Texas law requires that mothers and fathers be treated equally when a court is deciding custody. Parents are usually given joint rights regarding their child's care. Custody is determined based on the "best interests of the child" standard, and in Texas a judge or a jury can make that decision. For unmarried parents, a father only has legal rights to his child if he has previously established paternity.
In Texas, a father is the legal father if he is married to the mother when the child is born. However, if the parents are not married, the biological father has no legal rights to the child until he establishes paternity. Texas has two ways of establishing paternity. Firstly, both parents must voluntarily sign an Acknowledgment of Paternity. Alternatively, paternity can be established by court order after a genetic test. Once paternity is established a legal father has equal rights to seek custody of his child.
Equal Rights Amendment
Texas law treats parents equally when determining custody. Texas adopted the Equal Rights Amendment in 1973, requiring that a court consider "the qualifications of the respective parents without regard to the sex of the parent."
Because custody disputes can be costly and may damage the parents' relationship with the child, parents sometimes chose to create their own custody agreement. If they can agree on custody, and the agreement is fair and in the child's best interests, a court will approve the custody arrangement.
Joint Managing Conservatorships
Texas courts presume that joint managing conservatorships (JMC) are in the best interest of the child. Since 1987, Texas law requires that a child should continue to have frequent contact with both parents, so long as the parents are able to cooperate in sharing the responsibilities of raising the child. JMCs are Texas' classification of joint custody, meaning parents share rights, responsibilities, duties and privileges that come with raising a child. With JMC, usually one parent decides where the child will live, but the parents jointly make decisions regarding the child's care, including education and medical needs.
Best Interests of the Child Standard
In order to insure that a custody order is in the best interests of a child, Texas courts examine several factors. They include the number of children at issue; the age of those children; the parents' ability to share joint custody; the children's preference; each parent's fitness to adequately care for the children; the children's relationship with each parent; the need to maintain stability in the children's lives; the parents' employment situation, including hours and need for frequent out-of-town travel; and the location of each parent's home.