Your marriage may be ending, but your children remain your highest priority as a father. How can you ensure that you maintain that relationship as they become adults?

Before filing for divorce, make sure you understand your rights as a father in a Texas custody case.

Gender impact on custody

Although many state courts once preferred to keep children with their mother, the Equal Rights Amendment in 1973 prohibited judges from considering the sex of the parent when making a custody determination. In addition, the Texas Family Code received updates in 1987 to indicate that judges should create a custody order that maintains ongoing, frequent time with both parents as long as such an arrangement serves the child’s best interests.

Joint custody vs. sole custody

Texas law uses the term “joint managing conservatorship” to describe joint legal custody. This means that both the mother and the father have the right to make decisions that influence the child’s life, including but not limited to education, health care and religious instruction. In cases involving abandonment or abuse by one parent, the other parent could receive sole managing conservatorship.

Texas courts also default to joint physical custody. However, though both parents will share time with the child, the judge does not have to make an exact 50/50 arrangement. Usually, the child will have a primary physical residence with either the mother or father and court-ordered regular visitation with the other parent. Generally, the parent who has visitation must also pay child support, unless he or she lives with the child for a significant part of the month.

If you want to share custody with your child’s mother, maintain regular contact with the child throughout the separation and divorce even if you move out of the house. Be sure to document these visits, phone calls and electronic messages to show the court your commitment to fatherhood. The judge will review the child’s existing relationship with both parents, adjustment to home and school, his or her wishes, and other factors to determine the situation that best serves a healthy, happy upbringing.