Texas law provides several different ways in which parents can divide physical and legal custody of their children. If the child spends substantially equal time with both parents, child support payments are based on the best interest of the child.
Legal and Physical Custody
Custody breaks down into two separate categories in Texas — conservatorship and possession and access. Conservatorship is the legal authority to make decisions about the child's life, such as which school he should attend and what medical treatment he might receive. Possession refers to having physical custody. Access is the right of visitation.
Texas law says parents can share equal possession — the child lives with each of them — or one parent can have primary physical possession. One parent can serve as conservator or both parents can exercise joint conservatorship. In joint conservatorship, parents must work out which decisions they can each make unilaterally and which will require the agreement of both of them.
If one parent has primary physical custody, that parent usually receives child support from the other. In cases of shared custody, it gets more complicated. The court might decide that neither parent pays support, but both must actually support the child when he's in their care. Each parent buys food, clothing and provides a roof over the child's head during times he's living with him or her.
The court can still decide to order child support in shared custody situations, however. When parents' incomes are far apart, it hurts the child to rely on the poorer parent's income during the times when he's staying with her. The standard court practice — not mandated by statute — is to split the difference between what the parents would pay in a sole custody case. For example, John and Mary might agree to share custody of Bobby. The judge crunches numbers and calculates that if Mary had sole custody, John would pay her $1,000 a month. If John had sole custody, Mary would pay him $300 a month. The verdict: Mary gets $700 a month.