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Different Types of Child Custody in Texas
In Texas, custody is actually referred to as conservatorship. A parent
who has “custody” of a child is called a conservator. Parents
can arrange a joint managing or sole managing conservatorship.
Conservatorship includes the right to:
- Make decisions regarding the child’s health, education, and general welfare
- Consent to medical treatments for the child
- Discuss the child with doctors, dentists, educators, and other professionals
In a joint managing conservatorship, parents will have equal legal rights
over the child but may not have equal possession. A standard possession
order (SPO) is a visitation schedule that outlines who the child will
live with during certain times and when each parent will have access to
Parental rights and responsibilities associated with decisions regarding
the child’s upbringing fall into this category. Religious upbringing,
education and medical care and other issues concerning raising a child
are at the discretion of one or both parents that are granted legal custody.
All duties regarding the day-to-day care of a child as well as the rights
to direct the child’s daily activities fall into the realm of physical
custody. This includes the actual living arrangements and other matters
of daily routine.
Sole physical custody occurs when one parent retains the exclusive, primary
right to live with the child. Sole legal custody is the exclusive right
to control the upbringing of the child. If one parent has the primary
responsibility for a child, the other parent, known as the non-custodial
parent, most often maintains rights to uphold a relationship with the
child through visitation.
Sole custody usually takes the form of sole physical custody for one parent
and a generous visitation schedule for the non-custodial parent. Sole
physical and legal custody generally only occurs if a history of abuse
and neglect is present.
With joint custody, both parents share responsibilities for decisions regarding
their children. Any combination of custody is possible, however parents
with joint physical custody often also have joint legal custody. However
joint legal custody does not automatically imply joint physical custody.
The nature of these arrangements can either be agreed to by both parties
or ordered by a court.
In shared parenting arrangements, parents share legal and physical custody
and the children spend equal amounts of time with both parents.
Split custody refers to cases in which each parent takes custody of different children.
How Custody and Visitation are Determined
Custody is one of the first issues discussed when couples separate. When
parents resolve visitation and custody issues themselves, courts generally
honor those agreements during divorce proceedings. If couples cannot agree,
several procedures exist to resolve custody disputes.
Once the initial divorce papers are filed, the family court holds a temporary
hearing to consider financial and custodial orders to put in place until
the court enters its final divorce decree. If custody is contested during
the temporary hearing, the court will issue a custody order that remains
in effect until the trial.
If the parents are unable to reach an agreement on custody on their own
or through mediation, courts often order a custody evaluation by an outside
expert prior to trial in order to determine what arrangement would be
in the best interest of the child.
If custody is disputed, the court will award custody at trial. This decision
is based on a variety of factors, including the child’s age, the
physical and mental health of each parent, the child’s attachment
to the primary caregiver, any history of domestic violence or abuse and
the child’s wishes depending on the child’s age and motivation.
Modifying Custody and Visitation
Certain procedures are required to change custody and visitation arrangements
depending on how those arrangements were made. If custody was granted
by court order, additional involvement by the court is required. If an
agreement was reached through mediation, a couple can return to mediation
if they cannot agree to changes on their own. Either parent seeking any
modification of custody or visitation arrangements must show that circumstances
have changed substantially and that the modification is in the child’s