While each marriage dissolution case presents its own challenges, Austin divorces involving children may present its own unique set of obstacles. Fights over children are emotionally wrenching and financially draining. Further, because the dynamics involving children are more fluid—circumstances during the case may change, other professionals may get involved in the case—custody battles often prolong the divorce process.
It is important to note that children can have a voice in custody cases. Either parent can file a motion to confer requesting that the judge interview the child in chambers to determine the child’s wishes regarding custody. If the child is a least 12 years of age, then the Court must interview the child if a motion to confer is filed. If a motion to confer is filed for a child under 12, then the judge has the discretion to decide whether to interview. It is important to note that a child’s preferences are not binding on a judge. Sometimes a child may prefer to live with a parent for the wrong reasons. Ultimately, the judge decides what custody arrangement is in the child’s best interest. My firm is here to help with any challenges that you may face during your marriage dissolution, and together we will work hard to protect the best interests of you and your children.
Professionals Involved in Divorce Cases with Children
There are two individuals who could potentially become part of the process if children are involved in a divorce case in Austin. One would be a guardian ad litem. A guardian ad litem is an independent professional appointed by the court to conduct an investigation into the best interests of the child. The Texas Family Code requires that court-appointed guardians possess certain minimum qualifications. A guardian ad litem typically interviews both parents as well as the children away from their parents. A guardian ad litem also may interview collateral witnesses, such as teachers, counselors, medical providers, or friends of the parents. Then, based on all of the input they receive, he or she makes a recommendation to the court regarding which parent should have primary custody and what the visitation schedule should look like.
It’s important to know that the recommendations of the guardian ad litem are just that– recommendations. Sometimes, the court adopts the recommendations of the guardian ad litem. Sometimes, the judge does not adopt the guardian ad litem’s recommendations. Still, a guardian’s recommendations do carry weight because they are, in theory, neutral, independent parties appointed by the court who have access to facts and evidence that the judge is not privy to. A judge is simply not in a position to gather “on the ground” evidence and does not have the specialized training and experience that a guardian brings to the table.
Another professional that may be involved in a child custody case is a forensic psychologist or psychiatrist appointed to conduct a child custody evaluation or mental health evaluation. The duties of these professionals are similar to those of a guardian ad litem. However, generally, a psychiatrist or a psychologist has more expertise and education than a guardian ad litem.
A PhD psychiatrist may conduct psychological evaluations of either one or both parents or the children and make a report about any diagnoses that could be relevant to the court’s consideration of the custody issue.
How Do Children Impact the Length of a Divorce?
In general, if children are involved, the divorce process in Austin is going to take a little bit longer. There are other factors to consider if there are children involved in a case, which could take time to discuss. The length at which a divorce case involves children is driven by the level of conflict in the case and the ability or inability of the parents to reach agreements on issues. If two parents cannot reach an agreement on issues, then child custody becomes just another issue in the case to be decided by the judge.
Additionally, if there is a need to appoint independent third-party professionals to do evaluations of the children or of the parents, then it can considerably prolong the case. If a guardian ad litem is appointed, that person needs time to conduct an investigation and prepare a report to the court outlining his or her recommendations regarding custody.
These professionals have their own schedules. They have other cases that they are managing. So, it can add months to the process if there is a contested case that involves third-party professionals who are going to be making recommendations in conducting evaluations.
If there are not any third-party professionals, then children do not necessarily add a significant amount of time to the process, but it is another thing that a spouse has to consider in discovery in terms of the information that they are asking for.
Contact an Austin Attorney to Learn More About Divorces Involving Children
Austin’s divorce involving children does not have to result in a more difficult process. With the right legal support, you could get through this challenging time with your family intact. For more information regarding your specific case, call today.