Texas Child Custody – What is Conservatorship?

Conservatorship is similar to what other states refer to as child custody.  The two terms have some similarities but in a Texas court the judge may insist you use the term conservatorship not custody.

In fact, the word “custody” does not appear even once in the Texas Family Code. Conservatorship takes into consideration the legal, emotional and physical needs of a child.

What is Conservatorship in Texas?

Conservatorship Definitions and Titles

Parents involved in a Texas divorce or child custody case are given the “joint managing conservators” title. “Joint managing conservators” is the title that both parents assume when divorce proceedings start.

This title means that both parents share the rights and duties of raising the child.  The state of Texas expects that both parents should actively participate in raising their child even if they are undergoing a divorce process. Though both parents are considered the joint managing conservators, only one parent will live with the child primarily. This parent is given the title “primary conservator”. The other parent has visitation rights and is referred to as the non-primary parent.

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Sole-Managing vs. Possessory Conservator

In a situation where there is drug abuse or domestic violence or other negative factors, the titles given to the divorcing parties will change.  The court will name the parent with whom the child resides as the “sole-managing conservator”, and the other parent will be the “possessory conservator”.  Here the sole managing conservator will not just live with the child, but will also have the legal rights to make certain decisions in regard to the child.  That means the sole managing conservator is viewed as the responsible parent, and for that reason will get more rights and duties concerning the child. The possessory conservator will have limited or supervised visitation with the child.

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Rights and Duties in Conservatorship

Parents have unalienable rights and duties concerning their child.  For example, parents have the duty to provide for their child and the right to make decisions for that child.  In a divorce situation, the only right that can be determined by a judge or by an agreement between both parties is where the child’s primary residence will be.  This right cannot be shared by both parents in a divorce. Other rights that can be allocated to one parent include:

  • Right to make decisions about the child’s education
  • Right to get mental health treatment for the child
  • Right to make medical decisions including decisions on invasive medical procedures

The other parent without the above rights still retains the right to be informed of those decisions made for the child. The court will also decide which parent should pay child support and the amount that should be paid.  There are certain rights that both parents have regardless of conservatorship titles they get. Circumstances where both parents are allowed to agree on a particular geographic area as the child’s residence are actually very rare. There are also circumstances where both parents are allowed to   to agree on specific school district and so on. Consult a family law attorney to advice on what you need to do to be given the primary conservator title in a divorce.