Child Custody in Texas
In Texas, child custody is called "conservatorship." Instead of referring to a parent as a "custodian," Texas courts name a child's custodian as a "conservator." Conservatorship is the word used to describe the legal rights and responsibilities of a parent.
A family law judge will decide the terms of a conservatorship unless both parents can agree on a custody plan, then the court will just need to approve a written agreement.
The most important concern for the court in deciding on a conservatorship plan is what is in best interest of the child.
Types of Child Conservatorships
There are two types of conservatorship in Texas:
- Joint managing conservatorship (JMC)
- Sole managing conservatorship (SMC)
What Rights Are Included in a Conservatorship?
Generally, conservatorship (custody) includes the right to:
- Get information from the other parent of the child about the health, education, and welfare of the child;
- Have access to medical, dental, psychological, and educational records of the child;
- Talk to a physician, dentist, or psychologist about the child;
- Talk to school officials concerning the child's welfare and educational status, including school activities; and
- Consent to medical, dental, and surgical treatment during an emergency involving an immediate danger to the health and safety of the child.
Joint Managing Conservatorship
In Texas, there is a presumption that parents should be named as joint managing conservators (JMC). In a JMC both parties share the rights and duties of a parent. Even in this situation, the exclusive right to make certain decisions may be awarded to one parent only. Remember, the court uses the legal standard of "what is in the best interests of the child.
If both parents are made conservators, the judge will specify the responsibilities each parent has separately and jointly.
The tricky part about a JMC is that when a judge makes both parents JMCs it may not mean that both parents are going to have equal possession and access to the child, i.e. custody and visitation. That gets decided in a separate vistiation schedule known as a standard possession order . (SPO).
Sole Managing Conservatorship (SMC)
SMC means the court grants only one parent the legal right to make certain decisions concerning the child. An SMC gives that parent certain rights such as:
- Deciding the primary residence of the child;
- Consenting to medical and dental treatment;
- Consenting to psychiatric and psychological treatment;
- Being designated on the child's records as a person to be contacted in the event of an emergency;
- The right to attend school activities;
- Receiving child support; and
- Making decisions concerning the child's education.
Why Would a Court Grant One Parent an SMC?
There are a number of reasons why a court could grant one parent an SMC. Perhaps one parent doesn't want joint managing conservatorship (custody) responsibilities. Other reasons include:
- The other parent has a history of family violence or neglect;
- The other parent has a history of drugs, alcohol or other criminal activity;
- The other parent has been absent from the child's life;
- There is a history of extreme conflict between the parents over educational; medical and religious values.
How Does Visitation Work in Texas?
In Texas, visitation is called possession of and access to a child. A parent can get possession and access, unless the judge determines it is not in the best interests of the child and will endanger the physical or emotional well-being of the child.
The judge will create a visitation schedule, called a standard possession order, using certain guidelines. Parents can either agree on a schedule or the judge will order a schedule he or she thinks is appropriate.
What About Child Support?
When a Texas court makes a decision about child custody, it almost always orders child support to be paid by the parent that the child doesn't live with (the"non-custodial parent"). Child support usually has to be paid until the child reaches 18 years old. If a child is disabled, the court can order child support for a longer period of time.
Because the Lone Star state's child support laws can sometimes get complicated, it may also be a good idea to consult an experienced Texas family law attorney if you have questions about your specific situation.