Divorce in Texas is a difficult and complicated legal undertaking, to say nothing of the personal toll that ending a marriage can take on you are your loved ones. While every Texas divorce is unique and comes with its own set of unique challenges, rarely is there an issue more stress provoking than child care and custody. We all want the very best for our children; navigating the complex legal and emotional question of who will make which decisions on behalf of a child is an area in which The Law Office of Wendy L. Hart has vast experience. As one of the Fort Worth’s areas most experienced divorce lawyers, Wendy L. Hart has to experience to help you understand the laws surrounding conservatorship in the State of Texas.
Parents going through a divorce are immediately confronted with a lot of legal terminologies. Popular culture has made the concept of custody reasonably familiar, but the Texas Family Code uses different terms to describe parental rights and custody that can be confusing to the uninitiated. In Texas, the word that is used to describe the legal rights and responsibilities of a parent is “conservatorship,” and is considered as a separate issue from custody and visitation (possession). A “conservator” is someone who exercises some or all of the rights and responsibilities of a parent. There are two different types of conservatorship that the Texas Family Courts can impose, which adds to many people’s confusion.
In this article, we’ll leverage The Law Firm of Wendy L. Hart’s years of family law experience to demystify the concept of conservatorship in Texas.
Two Types of Conservatorship
There are two types of conservatorship arrangements in Texas: Joint Managing Conservatorship (JMC) and Sole Managing Conservatorship (SMC). These very clinical sounding titles essentially describe the general environment in which decisions about the child will be made; either both parents will have a say or only one will. Texas courts begin with a presumption that both parents will be joint managing conservators.
In a JMC, both conservators share parental rights and responsibilities. A frequently misunderstood aspect of Texas divorces is that even though both parents play a role in the upbringing of the child, the rights and responsibilities are not necessarily equal. As a part of the divorce decree, the judge will decide which parent is primarily responsible for fulfilling each role. Visitation works the same way but is subject to an entirely separate court order— a JMC does not mean that a child’s time is split between parents 50/50. As a part of the divorce process, the judge will approve a Standard Possession Order that will stipulate the custody arrangements.
An SMC is a conservatorship where all of the parental rights and responsibilities lie with a single parent, and that parent is not obligated to seek the approval of their non-conservator ex-spouse. There are a number of reasons why the Texas Family Court judge might assign an SMC. Perhaps one parent does not wish to be involved in their child’s life. A parent may have a significant history of mental illness or drug abuse, may have been substantially absent, or they may have a criminal record that provides a reason for concern. Additionally, SMCs are commonly used in cases where abuse or domestic violence is part of the total divorce picture or when there has been an extreme disagreement regarding educational, religious, or medical concerns.
Conservatorship Rights and Responsibilities
If you are assigned as a conservator of your child by the Texas courts, that role comes with the sorts of rights and responsibilities that you would expect a parent to have. Generally speaking, a conservator has the right to:
· Be given access to information regarding the health, education, and general welfare of the child. This right includes having access to the child’s medical, dental, psychological, and educational records;
· Talk to healthcare professionals and school officials about the child;
· Consent to medical treatment in an emergency. This right is especially important since the other parent (conservator) might be temporarily out of reach, and;
· To attend school activities, unless this attendance is otherwise limited by a court order.
When in possession of the child, a conservator is responsible for the care, control and reasonable discipline of the child. That includes ensuring that the child is provided with adequate food, clothing, shelter, and that non-invasive medical and dental care are obtained as appropriate.
It is important to note that these rights and responsibilities are only general principles. The Texas Family Code explicitly states that, in cases of joint conservatorship, it is up to the court to determine the individual rights and duties of each parent.
The Law Office of Wendy L. Hart
Wendy L. Hart knows that divorce is one of life’s most trying experiences. As one of the Fort Worth area’s most experienced divorce lawyers, Wendy is dedicated to providing her clients with the facts that they need to make informed decisions. She zealously defends the rights of her clients and prides herself on her ability to shepherd people experiencing a divorce in Texas through the emotionally tumultuous process. If you have questions regarding divorce or conservatorship in Texas, reach The Law Office of Wendy L. Hart through our website or by calling (817) 842-2336.