Child Custody and Types of Conservatorship in Texas

For parents considering divorce or separation, the impact on the children is of paramount importance. Custody issues can be complex and difficult to navigate. This article aims to give a high-level overview of Texas law surrounding the main components of “custody”: conservatorship and possession.

What is a Conservator?

A person with court ordered custody of a child is called a “conservator.”

There are three types of conservators:

  • Joint Managing Conservator
  • Sole Managing Conservator
  • Possessory Conservator

Child Custody

Under the Texas Family Code, joint managing conservators share the parental rights and responsibilities of their children. This type of conservatorship can either be agreed upon by both parties or be put in place by a court order.

In general, the law presumes that it is in the best interest of the children to have an ongoing relationship with both parents. Due to this, it is often the opinion of a Texas judge to lean towards ordering a joint managing conservatorship.

Once a joint managing conservatorship has been granted, it doesn’t mean the children will divide equal time with each parent. While the rights and responsibilities are shared, it may not necessarily mean that it is practical or best for the children to split equal time with both parents. For example, the responsible parties may decide to have the children spend most of their time in one household as transitioning back and forth causes too much instability and stress in the children’s lives.

In some instances, a judge may decide that it isn’t in the children’s best interest for both parents to share conservatorship. When this scenario arises, the judge will name one of the parents, or if both parents are deemed unfit a non-parent, as the sole managing conservator.

Read Texas Family Code 153.074 for all of a parent’s rights and duties during their possession time. 

There are several reasons that may be present in a family that could lead to a sole managing conservator. When a sole managing conservator has been appointed that individual obtains the exclusive right to make most decisions about the children involved.

Reasons a judge might name a parent (or nonparent) sole managing conservator include:

  • family violence by the other parent,
  • child abuse or neglect by the other parent,
  • alcohol or drug abuse by the other parent, or
  • absence of the other parent in the child’s life.

Read Texas Family Code 153.132 for a list of the rights and duties of a sole managing conservator.

If one parent is named the sole managing conservator, the other parent is usually named the possessory conservator. If a nonparent is named the sole managing conservator, both parents will usually be named possessory conservators. A possessory conservator still has the rights of a parent but will not have the final say on most decisions.

The Court is prohibited from making an order restricting possession of or access to a child based on the payment or nonpayment of child support.

Read Texas Family Code 153, subchapters D and E to learn the rights, duties, and guidelines for a possessory conservator.