely fact-specific. That means that the rights are determined on a case-by-case basis. CHA Law Group has helped grandparents in Central Texas gain legal rights to parent their grandchildren in a wide range of circumstances.
In one former CHA Law Group case, a grandmother legally terminated both her grandchild’s mother’s and father’s parental rights and adopted her grandchild in a contested final hearing, where the mother showed up in court to argue against her termination. In another case, Christine represented a grandparent in a CPS case that entailed convincing a judge to change the grandchild’s placement from foster care to the grandmother’s house.
CHA Law Group Helps Texas Grandparents Fight for Custody of Their Grandchildren When Parents Can’t Take Care of Their Children
The factors that influence grandparents’ chances of winning custody are:
• Whether and for how long the child has lived with the grandparent
• Whether there is concern for the child’s safety and well-being in his or her current living / custody situation (or if there would be, were the child to be placed with the parents)
• The nature of the child’s relationship with the parents
Other Options for Grandparents Seeking Rights For Access to or Custody of Grandchildren in Texas
• If there are no prior court orders, and the parent is willing to help, a grandparent can get something called a Chapter 34 agreement that will allow the grandparent to have medical and educational decision-making for little to no cost.
• Suit for Grandparent Access: Some grandparents might want to file a Suit Affecting Parent-Child Relationship, known as an SAPCR, in order to simply get access to a child when a parent has cut off all access. See Child Cases / SAPCRs for more information.
• Grandchild adoption: Some grandparents need to terminate the parents' rights and adopt the child in order to become a legal parent; this can give the child important access to certain benefits and entitlements they might receive only if the grandparent were their legal parent. This would give the grandparent total control in decision-making regarding the parents' access to the child. See Grandparent Adoption for more information.
If you are worried about your grandchildren and would like to have more legal protection for your relationship with them, contact Austin-based family law attorney Christine Andresen to find out what the best legal option for your situation might be.
CPS has just taken my children away from me—am I allowed to hire a lawyer to try to get them back?
Yes, in fact you should. Austin lawyer Christine Andresen has worked with parents, grandparents, foster parents and other relatives to intervene in these types of CPS cases.
- Parents Involved with CPS Cases in Texas
When CPS intervenes in a family and removes the child or children from their parents’ care, the parents need a lawyer to represent them in the case. Parents with incomes that are too high for a no-cost, court-appointed attorney must hire their own counsel.
Please note, even a parent who thinks that his or her salary might be low enough that the court would declare him or her low-income enough to qualify for a free attorney, won’t actually get one until—at the earliest—after the first hearing, sometimes called the 262 Hearing. (It is also known as the 14-day hearing because it must be held by 14 days after a child’s removal.) If you want to argue that CPS should never have removed your child in the first place, it is wise to hire an attorney immediately who can request a Contested 262 Hearing (sometimes called a full adversarial hearing), and attempt to cut off the CPS case before it continues for any longer.
- Foster Parents Involved with CPS Cases in Texas
Many foster parents are eligible to intervene in CPS cases if they meet certain criteria. If the child (or children) has been placed with them for twelve months or more, or the foster parents have adopted the child’s siblings, then it’s a (fairly) sure thing. If the child (or children) have been placed with them for an extensive time period, and the court finds “substantial past contact” and “best interest,” foster parents are often able to intervene. It’s worth discussing the details of your case with an experienced family law attorney to get a clear picture of what your options might be.
- Grandparents and Other Child Advocates Involved with CPS Cases in Texas
When a parent has CPS step into his or her life and request conservatorship of their children, another family member (like a grandparent) can hire an attorney to intervene. An attorney can request conservatorship on behalf of the grandparents, or other family members, so they can have a say in what is happening to the children.
Family law attorney Christine Andresen has represented moms and dads in both county-appointed and private-pay CPS cases. She has also represented people who want to intervene in CPS cases (referred to as intervenors), including grandparents and foster parents, and would be happy to talk to you at any stage of the process about what is going on in the legal case and whether there is room to intervene. Please contact CHA Law Group to make an appointment for a consultation.
- Parents Involved with CPS Cases in Texas