When Can a Texas Court Modify a Child Custody Order?

By August 7, 2018Divorce

When it comes to child custody disputes in Galveston, divorce is not always the last word on the matter. Texas courts have the authority to modify orders regarding “conservatorship or possession and access” with respect to a minor at any time post-divorce for good cause. Specifically, the parent proposing the modification must demonstrate there has been a “material change” in circumstances since the divorce and modifying the parent-child relationship now “would be in the best interest of the child.”

There is no fixed guidelines regarding what constitutes a “material change.” It may include the remarriage of a parent, the “poisoning of a child’s mind” by one parent against the other, a change in the child’s living situation, or a change in the parent’s ability to properly care for the child. In addition, if the parent with primary custody–the “managing conservator” in legal terms–attempts to unduly restrict the other parent’s access in accordance with the original divorce decree, that may also constitute a material change in circumstances.

Court Shifts Custody to Father Due to Mother’s Post-Divorce Actions

Here is a practical illustration of how Texas courts apply these general principles. This is taken from a recent Texas appeals court decision where a father successfully sought a modification of a divorce decree. Previously, the court granted the mother the “exclusive right” to determine the primary residence of the couple’s child. But a year later, the court found there was a material change in circumstances that justified transferring that exclusive right to the father.

Here is what happened. At the time of the divorce, the mother and child lived in the formal marital home. The wife’s job required her to work during the day, so the child was placed in daycare. The father was also granted a “few hours in the evening” with the child each night.

Several months later, the mother’s job moved her to an evening shift. The child still spent the days in daycare, but now the child stayed with the father on those nights the mother worked. This arrangement changed yet again when the mother sold her house to the father and moved in with her own mother, the child’s maternal grandmother. When the mother subsequently returned to the day shift at her job, the grandmother babysat the child during the day.

The father objected to the grandmother’s role caring for his child. Before the court, the father introduced evidence of the grandmother’s “history of drug abuse” and her use of profanity in the child’s presence. The father also objected to the mother imposing additional restrictions on his access to the child after she moved in with her mother. For example, the mother refused the father access during court-ordered visitation hours if he was “between 1 to 17 minutes late.”

The trial court found this evidence sufficient to modify child custody in favor of the father. The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial judge, noting there had been several material changes in the child’s circumstances, including moving in with the grandmother despite her drug history, the sale of the house, and the mother’s interference “with father’s right to spend time and bond” with the child.

Get Help from a Galveston Divorce Attorney Today

Just because one parent is designated as a child’s managing conservator in a divorce, that does not give said parent license to do whatever they wish. Any material change in the parent or child’s situation may justify a court revisiting and modifying the original custody order. If you are a parent on either side of such a dispute and need assistance from a qualified Galveston divorce lawyer, contact the Law Offices of Tad Nelson & Associates or call (281) 843-9776 today.