In my practice, a growing area are cases involving children whose parents were never married, at least never married to each other. Generally, this growth is driven by the destruction of the American family … divorce, children born out of wedlock, drug abuse causing the inability of parents to care for their children and worse. These cases are cases in which the parents, or occasionally somebody else, seeks to establish and delineate the rights of the parents to the children.
In Texas, if a child’s parents are not married, there is a certain set of rights for each parent that are set out in law. Big picture, parents have identical rights and a parent can remove the child from the possession of any one in the world, except the other parent. No one else has any rights to possession of the child.
If the child’s parents are living together happily, this can work with only some inconveniences, such as conversations with daycares and schools. If the child’s parents are not living together and not getting along, this is a mess. The child is essentially subjected to “tug-of-war” parenting. “Tug-of-war” parenting is bad for kids and parents alike.
It is possible to go to Court and get specific rights, periods of possession, and support issues lined out. The law suit used is called a Suit Affecting the Parent-Child Relationship (SAPCR). It is my experience that divorce is bad for kids and SAPCRs are worse. The law is less developed and the parents have less history of commitment.
The first thing to know about a SAPCR is that not just anyone can file such a lawsuit. Most of these lawsuits are filed by the parents, followed closely by the Texas Attorney General filings to insure child support is being handled. Other common filers, permitted by the law are Grandparents … .but only if there is a big problem with the parents, like drugs, mental illness, or criminal behavior. Whenever Child Protective Services removes a child from the parents it files a SAPCR to get into a courtroom.
Sometimes the initial area of conflict is selecting the Texas County in which to file the lawsuit. The lawsuit should be filed in the County in which the child lives. If the parents live in two different counties, the child is deemed to reside in the county in which the parent in possession at the time of the filing lives. It doesn’t matter where the child has spent the majority of time, or where the child goes to school or how much time the filing parent has actually had possession of the child.
Sometimes the first time this kind of case comes to Court is when the Attorney General’s Office seeks to establish child support. Usually, this is because one parent has asked the AG’s office to do so … but not always. If the child receives any type of government assistance, such as subsidized daycare or Medicaid, the AG will eventually get around to filing this lawsuit.
If you become involved in one of these cases, you need a lawyer. Don’t let anyone talk you out of hiring a lawyer. Cases “handled” by the AG only or involving CPS will become a mess if you do not have a lawyer. Not only is it wise from your point of view to have a lawyer, your child is depending on you to make sure you know what you are doing as you decide what is in that child’s (your child’s) best interest. Hire a competent and experienced lawyer. You need one.