In most cases, Texas courts prefer to award joint conservatorship (commonly called “custody” in other states) to both parents when dissolving a marriage or partnership. The parents end their relationship, but the relationship with their children will be ongoing. That’s the goal of nearly every family judge at the outset of most cases. The judge will decide based on your family’s individual circumstances.
While parents are together or married, children generally have equal access to both parents. If the parents are no longer together, they need to make arrangements so that the children can still have equal access to both parents. While joint conservatorship (custody) doesn’t mean a strict 50/50 living arrangement, it does include a possession order (“visitation schedule”) for the non-custodial parent.
Texas Family Code Chapter 153 specifically addresses conservatorship. In Texas, this means that both parents are responsible for the child just as if they were married (or still married.) One parent cannot make a decision for the child without consulting the other parent. This includes healthcare, education, and other relevant decisions. Both parents are then called “joint managing conservators.” One is the custodial parent, with whom the child lives, and the non-custodial parent is the one with visitation rights and a schedule.
Why It’s Better
When divorce became commonplace beginning in the 1970s, frequently mothers were given full custody. Fathers simply got a visitation schedule that was usually “every other weekend and two weeks in the summer.” This greatly limited the children’s contact with the father. At the time, it was generally assumed that mothers were the more important parent and could take care of everything. Fathers were, in most cases, shunted off as “occasionally visited relatives” while most of the child’s life became the mother’s responsibility, complete with child support payments.
Since then, society and family law courts have come to realize that fathers are just as important to a child’s development as mothers. Children benefit greatly from adequate and quality time spent with both parents, regardless of both parties’ income.
Shared parenting and custody keep both parents involved in their children’s lives. Multiple studies demonstrate the benefits that joint custody offers to children as well as parents, such as:
- Children spend time with each parent, develop and maintain a stronger relationship, and keep both parents involved in the child or children’s lives
- Children learn from watching their parents about compromise and working through disagreements to reach decisions
- Divorced couples learn to co-parent, reducing tension in their relationship
- Parents share the raising of their child or children, without one parent shouldering the greater part of the responsibility
- Parents still play a major role in a child’s upbringing and giving them substantial time with each parent as they would have if the parents were still together
- Children from successfully shared parent relationships do better in school are less susceptible to depression, anxiety, and stress, and less likely to fall into bad habits (smoking, drinking, drugs, etc.)
Over time, needs and families change, and the current arrangements may need an update, especially as children get older and schedules change. This could be due to a new job, new schedule, or changes in the children’s school schedule. If you, your children, or their other parent need to, you can request a modification of the conservatorship order and schedule.
When Joint Conservatorship Isn’t An Option
Parents who simply can’t get along even when their divorce is becoming final may not be able to agree on everything their children need. It’s also difficult when the parents’ divorce also means a distance of hundreds of miles between the two of them, requiring the judge to work out an appropriate schedule of visitation that involves travel.
Families, where drugs, alcohol, abuse, mental illness, or other serious issues exist, may not be in the best interest of the child or children. If one party is having a difficult time adjusting during and after the divorce, a sole conservatorship may be the best option, at least temporarily. The judge will make a decision in the child’s best interests, one way or the other.
In this case, one parent is named “sole managing conservator,” with the other named “possessory conservator.” The sole managing conservator has the right to make decisions on behalf of the child, while the possessory conservator does not. Visitation is at the judge’s discretion in cases with family violence or other problems.
Let Fort Worth’s Compassionate Family Law Attorney Help With Custody
Texas children have a right to have a relationship with both of their parents throughout their lives, and parents have a right to create a parenting plan that works for everyone.
Wendy L. Hart is an experienced family law attorney helping people throughout Tarrant County with visitation rights. We represent both men and women in family law cases. We’ll make sure you’re treated fairly and will protect your interests and your children.