Bexar County Judges prefer that parents work out their own custody arrangements if they can, because fathers and mothers are in the best position to know their children, their own parenting abilities, and they usually have their children’s best interest in mind. However, when both parents want custody of the children and can’t agree on a parenting plan, it’s up to a San Antonio court to determine where the children will live. How does a Bexar County judge make that decision?
Factors Determining Custody
Judges in San Antonio consider several factors when deciding where children will reside, including their relationship with each parent and other family members, their activities at school or church, which parent has been the primary caretaker prior to the divorce, the abilities of each parent to care for the children, the immediate and long term emotional needs of the children, future plans each parent has for the children, the stability of the two parental homes, and the wishes of older children. In Bexar County, children over twelve years of age can state a preference for where they wish to live and the judge will take the children’s wishes into consideration, along with the other factors, in making his or her custody decision.
The Primary Caretaker Has an Advantage
Often the parent who has stayed home and cared for the children has a significant advantage over the working parent concerning child custody because the primary caretaker has more parenting experience, kids are more comfortable and familiar with their stay-at-home parent, and the primary caretaker has closer emotional ties with the children so they are more likely to choose him or her over the working parent when asked where they want to live after the divorce.
The Children’s Wishes
In determining the wishes of children, a Bexar County judge often invites children over twelve years of age into his or her chambers for a private interview. San Antonio judges assign more weight to a sixteen-year-old’s wishes compared with a twelve-year-old. Also, a more reasoned and rational analysis of why the child wants to live with one parent will be given a stronger weight in determining custody of children. Younger children generally say they want to live with both parents because they don’t understand what is happening in their parent’s divorce, while older children can usually articulate rational reasons for wanting to live with one parent, such as “my day supports me going to college, or my mom understands my personality better than dad.”
Using a Mental Health Professional
Some Bexar County judges prefer to appoint a mental health professional to interview the children and parents and inform the court of the children’s wishes about where they want to live. The mental health professional may also be asked to make a recommendation about the best living arrangement for the children. The judge or the mental health professional watch carefully to determine if the children have been coached by one parent to say they want to live with him or her. If the judge or mental health professional believes the children have been unduly influenced by a parent, the court will ignore the wishes of the children and make the decision about custody on other grounds.
Making the Custody Decision
No custody decision is made solely on the basis of the children’s preferences for one parent over the other. Bexar County judges balance several factors when making a custody decision. The weight a San Antonio judge gives to children’s preferences depends on their age and maturity, the reasons given, the children’s hostility toward one parent, and the preferences of all the children taken together. When there is evidence of undue influence the court will discount or disregard the children’s wishes. San Antonio judges are reluctant to change an existing custody arrangement if it has been working, they try to keep siblings together in a single home if possible, and the parenting skills of each parent are important factors.
In conclusion, the wishes of older children are considered when San Antonio judges determine custody arrangements, but are rarely controlling. If you are thinking about getting a divorce in San Antonio, you should consider calling a collaborative divorce attorney such as Harry L. Munsinger because it’s more likely you will be able to agree about a parenting plan that meets the best interest of your children through the collaborative process and avoid the stress of having a judge interview your children.