A suit affecting parent-child relationship, or SAPCR, is a type of claim in which issues of conservatorship, possession and access, child support, and medical decisions are allocated amongst relevant parties (usually parents).
A SAPCR may be ripe for review in multiple scenarios. For example, in Texas, any divorce suit with children automatically attaches a SAPCR to the original claim. Additionally, unmarried or separating parents may similarly need to define the parameters of conservatorship, possession/access, etc. as it pertains to the child(ren) they share, although they often include a claim to establish parentage as well. Further, although much less common, extended family relatives or even foster parents may file a SAPCR if, for example, the parents have passed away or the child is in danger of serious physical or emotional harm by a biological parent.
What can a SAPCR do?
As noted above, a SAPCR aids relevant parties in determining appropriate custodial and conservatorship issues regarding their children. Using the best interest of the child standard, parents (or the court) may decide how to allocate possession, support, and decision-making power regarding the child between themselves. This includes the designation of the right to determine the exclusive residence of the child and to make medical decisions for the child. The factors that make up the best interest standard are outlined in the Texas Supreme Court Case, Holley. These include:
- the desires of the child;
- the present and future emotional and physical needs of the child;
- the present and future emotional and physical danger to the child;
- the parental abilities of the parties seeking custody;
- the programs available to assist individuals in promoting the best interests of the child;
- the plans for the child by these individuals;
- the stability of the home;
- acts or omissions of the parent which may indicate that the existing parent-child relationship is improper; and
- any excuses for a parent’s acts or omissions.
A court will utilize these factors both in making relevant SAPCR determinations or in signing parties’ agreed orders (thereby making them enforceable). Further, orders from a suit affecting parent-child relationship are modifiable upon a showing of a substantial and material change in circumstances or the needs of the child or the parent’s ability to provide support.
When Can I File a SAPCR case in Texas? What are the exceptions?
Generally, parents or another authorized party may file a suit affecting parent-child relationship in a court with proper “home state” jurisdiction over the child. For a court to have home state jurisdiction, the child must be living in Texas with a parent for at least 6 months (or, if they are under 6 months old, since birth). If a Texas court does not have home state jurisdiction over the child, it may exercise jurisdiction over a SAPCR if Texas was the child’s home state within the past 6 months. See Texas Fam. Code §152.201.
A notable exception to this rule is if a court exercises temporary emergency jurisdiction over the child. To exercise temporary emergency jurisdiction, a child must simply be present in the state. Further, to qualify for emergency relief, the child must have either been abandoned or the child, a sibling, or a parent of the child is subjected to or threatened with severe mistreatment. This often comes up in cases of family violence.
Is my SAPCR contested or uncontested?
Whether a SAPCR is contested or uncontested depends on the willingness of parties to agree on the terms of an order regarding issues of conservatorship, possession and access, medical issues, or child support. If parties come in with or quickly reach an understanding, an order can quickly be drafted, and, assuming it is in the best interest of the child, approved by the court. This type of SAPCR process is uncontested.
If parties cannot agree as to what the terms of their framework for childcare and decision-making should be, the case is contested, and parties would then have hearings on issues where disagreement occurs. The court will use the best interest of the child standard to guide its decision-making regarding the terms of the agreement to-be drafted by the parties. Attorneys for the parties will then draft an order that conforms to the court’s determination and prove it up with the court.
If you are considering divorce or are a parent in need of legal assistance in securing a preferable custodial arrangement for yourself and your child, it is important to enlist experienced counsel to help you achieve your goals. The attorneys at Scroggins Law Group are highly competent in SAPCR issues and ready to consult with you today.