For many parents, engaging in a child custody battle is their worst nightmare. If you find yourself involved in a custody dispute, arming yourself as much information as possible can help you pursue a favorable outcome that enables your child to thrive.
To that end, understanding certain elements of custody cases—such as the difference between visitation and custody—can help you approach your custody case with confidence. Today, we're covering how visitation and custody differ, as well as some other aspects of the Texas child custody process you should know about.
At Coker, Robb & Cannon, Family Lawyers, we'll work with you to protect your parental rights and secure your child's best interests during your custody case.
How Does Custody Work in TX?
Texas uses the word conservatorship in place of custody. Conservatorship deals with the rights and duties each parent has with regard to the child including important decisions like surgical treatment, psychological or psychiatric treatment, and education to name a few. In a conservatorship, the custodial parent is the parent who has the right to determine where the child lives. The other parent is known as the non-custodial parent.
Co-parents can engage in one of three different kinds of conservatorships:
- Joint managing conservatorship (JMC). JMC is what Texas presumes to be in the best interest of the child. In a JMC, both parents typically each have decision-making rights as to the child though not always equal and can vary from each type of decision. Decision-making rights can belong solely to one parent (known as the exclusive right), can be ordered to be by joint agreement, or can belong to each conservator independently of the other. For example, it could be that the joint agreement of the parents is required before a surgical procedure could take place or one parent has the exclusive right to make educational decisions meaning they get to decide even if the other parent doesn’t agree.
- Sole managing conservator (SMC). In an SMC, one parent has the exclusive right to make all the decisions with regard to the child while the other parent (the possessory conservator) has the right to receive information regarding the child.
- Possessory conservatorship (PC). When one parent is named a sole managing conservator, the other is typically named a "possessory" conservator. Possessory conservators typically have the right to receive information regarding the child but not to make any major decisions regarding education, invasive procedures, and psychological and psychiatric to name a few.
Typically, Texas courts try to allocate decision-making rights based on how well the parties co-parent, how involved each parent has been in these decisions in the past, as well as the behavior and history of a parent. Factors such as one parent having a history of committing family violence or sexual abuse, drug or alcohol addiction, and whether a parent has been actively involved with raising the child are some of the considerations for the court when deciding whether to appoint the parents as JMC or awarding one parent SMC.
So... What's the Difference Between Custody and Visitation?
As previously mentioned, Texas does not have custody but has conservatorship. The type of conservatorship does not always correspond with the type of possession and access. Possession and access are what visitation is called in Texas. Possessory conservatorship does not always mean that the parent will have supervised or limited possession. A PC could have a standard possession schedule but could have no decision-making rights for reasons that do not apply to possession and access. A parent that has JMC could have limited or supervised visits as well depending on the circumstances and facts of the case.
How Does Visitation Work in Texas?
The terms of the possession and access depend heavily on the case. For example:
- If child abuse, neglect, domestic violence, or other violent behaviors play a role in the case, a parent proven to commit those crimes may not be allowed to see the child at all or have limited supervised possession.
- If a parent travels for work a lot like an international pilot or has shift work like a firefighter, custom possession schedules can be put in place to accommodate the parent’s work schedule in lieu of a standard possession schedule.
Many parents are confused by the terms custody and visitation heading into custody battles. Hopefully, this blog clears up questions or concerns you might have about the custody process in Texas and what it means to be a managing or possessory conservator in a custody order.
At Coker, Robb & Cannon, Family Lawyers, we'll work with you throughout your custody case, helping you defend your parental rights and push for an optimal outcome in your case.
To schedule a consultation with our team or learn more about our family law services, contact us online or via phone at (940) 293-2313.