Categories of Child Custody in Texas
Texas has two different categories of custody.
- Conservatorship: This is considered legal custody and refers to the right to make crucial decisions regarding the children.
- Possession/access: This is considered physical custody, and either the parents agree, or the court decides which home will be the children’s primary residence, which parent will have visitation rights, and the schedule for visitation.
The Difference Between Full Custody and Joint Custody
In Texas, full or sole custody, also known as a sole managing conservatorship, means only one parent will have the legal right to make any and all decisions—including decisions about medical care, education, and religious upbringing—about the child’s welfare. While the other parent may still have visitation rights, they will have no say in how the child is raised.
Joint custody or joint managing conservatorship means both parents will share the legal right to make child welfare decisions. Courts prefer joint custody since it helps encourage a parent-child relationship with both parents.
Decisions Impacted by Joint Custody
When joint custody has been awarded to the parents, each parent has a say in all major decisions that will impact their child or children. These decisions include:
- medical care
- psychiatric decisions
- religious upbringing
Understanding Your Parental Rights in Texas
Texas law establishes specific parental rights. When parents share custody, each parent has the right to:
- discuss any issues with any of a child’s medical providers
- give consent for medical courses of treatment
- have access to a child’s education records
- have their opinion considered in any and all decisions about sports and extracurricular activities
- obtain any and all information about a child’s education
- obtain all of a child’s health care information
What Determines Custody Arrangements?
When the courts determine custody arrangements, they will decide which parent’s residence will be the child’s primary residence. The child’s primary residence will be with the parent who is designated as the custodial parent and the other parent, designated the noncustodial parent) will provide support for the child through child support payments ordered by the court.
Joint custody is usually in the child’s best interest, and the courts will determine the custody arrangement that is best for your family based on a number of factors, including:
- any current physical and emotional dangers to the child and the likelihood of future physical and emotional dangers to the child
- each parent’s parenting abilities
- each parent’s plans for the child
- each parent’s work schedule
- the availability of programs to each parent that will promote the child’s best interest
- the child’s adjustment to home, school, and community
- the child’s age
- the child’s interactions and interrelationships with parents, siblings, and any other person who may significantly affect the child’s best interests
- the child’s current and future physical and emotional needs
- the child’s wishes (if the child is 12 years old or older)
- the distance between each parent’s home
- the stability of the child’s proposed primary residence
- which parent is the child’s primary caregiver
Parenting Plans and Compromise: The Cornerstones of Joint Custody
Even when parents share joint custody, the law makes no assumptions that the parents will always work together smoothly without needing further guidance. Texas family law provides for a parenting plan that will specify how a joint custody arrangement will work and gives all the necessary details.
A parenting plan helps each parent protect themselves and their interests in raising their child. All terms should be carefully considered since parents will be bound by those terms in the future. Modifying a parenting plan in the future is only sometimes possible since a court would only order a modification when a parent proves circumstances have changed since the plan was established.
An experienced family law attorney can offer guidance and help parents when they negotiate a parenting plan.
What Happens When Joint Custody is Not an Option?
Whenever possible, Texas courts favor joint custody. However, that’s not always the case. A court might award sole physical custody to one parent when a history of family violence exists, the other parent is deemed unfit due to drug or alcohol abuse, or some other fitting reason exists.
Sometimes, when parents cannot agree on certain parenting decisions, they might file a motion in court to modify the parenting plan and joint custody arrangement. A judge will carefully consider all factors and might make a modification to the parenting plan and award primary or sole legal custody to one parent.
Fighting for Sole Custody in Texas
The circumstances for which a Texas court might decide one parent should be awarded sole custody are limited.
If you believe it’s not in your child’s best interest to share custody and you want to obtain full custody, then you must prove joint custody isn’t in your child’s best interest. A skilled family law attorney can help you present a compelling and strong argument based on facts and evidence.
Evidence that can prove your position includes:
- alcohol and/or drug abuse
- any patterns of neglect that have damaged the child
- domestic abuse
- severe mental health issues
- sexual abuse
Hiring a Custody Attorney to Help with Your Child Custody Case
The Texas family court system can be complicated to figure out and understand, and a custody attorney can help you with your child custody case. An experienced child custody attorney will have an in-depth understanding of all child custody laws (local and state) and know how to apply them in your favor best.
A family attorney skilled in child custody cases can build a strong case for joint custody or sole custody and understands what judges are looking for during the entire process. Child custody attorneys and their teams will work to ensure a decision that is in your child’s or your children’s best interests is reached. An attorney can also help you with negotiation and mediation.