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How is child conservatorship determined in Texas?

The legal term "conservatorship" is used in Texas to describe the responsibilities and rights of a parent involving a child. The adult given these rights and responsibilities is called the "conservator." Many people, however, refer to "child custody" when discussing responsibility for a child, such as in divorce cases. Texas has two types of child conservatorship: joint managing conservatorship and sole managing conservatorship.

In most cases, a JMC is considered preferable. Under a JMC, parents share the rights and responsibilities for caring for a child. If parents cannot agree on the terms of a JMC themselves, a family law judge will do so.

A JMC doesn't necessitate that the two parents have equal access to or decision-making ability in the child's life. In Texas, the overriding criterion is what is in a child's best interest.

In some cases, a court decides that an SMC is best for the child. That means that one parent can legally make decisions regarding things like residence, heath care and education.

An SMC may be ordered for any number of reasons. There may be concerns about the child's safety if a parent has a criminal record, substance abuse issues or a history of neglect or domestic violence. In some cases, however, one parent has not been involved in the child's life or perhaps does not want to share responsibility. Sometimes an SMC is used when the parents have strong disagreements over a child's religious upbringing, medical care or education.

Regardless of whether a JMC or SMC is decided upon, the non-custodial parent will generally pay child support to the other parent. The non-custodial parent will usually be allowed visitation (called "possession and access" in Texas.) A judge may make an exception if that could be physically or emotionally damaging to the child.

On its website, the Texas Office of the Attorney General has a "Handbook for Non-Custodial Parents." It includes information on legal rights and obligations, child support and establishment of paternity. The goal, according to the site is to ensure that Texas children "have the love and support of both parents."

While general information is helpful, it is always best for each parent to have his or her own family law attorney. When legal advisors know the details of the specific family situation, they can help ensure that a parent's rights are recognized and help that parent do what is best for the child.

Source: FindLaw, "Child Custody in Texas" Aug. 18, 2014

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