When issues pertaining to custody, visitation, child support or parentage arise, you need an experienced family law attorney by your side. The child custody lawyers at the Sisemore Law Firm in Fort Worth have served thousands of clients in the Dallas / Fort Worth metroplex and are here to help if you need legal guidance regarding a suit affecting the parent-child relationship or SAPCR.
Our boutique Fort Worth family law firm employs SAPCR attorneys with diverse experience in all areas of child custody, along with a robust team of paralegals and support staff dedicated to helping clients achieve the optimum results for their cases. Whether you need an experienced trial lawyer to argue your case to court, a skilled negotiator to help mediate your child custody case or a compassionate attorney to listen and make sense of complex issues, you can rely on the Sisemore Law Firm to be there for you when you need us.
Want to speak with a family law attorney about your child custody issues in the Dallas / Fort Worth area? Contact our firm at (817) 336-4444 to schedule a confidential case review with our founder attorney Justin Sisemore.
In Texas, SAPCR stands for “suit affecting parent-child relationship.” There are two main scenarios where SAPCRs typically come into play:
A mother could file suit to confirm the father of the child is who she claims the father to be and establish what the father’s role will be in regard to rights, duties, visitation, access and financial support (child support). A father could also file a SAPCR in Texas to confirm (or dispute) his parentage and flesh out the same issues related to child custody and support.
When a couple goes through a divorce, and they have issues pertaining to children that need to be resolved, a SAPCR is automatically initiated within the divorce proceedings and a suit affecting the parent-child relationship Texas form is filed to address those issues. Again, those issues will include parental rights and duties, custody, visitation and financial obligations, among others.
The intent of a SAPCR is to create a roadmap that defines how parents should deal with issues pertaining to their children. Specifically, these lawsuits flesh out how possession and access to the child will be handled, which parent will make decisions pertaining to the specific parental rights and duties laid out in the SAPCR Texas Family Code Chapter 151, as well as the financial obligation of each parent.
SAPCRs go way beyond a parent saying, “I want custody.” When you go through a SAPCR, the process takes you down a road where you define what custody and visitation really means for all parties involved.
Have questions SAPCRs? The Sisemore Law Firm’s experienced family law attorneys and child custody lawyers can walk you through the process. You can also learn more by clicking on the sections below.
It’s important to understand what parental rights and duties the state of Texas affords and obligates you to as a parent (and what they mean), so you can make your wishes known to the judge. A good attorney will educate you on your rights and duties and help make sure your child custody agreement clarifies what those rights and duties will involve once your SAPCR is finalized.
You don’t want to give up the right to make decisions regarding your child that are important to you. On the other hand, relinquishing the right to make some decisions, so the other parent relinquishes the right to make decisions on the issues that matter most to you, may be a smart strategy to consider during your SAPCR case. Your child custody attorney can help you determine what approach makes the most sense for your situation.
When it comes to parental rights, determining which parent will have the exclusive right to make medical and education decisions, as well as the right to designate the primary residence of the child are usually the three biggest areas of concern for parents. Other parental rights include the right to direct the child’s moral and religious training, consent to the child’s marriage and enlistment in the armed services, address the child’s legal matters, and the right to the child’s service and earnings, among others.
Texas is also clear on what duties parents are obligated to perform. Texas parents have a duty to provide care, control, protection and reasonable discipline for their children. It is also the parent’s duty to financially support the child’s needs pertaining to food, shelter, clothing, education and medical and dental care, among other duties.
During a SAPCR, the judge will also decide what visitation and access will look like for the parents once the suit affecting parent child relationship is resolved. Would a 2-2-3 schedule or 50-50 custody arrangement with one week on-one week off work best? Or would Texas expanded standard possession be in the best interest of the child? (The best interest of the child is priority No. 1 in Texas.)
It’s important to know that Texas judges look closely at what share of the parental burden each parent has taken on previously before making a decision about visitation and access (past behavior and actions also factor strongly into judges’ decisions about parental rights and duties). Judges also consider the work schedules and lifestyles of parents. For example, if you’re a parent who want’s primary custody but you travel a lot, work odd hours or are frequently required to work overtime, the judge may think twice about awarding primary custody to you.
Once the judge makes a decision about visitation and access (or the parents have agreed to a visitation schedule during custody negotiations), the SAPCR moves on to financial obligations. The state of Texas has statutory grounds for visitation and access, which have a direct impact on child support in Texas.
In general, non-custodial parents are required to pay 20% of their net income for one child and an additional 5% for each subsequent child. Texas also has a cap on child support, and as of 2019, the amount of net monthly income that can be tapped for child support was capped at $9,200.
Today, more parents are seeking 50-50 custody arrangements, sometimes to avoid paying child support. However, securing a 50-50 custody schedule doesn’t mean you won’t end up paying child support. The judge will evaluate the circumstances and earnings of both parents when deciding which parent will pay child support and what percentage of their net income they will be required to pay.
If you need more information on suit affecting the family relationship and child support guidelines, we cover child support in detail here.
In the early days of a suit affecting the parent-child relationship, temporary orders for visitation and child support will need to be put in place, much like the temporary orders that are established shortly after someone files for divorce. SAPCR temporary orders cover where the child will primarily reside, how visitation will be handled and how much child support will be paid, among other things.
Most jurisdictions in Texas have standing temporary orders established for SAPCRs. In Tarrant County, there is actually a temporary orders phase of the SAPCR, where details about child custody, visitation and support are hammered out. It’s critical to take this phase of the suit seriously because what parents agree to in a temporary order in suit affecting the parent-child relationship usually converts to the final orders following mediation or final trial in the case.
If you want to modify your custody agreement in any way, shape or form, you will need to file a modification lawsuit (not an original SAPCR) in order to do so. SAPCRs and modifications address similar issues but are governed under different sections of the Texas Family Code.
It’s no different if you’re trying to modify the drop-off and pick-up point or you want to ask a judge to award you primary conservatorship—you will need to file a modification. Obviously, you will need more evidence to convince a judge to change who is the primary parent than modifying a pick-up/drop-off location. The burden of proof can be different depending on what you’re trying to change, but you should have the changes reduced to writing in a court order.
Custody modifications are also prudent when it comes to enforceability. In order to hold someone in contempt, for example, for not dropping the child off on time, or removing the child from the school where they’re enrolled, or nonpayment of child support, those stipulations need to be clearly defined in your modified custody orders and signed by a judge.
The child custody lawyers at the Sisemore Law Firm in Fort Worth also urge clients to try to address everything they really want to change inside of one modification. Based on your current circumstances, you should include all of the information pertinent to the changes you seek in the request for modification. We also highly recommend you take time to think through your goals and do so with an attorney who can help you review all of the issues at hand and provide guidance based on your specific needs.
And when is it NOT a good time to file a lawsuit for a custody modification? It really depends on how well the two parents are able to co-parent together. If you are working well with the other parent and have strayed off script regarding something minor, you may be able to resolve the issue without going back to court.
For example, say the pickup and drop off location has changed, or maybe you exchanged a different weekend and gone from first, third, and fifth to second and fourth, you may be able to have a chat and get back on script without having to go to court and paper up. Anytime you start bringing up binding agreements in writing and court orders and lawsuits, it generally makes it very challenging to co-parent.
By the same token, if you don’t trust the other parent and there’s a risk that he or she might try to usurp power or control over the situation, that’s a different situation. In those cases, it may be in your best interest to file a modification and make the tweaks necessary to prevent the other parent from taking advantage of you.
For big ticket items, say you’ve transitioned to a 50-50 custody schedule when your existing orders call for standard possession—and you and the other parent have been making that work for a while—that’s generally a good time to put the new arrangements in writing and have them reduced to an order. On the other hand, if you’re dealing with something minor, like which extracurricular activities to choose for the children, it’s usually best not go overboard unless you’re dealing with a really difficult parent.
How to prepare yourself for a suit affecting the parent-child relationship
Our clients often find it helpful to take time for self-reflection and think about what resolution would work best for the situation and benefit their children most. Unfortunately, many people aren’t that self-aware. They fall into the trap of “I have to get 50-50” or “I have to win” or “I’ve been wronged, so I’m coming out guns a blazing.”
For example, say you’re a parent who is bound and determined to get 50-50 custody. A 50-50 arrangement is great if you have two parents who contribute equally to their child’s physical, emotional and financial needs and can agree on who should be responsible for making medical, education, healthcare and other important decisions pertaining to the child. They both show up at every ballgame, piano recital, doctor’s appointment and so on.
For many people seeking 50-50 custody, that’s simply not the reality. And when it’s not the reality, and you’re in a situation where you’ve got one party who always takes the child to doctor’s visits, helps with homework, shuttles the child to extracurriculars and is the parent the child runs to when they scrape their knee—if that person isn’t you, it’s really important that you don’t try to posture and pretend otherwise.
Instead, do that self-reflection and be honest about what’s really important to you and what you as the parent are capable of handling. Above all, think about what type of custody arrangement will work best for your child. Once you establish realistic goals for your SAPCR, that’s when you should engage a lawyer to audit your list and dive into the different pieces involved (parental rights and duties, possession and financial obligations).
Most people can read and understand a good portion of their custody orders, but there are many provisions people just don’t comprehend. And most important, they don’t understand the remedies that the courts will give when an order has been violated or how to act through the process.
That’s why it’s essential to find an attorney who will help you weigh your options and coach you through the process. The best way to find an attorney who is a good fit for you is to have an initial consultation to find out how they would approach your SAPCR case and whether their personality matches well with yours. You may need to meet with a few different attorneys to find someone who is a good fit for you but it will be well worth your time and monetary investment.
At the Sisemore Law Firm, we don’t take initial consultations lightly. As a prospective client of our firm, you can expect us to take a close look at your case, review the options available to you and clearly explain the strategy we believe would be the best for your unique situation.
If you live in Dallas / Fort Worth or the surrounding communities, our experienced child custody lawyers are here to help with your SAPCR needs. Our family law attorneys and friendly, compassionate staff are here to listen and guide you on next steps. To schedule a confidential case review with our founder attorney Justin Sisemore, you can call the firm at (817) 336-4444 or request an appointment online