When a divorce involves minor children, the issue of custody of those children must be addressed in the divorce. Ideally, the parents can reach an amicable agreement that prevents litigation; however, if an agreement cannot be reached the court will decide the disputed issues. If you are a parent, and divorce is in your future, joint custody of the children may have been discussed. It is imperative that you have a complete understanding of what that term means before you can decide if joint custody is right in your situation. Toward that end, Dallas custody attorney Rita M. Boyd explains what it means to have joint custody in Texas.
“Conservatorship” and “Possession and Access”
Although people commonly use the terms “custody” and “visitation” when referring to a divorce involving minor children, the law in Texas does not use those terms. Instead, the law in Texas uses the terms “conservatorship” and “possession and access.” Conservatorship covers a parent’s legal right to make important decisions for the child, such as what school the child attends, what medical treatment the child receives, and what religion the child practices. Possession and access, on the other hand, refers to the time each parent spends with a child.
Sole vs. Joint Managing Conservatorship
When the possibility of joint “custody” is brought up, it is important to clarify what both parties mean. In Texas, sole managing conservatorship means you get to make all the important decisions relating to the child. If you share that decision-making authority with your child’s other parent, the law refers to you both as joint managing conservators. If your primary goal is to ensure that you have input regarding major decisions relating to your child, you want joint conservatorship. If, however, what you really want is to have physical possession of your child half of the time, you are seeking an equal possession and access award.
Possession and Access
Typically, when a parent says he/she wants joint custody of a child they are referring to more than just shared decision-making authority. They usually mean they want the child to live with them half of the time. In Texas, Family Code Section 153.001 et seq. governs issues relating to conservatorship as well as possession and access of minor children. According to that statute, the state’s public policy encourages “frequent and continuing contact with parents who have shown the ability to act in the best interest of the child.”
That does not, however, mean that it will be easy to get a court to grant you equal time with your child if the other parent does not agree. On the contrary, if both parents are not in agreement, judges are typically reluctant to order equal possession of a child because it requires a considerable amount of cooperation between the parents to be successful.
From a practical standpoint, splitting a child’s time equally between two divorced parents can be complicated at best. The child must either live with one parent for half the week and the other parent for the other half of the week or alternate weeks with each parent. By the way, a court must be convinced that doing so is in the child’s best interest. Both parents will need to remain within the child’s school district and maintain a high level of communication to ensure that the child is not lost in the shuffle. With that in mind, judges are typically reluctant to award equal possession and access when both parents are not in agreement because the judge must consider what is best for the child – not what is best for the parents. Often, the more practical solution is to award liberal possession and access to the non-custodial parent.
Contact a Dallas Custody Attorney
If you have additional questions or concerns about joint custody in Texas, contact an experienced Dallas custody attorney at Rita M. Boyd, P.C. to discuss your legal rights and options by calling 972-380-8000 to schedule your appointment today.