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When couples with children decide to part ways, determining child custody becomes one of the most significant and often contentious issues they face. In Texas, the legal term for child custody is “conservatorship.” Understanding how Texas law views conservatorship and the difference between joint and sole custody is crucial for parents navigating this process.

  1. Conservatorship in Texas: The Basics

In Texas, rather than using the terms “custody” or “primary custody,” the law uses the terms “conservatorship” and “possession and access.” These terms refer to the legal rights, duties, privileges, and powers parents have concerning their children.

  1. Joint Managing Conservatorship (JMC)

When parents are named as joint managing conservators, it means that both parents share rights and duties concerning their child. JMC doesn’t necessarily mean equal physical time with the child. One parent might still have more time with the child than the other. However, decisions about the child’s health, education, and welfare are typically shared between parents.

Texas courts generally presume that appointing parents as joint managing conservators is in the child’s best interest, unless evidence suggests otherwise.

  1. Sole Managing Conservatorship (SMC)

If one parent is granted sole managing conservatorship, they hold the primary rights and responsibilities for the child. This can include decisions about the child’s medical treatments, education, and moral and religious upbringing.

Courts might assign SMC when:

  • There’s a history of family violence or neglect by the other parent.
  • The other parent has a history of drugs, alcohol, or other criminal activity.
  • The parents have significant conflicts over parenting philosophies.
  • One parent has been absent from the child’s life.
  1. Possession and Access

This refers to when and how each parent spends time with the child. While conservatorship concerns decision-making rights, possession and access pertain to physical custody. Even if one parent is given SMC, the other parent, termed the “possessory conservator,” typically has the right to spend time with the child, unless there’s a compelling reason (like a risk to the child) to prevent this.

  1. Best Interests of the Child

Above all, Texas courts prioritize the best interests of the child. Factors considered include:

Emotional and physical needs of the child now and in the future.

  • Any present or future emotional and physical danger to the child.
  • Parenting abilities of the individuals seeking custody.
  • The programs available to those persons to promote the best interest of the child.
  • The plans for the child by each parent.
  • The stability of the proposed home.

Child custody battles can be emotional and complex. For parents in Texas, understanding the state’s perspective on conservatorship can offer clarity during challenging times. Always consult with a family law attorney who can provide guidance tailored to your specific situation

Dana Baker, Esq.

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