Child Custody Basics: What Does Custody Really Mean?

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As promised, this is another segment in my Child Custody Basics series. I went over the essential child custody basics a couple of weeks ago and today I will be discussing exactly what custody actually means here in Texas. 

"What do I have to do to get full custody?" If I had a dollar every time someone asked this question, I'm sure I would be a millionaire by now. The short answer, there really is no such thing as full custody here in Texas. At least that's not what lawyers and judges use when dealing with family law cases. Texas has it's own unique wording for child custody and I will break them down to you for further explanation. 

In Texas, we have what we call conservatorship which basically means child custody. We further break that down into two types. 

  1. Joint Managing Conservatorship (JMC)
  2. Sole Managing Conservatorship (SMC)

Let's take a look at JMC first. In Texas, there is a presumption that both parents should be named as JMC over the children involved in the lawsuit. Both parties in this type of conservatorship share the rights and duties as parents independently. Most often times in this type of setup, the court will award one parent as the primary person who has the exclusive right to designate the residence of the child. This often turn leads to what we call a Custodial Parent. This is the parent that has the child more than 50% of the time. The NCP or the Non-Custodial Parent is known as the possessory conservator who has the child less than 50% of the time and exercise visitation under a Standard Possession Order, Expanded Possession Order, or a Modified Expanded Possession Order. Most times, just because a judge awards both parties as JMC does not mean they have equal time with the child or that one parent has more rights over the other. That's often a misconception with people who are not familiar with the child custody laws in Texas. 

In a SMC, the court will only grant one parent the legal right to make certain decisions for the child. There are certain reasons why a court will only grant one parent SMC such as: 

  • The other parent has been absent from the child's life or has abandoned the child 
  • The other parent has a history of family violence or neglect 
  • The other parent has a history of drugs, alcohol, or other criminal activity 
  • There is extreme conflict regarding religious, medical or educational views from both parents. 

Besides the above reasons why the court will only grant SMC to one parent, the SMC has the following rights and duties: 

  1. Deciding the primary residence of the child 
  2. Consenting to medical and dental treatment 
  3. Consenting to psychological and psychiatric treatment 
  4. The right to attend school activities 
  5. Receiving child support
  6. Making decisions regarding the child's education. 

These rights and duties are very similar to those of parents who share JMC which consist of: 

  1. The right to receive from the other parent of the child about the health, education, and welfare of the child;
  2. The right to have access to medical, dental, psychological, and educational records of the child;
  3. The right to talk to a physician, dentist, or psychologist about the child;
  4. The right to talk to school officials concerning the child's welfare and educational status, including school activities; and
  5. The right Consent to medical, dental, and surgical treatment during an emergency involving an immediate danger to the health and safety of the child.

These are just the basics of what JMC and SMC mean and what you can expect when filing your original petition for custody or when you are  modifying. Our next blog post will go into depth regarding JMC and possible visitation schedules and what they mean.