Updated: 2020-06-23 by
If you’re confused about the different types of child custody and how they work, you’re not alone. Here, we’ll demystify some of the basic terms and concepts you need to know when you’re trying to create a good parenting plan, focusing on what it means to share custody of your kids.
In Texas, while everyone will know what you mean when you ask about "custody," that term doesn't appear in state law. Instead, Texas uses the term "conservatorship" to refer to parents' rights to make decisions for their children.
Getting Conservatorship of a Child in Texas
A parent who has conservatorship rights has the equivalent of what most states call physical and legal custody of their children. Physical custody is all about where the children live, while legal custody covers pretty much everything else, including decisions about the children’s religious training, choice of schools and tutors, extracurricular activities, medical treatment, mental health care, and more.
In Texas, parents may share conservatorship rights or the rights may be given exclusively to one parent. Joint custody is called a "joint managing conservatorship" (JMC) and sole custody is a "sole managing conservatorship" (SMC). A parent who has a conservatorship is called a "conservator."
Generally, the law presumes it’s best for kids to have ongoing contact with both parents. That means a judge is likely to order joint managing conservatorship unless there’s a strong reason not to do so -- for example, because one parent lives far away, is abusive, or has a history of being unreliable or unavailable for the kids. Remember that the focus is always on what’s best for the kids.
How Does 50-50 Custody Work in Texas?
Joint custody or a joinch t managing conservatorship doesn't necesarily mean that the children will spend half of the time with each parent. Parents with joint custody may share rights and responsibilities in many different ways. Here are just a few examples:
- Parents may live close enough and get along well enough to keep two fully functioning homes for the kids, allowing them to share half-time custody in a practical way.
- Parents may get along well enough to share custody but find that the constant physical and logistical transitions are too stressful for the family; in that case, having the kids live mostly with one parent may make good sense.
- Parents may agree to joint custody yet find that, practically speaking, one of them takes most of the responsibility for day-to-day decisions, especially if that parent spends a lot more time with the kids.
The Family Law Handbook of the Houston Bar Association is a good resource for basic information about sharing child custody in Texas.
Here are some resources that can help you imagine different joint custody arrangements:
Here are free parenting plans from more than a dozen states to help you explore different options.
In addition, the following books can help:
- Nolo’s Essential Guide to Child Custody & Support, by Emily Doskow (Nolo)
- Building a Parenting Agreement That Works: Child Custody Agreements Step by Step, by Mimi L. Zimmerman (Nolo)
- Two Homes, One Childhood: A Parenting Plan to Last a Lifetime, by Robert E. Emery, Ph.D (Avery).
To learn more about the standard Texas judges consider when awarding custody, see How Courts Make Custody Decisions in Texas.
To find your local court, see the Harris County family law court page.
You may also be interested in:
Understand the common factors Texas’s judges use when making child custody decisions.
The IRS usually gives the most tax benefits to the custodial parent. But there are ways to change the default rule.
Answers to common questions about Texas custody enforcement, including whether police will enforce a custody order.