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Child Custody in Texas

How are matters of child custody decided in Texas?

In Texas, child custody is referred to as "conservatorship," and the parent is referred to as a "conservator," rather than a custodian. Unless both parents agree on a custody plan, the court will establish such an agreement. The governing principle of child custody arrangements is always the "best interest of the child." There are two types of conservatorship in Texas: joint managing conservatorship (JMC) and sole managing conservatorship (SMC).

What are the rights of being a conservator?

Conservatorship entitles the parent designated to:

• Access information from the other parent re: the child's health, education, welfare
• Have access to the child's medical, dental, psychological and educational records
• Talk to the child's physician, medical specialist, dentist or psychologist
• Talk to any school personnel regarding the child's education or school activities
• Consent to medical, dental, or surgical treatment during emergency situations

What is joint managing conservatorship (JMC)?

In Texas, both parents are presumed capable of being part of a joint managing conservatorship, sharing the rights and duties of parenting, unless there is evidence to the contrary. Still, the judge may decide that "in the best interests of the child," certain decisions are best left to one particular parent.
The decisions regarding visitation and custody are made separately, during the creation of a standard possession order.

What is sole managing conservatorship (SMC)?

SMC means that the judge decides to grant only one parent the ability to make certain decisions for the child, such as:

• Deciding on the child's primary residence
• Consenting to the child's medical/dental/psychological or psychiatric treatment
• Being the child's designated emergency contact
• Being allowed to attend the child's school activities
• Making decisions concerning the child's education

What possible reasons might the court have for awarding SMC rather than JMC?

In a few cases, one parent may not want to take on the responsibility of parenting. More frequently, the judge orders an SMC because of the other parent:

• Has a history of domestic violence or other criminal activity
• Has a history of alcohol or illegal drug abuse
• Has been neglectful of the child, or absent from the child's life

It is also possible that the court will order an SMC because there is a history of extreme conflict between the parents in regard to educational, religious, or medical issues.

How does child visitation work in Texas?

In Texas, visitation is referred to as "possession and access." Unless the court deems it unwise because of a likelihood that contact with the noncustodial parent will endanger the child physically or emotionally, a schedule will be set up to provide both parents access to the child.

How does child support work in Texas?

In Texas, child support is almost always paid to the custodial parent by the noncustodial parent. This responsibility typically ends when the child reaches the age of 18 years. If the child is disabled, however, the judge can order child support to continue for a longer period. If you are contemplating divorce, and confronting issues of custody and child support, you should consult with a knowledgeable and compassionate family law attorney.