Texas divorce: Is shared parenting in a child’s best interests?

Studies may support shared parenting, but the child’s best interest is paramount.

If you look at the studies, shared parenting, or joint custody looks like it would be the preferred arrangement for families after divorce. Such an arrangement keeps kids in close contact with both parents, spending significant time in both homes and in both parents' company.

Some child custody reformers advocate that absent a safety issue like parental substance addiction, domestic violence or a history of neglect, parents should automatically have the right to share time equally with their children after a marriage ends, and while state laws across the country allow joint parenting arrangements, the foremost concern in every state's family law is that whatever the final custodial arrangement ordered by the court is that it be in the individual child's best interest.

USA Today cites Linda Nielsen, Wake Forest University professor of adolescent and educational psychology, as having analyzed many studies of children with one custodial parent versus those with joint parenting arrangements. She says that kids with shared parenting had less depression, substance abuse, anxiety and truancy than did children in sole custody.

The Texas Family Code does promote joint parenting by stating that it is the public policy of the state to assure children "frequent and continuing contact" with parents who historically have acted in their children's best interest and to encourage parents to continue to "share in the rights and duties" of parenting their children after separation or divorce.

Significantly and in a break with historical practices, Texas law forbids consideration of a parent's gender as a factor in his or her qualifications for legal or physical custody.

The Family Code also establishes a rebuttable presumption that appointment of both parents as joint managing conservators is in a child's best interest. Domestic violence involving the parents removes this presumption. (Managing conservatorship in most states is called legal custody, meaning having the right and power to make major life decisions for the child.)

The Code also says that a joint managing conservatorship does not require that the judge necessarily split physical time with the children equally.

However, the Family Code makes it clear that the custodial and visitation arrangements that are in a child's best interest trump everything else.

Any Texas parent facing divorce involving a child or children with concerns about conservatorship and custody issues should speak with a family lawyer who can review the applicable legal standards in light of the family situation and help determine whether the parent should negotiate or advocate for joint or sole custodial arrangements.

San Antonio attorney Mysti Murphy of the Law Firm of Mysti Murphy represents parents in child custody matters as well as other family law issues.