In 1980, a Texas father might have been unlikely to get custody of his children in his divorce. Nationally, in 80% of custody cases, mothers got sole custody. By 2008, this only happened 42% of the time. Situations in which both parents had the child about half the time went from 5% to 27%, and those in which custody was joint but for unequal parenting time went to 18% from 3%.
This shift happens as more women went to work outside the home and as men were encouraged to spend time with their children. More custody cases are also happening between unmarried parents as the number of children born out of wedlock grows. In general, courts treat these cases no differently than they would those in which the parents were getting a divorce. In the past, a father with less money might be at a disadvantage, but this is no longer the case. Another major change is that parents are encouraged more to work out a child custody agreement through mediation instead of going to court.
These agreements address both legal and physical custody. Legal custody, which is usually joint, is about which parent has the right to make decisions about the child’s health care, religion and other major issues. Physical custody, often referred to in Texas as “possession”, is about where the child lives.
Parents may want to talk to an attorney about their wishes for the child custody agreement before going into negotiations. It may help to decide what the ideal situation would be as well what the parent might be willing to accept as a compromise. If the parent feels the child is unsafe with the other parent, the case might have to go to court. Parents may need to gather documentation and witnesses to support their claims.