In Texas, what most people commonly refer to as "child custody" is actually called "conservatorship" under the Texas Family Code. Conservatorship is a legal relationship between an adult (the "conservator") and a child in which the conservator is awarded certain rights regarding the care of the child and possession of and access to the child. There are various types of conservatorships under the Texas Family Code that differ in terms of the rights awarded.
The main two types of conservatorships are Managing conservatorship and Possessory conservatorship. A person appointed as a Managing conservator is awarded many of the rights that most people associate with being a parent. These rights over a child include:
- (1) the right to designate the primary residence of the child;
- (2) the right to consent to medical, dental, and surgical treatment involving invasive procedures;
- (3) the right to consent to psychiatric and psychological treatment;
- (4) the right to receive and give receipt for periodic payments for the support of the child and to hold or disburse these funds for the benefit of the child;
- (5) the right to represent the child in legal action and to make other decisions of substantial legal significance concerning the child;
- (6) the right to consent to marriage and to enlistment in the armed forces of the United States;
- (7) the right to make decisions concerning the child's education;
- (8) the right to the services and earnings of the child; and
- (9) except when a guardian of the child's estate or a guardian or attorney ad litem has been appointed for the child, the right to act as an agent of the child in relation to the child's estate if the child's action is required by a state, the United States, or a foreign government.
Managing conservators also have the right to possession of and access to (a.k.a. visitation) the child under a court ordered schedule. As a Managing conservator, an individual can be either a Joint Managing conservator or a Sole Managing conservator. Joint Managing conservators share with each other many of the decision making rights listed above. However, the right to decide where the child lives and to receive support for the child is always only given to one conservator. The first time a child goes through a custody case, the law presumes it is in the child's best interests that the child's parents be appointed Joint Managing conservators. Unlike with Joint Managing conservators, a Sole Managing conservator will be the only conservator with the right to make the decisions listed above.
A Possessory conservator has the right to possession of and access to the child. However, a Possessory conservator does not enjoy any of the numbered rights listed above. If for some reason a parent isn't appointed as a Joint Managing conservator, then Texas law presumes it is in the child's best interest that that parent be appointed a Possessory conservator. Usually, if one parent is appointed a Sole Managing conservator, then the other parent will be appointed a Possessory conservator.
Regardless of what type of conservator a parent is, any parent appointed as a conservator has the following rights:
- (1) to receive information from any other conservator of the child concerning the health, education, and welfare of the child;
- (2) to confer with the other parent to the extent possible before making a decision concerning the health, education, and welfare of the child;
- (3) of access to medical, dental, psychological, and educational records of the child;
- (4) to consult with a physician, dentist, or psychologist of the child;
- (5) to consult with school officials concerning the child's welfare and educational status, including school activities;
- (6) to attend school activities;
- (7) to be designated on the child's records as a person to be notified in case of an emergency;
- (8) to consent to medical, dental, and surgical treatment during an emergency involving an immediate danger to the health and safety of the child; and
- (9) to manage the estate of the child to the extent the estate has been created by the parent or the parent's family.
All conservators also have the following responsibilities when in possession of the child:
- (1) the duty of care, control, protection, and reasonable discipline of the child;
- (2) the duty to support the child, including providing the child with clothing, food, shelter, and medical and dental care not involving an invasive procedure;
- (3) the right to consent for the child to medical and dental care not involving an invasive procedure; and
- (4) the right to direct the moral and religious training of the child.
It's also important to remember that, in certain situations, someone other than the parent of a child can be appointed as the conservator of the child. Finally, for a more detailed explanation of how visitation can work, check out our FAQ section.