Custody in Texas

Custody in Texas

Koonsfuller_bradshawby Charla Bradshaw, KoonsFuller Family Law

Over the last thirty-five years, what is commonly referred to as “custody” has evolved into the creation of what is now called “Joint Managing Conservatorship”.

Joint managing conservatorship was created in 1979 and was further improved and specified in 1987. It means that some, or all, of the primary rights to a child may be shared by the parents. There is also a presumption in Texas that joint managing conservatorship is in the best interest of the child.

The most important and sought after right is the right to establish a child’s residence, the parent with this right is commonly referred to as the “primary parent”. When a judge or jury decides which parent will be the primary parent, the court must also decide whether to restrict the child’s residence to a geographical area, and if so, identify the geographical area. Interestingly, a court can only restrict a child’s residence, not a
parent’s residence.

Parents can also agree that neither parent will be the primary parent. If this is the circumstance, the parents must designate a general area for the child’s residence and determine which school the child will attend. The Texas Education Code allows a child to attend a school in the district in which either parent resides. However, the parents must decide which parent (or both) will live in the designated geographic area.

If parents cannot agree on who will be the primary parent, the courts will often appoint a third party professional to perform a custody evaluation. The custody evaluator must have certain credentials and form a written report at the end of the evaluation since they are making a recommendation to the court on which parent should be the primary parent. The evaluator may also render recommendations as to the visitation schedule, amongst other things, or even order a psychological evaluation of one or both parents. Custody evaluations and psychological evaluations can be expensive, however, they can also aid the court in making decisions.

In addition to the issue of the primary parent, there are other important parental rights and issues that must be dealt with as follows:

  • The right to consent to medical, dental, and surgical treatment involving invasive procedures
  • The right to consent to psychiatric and psychological treatment.
  • The right to receive child support.
  • The right to make decisions concerning the child’s education.
  • The possession schedule for each parent.

A common area of disagreement is over the medical rights of the child. For example, the parents must decide how they will handle the right to consent to invasive medical procedure decisions, and to psychological and psychiatric decisions. Parents will sometimes even agree to name tie-breakers for these decisions should they be unable to agree themselves, such as the child’s primary care physician. The same is also true for educational decisions.

Overall, the best thing parents can do for their child is reach an agreement. Parental decisions that are best for a child can be painful decisions for the parents but often necessary. After twenty-three years of practicing family law, I have seen many parents who were able to put their child first, even when it meant making such painful decisions… I admire all of them for stepping up and doing right by their child.


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