Know the Laws: Texas
UPDATED February 15, 2015
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In Texas, custody is called “conservatorship.” Conservatorship is used to describe the legal rights and responsibilities of a parent. A judge may give conservatorship to one or both parents.
There are two types of conservatorship in Texas:
Sole managing conservatorship (SMC) means you are the only parent with the legal right to make certain decisions concerning your child. If you are granted SMC, you have the general rights given to a conservator and you are the only parent who has rights such as:
Joint managing conservatorship (JMC) is when the rights and duties of a parent are shared by both parties. However, exclusive right to make certain decisions (like where the child lives) may be awarded to one party.*
JMC can be established either by an agreement from the parents or a court order. If the parents come to an agreement about sharing managing conservatorship, the agreement must be approved by a judge.*1
When making a decision about JMC, the judge will consider what is in the best interest of the child, which includes:
During a custody suit, the parties may be able to go to arbitration to help them come to an agreement about conservatorship and possession. Arbitration means a neutral third party, called an arbitrator, will be present at the custody proceeding instead of a judge. The parties can decide whether the arbitration is binding (legally enforceable) or not. In binding arbitration, once an agreement is finalized it is made official unless the judge believes it is not in the best interest of the child.*
* Tex. Fam. Code § 153.0071(a), (b)
Mediation is a process where parents can come to an agreement about conservatorship and possession of their child without going in front of a judge. A third party, called a mediator, meets with the parents to help them get to a mutual agreement. Parents may agree to mediation or a court may order mediation.
Once an agreement is reached, it will be binding on all parties if the agreement:
A parenting plan contains the rights and responsibilities of the legal parent/s of a child, including a schedule for possession and access to the child and child support information.* Parents can make a parenting plan and submit it to the court. If a judge finds that it is in the best interest of the child, s/he will order the use of that parenting plan. Otherwise, the judge can order a parenting plan s/he believes is appropriate.** A parenting plan is required once a final order about conservatorship and possession of and access to the child is determined.***
* Tex. Fam. Code § 153.601(4)
** Tex. Fam. Code § 153.007
*** Tex. Fam. Code §153.603
A parenting coordinator is a third party that helps the parties come to an agreement about parenting issues.* A judge may assign someone to a case if the parents or persons acting in the capacity of parents cannot come to an agreement about parenting issues. You do not need to wait for the judge to assign a parenting coordinator; you can request one if you think it would help.
Generally, a judge will order a parenting coordinator only if the parties have repeatedly brought legal action against one another and have trouble communicating with one another.
If you do not want a parenting coordinator to get involved because there has been a history of family violence against you or your child, you can make a written objection to the judge. A hearing will be held if the other parent still wants to have a parenting coordinator involved. After the hearing, if the judge decides to appoint a parenting coordinator, the judge must take precautions to protect you from emotional and/or physical harm. For example, you might be placed in a separate room from the abuser when you meet with a parenting coordinator.**
There is a fee to meet with the parenting coordinator. The payment is shared by both parties. If the parties cannot pay the fee, the judge may be able to find a volunteer to act as a parenting coordinator.***
* Tex. Fam. Code § 153.601(3)
** Tex. Fam. Code § 153.605
*** Tex. Fam. Code § 153.609
A parent education and family stabilization course is designed to help parents and children dealing with divorce. In a proceeding to determine conservatorship or possession of or access to a child, the judge may order the parents to attend the course if s/he determines that it is in the best interest of the child.
The course has a fee. If the parties cannot afford the fee, there may be able to find courses that are free or offered on a sliding fee scale. A parent can complete the course by personal instruction, videotape instruction, or through electronic communication. Courses may also be available in Spanish. For information on course locations, contact the county clerk. See TX Courthouse Locations for contact information for the county clerk near you.
If a judge orders the parties to attend a course and they do not, they can be held in contempt of court.
Note: If you have been a victim of family violence, you can ask the judge to place you in a separate class from the other parent.*
* Tex. Fam. Code § 105.009