The common term "custody" does not actually exist in Texas law. Instead, the law refers to conservatorship and possession. Wherever possible, Texas courts try to name parents joint managing conservators during divorce proceedings or child custody disputes. This means the parents share all the rights, responsibilities, benefits and duties of parenthood. However, in some cases the court may name one parent the sole managing conservator, which means that parent has the right to make all or most of the decisions about the child’s care.
Sole Managing Conservatorship Meaning
Conservatorship covers the legal and physical aspects of sharing children when the parties are no longer or have never been married.
The sole managing conservator has the right to make decisions about a child’s residence, medical care and education. She can also give consent for the child to marry before the age of 18.
While the court favors an order for joint managing conservatorship, in some cases, a sole managing conservatorship is considered to be in the child's best interests.
The parent who is not the sole managing conservator is named the possessory conservator and typically gets visitation with the child and certain parental duties when looking after the child, such as providing for the child’s physical needs.
Possession Order in Texas
Possession is more or less another way to describe visitation. In Texas, possession is considered part of a conservatorship order. A possession order dictates when each parent has the right to spend time with a child.
Texas law presumes that the Standard Possession Order is in the best interest of a child age 3 or older.
The Standard Possession Order says that the parents may have possession of the child whenever they both agree. If they don't agree and live within 100 miles of each other, the non-custodial parent has the right to possession of the child on the first, third and fifth weekends of every month, Thursday evenings during the school year, alternating holidays (such as Thanksgiving), and 30 consecutive days during summer vacation.
If the parents live over 100 miles apart, the Standard Possession Order gives the non-custodial parent the same weekend possession of the child, or it may be reduced to one weekend per month. The non-custodial parent gets alternating holidays, 42 consecutive days during summer vacation and every spring break, but no mid-week visit.
Child's Best Interests
In all court proceedings relating to children, the court’s paramount consideration is the best interests of the child. When making decisions about conservatorship, Texas courts take several factors into account to determine what is in the child’s best interests.
Those factors include the child’s desires, the child's current and future emotional and physical needs, the abilities of both parents, and the stability of the child's home environment. The court also considers whether there is evidence of domestic violence and whether either parent has filed a false report of child abuse.
Texas Parenting Plan
After you have filed your Texas child custody forms with the court clerk's office in the county in which the child lives, the court may request a written parenting plan from both parties before making a decision on conservatorship of a child.
The parenting plan should include provisions for conservatorship and possession of the child. If the court finds the parenting plan to be in the child's best interests, it may make an order in accordance with the plan. If the court is not satisfied with the parenting plan, it may request a revised plan or set a date for a hearing.