Texas Law on Child Custody Rights

by Beverly Bird
Under most circumstances, your parental rights should not change too much after divorce.

Under most circumstances, your parental rights should not change too much after divorce.

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When you’re facing divorce and have children, a logical concern is how this change will affect your rights with regard to parenting. If you live in Texas, the answer is not much, particularly if you and your spouse can agree to a parenting plan on your own. Even if the court gets involved because you cannot agree, Texas divorce law works on the presumption that both parents should play active roles in their children's lives.

Joint Conservatorship

In Texas, parents' custody rights after divorce begin with determining conservatorship. Your children's managing conservator is the parent who makes important decisions regarding their lives – where they go to school, what extracurricular activities they enjoy, whether they really need braces, and other such issues. When a judge names parents as joint managing conservators, he will typically delegate decision-making provisions down to the finest of details, specifying which ones must be made cooperatively and which a conservator parent might make on her own. Texas courts are inclined to name both parents as joint managing conservators unless there's a good reason why this wouldn't work, such as a history of domestic violence or some other circumstance that would make it difficult or impossible for them to confer on important decisions.

Sole Managing Conservatorship

If circumstances prevent joint managing conservatorship, the court will name one parent as sole managing conservator. The other parent is called the possessory conservator. This is the parent with visitation rights. The children live most of the time with the sole managing conservator and the possessory conservator takes no part in any significant decision-making.

Rights of the Possessory Conservator

Being named as possessory conservator does not strip you of your right to access your child's medical or school records, or to be notified in case of an emergency. When your children are in your possession during times when they’re living in your home, you have the right to unilaterally make day-to-day decisions. This might include seeking non-invasive medical help for them, scolding them, or performing any caregiving task you would normally do if you and their other parent were still living together. If you can't reach a parenting plan by agreement and a judge must rule at trial, your divorce order should include all these details regarding your possessory rights.

Parenting Plans

You have the right to set the terms for conservatorship of your children as part of your divorce process in Texas. If you and your spouse can negotiate terms on your own, the state allows you to submit a parenting plan to the court for a judge's approval. The judge will typically approve your plan if it covers all the necessary details, up to and including where your children will spend summer vacations and which parent they'll be with on holidays and other special days. Your parenting plan must meet your children's best interests. For example, if you agree that you'll be the possessory conservator and only see your children one day a month, the court might not approve this unless there's a good reason for such limited contact, such as unusually extensive work responsibilities. Texas believes ample contact with both parents is in a child's best interests. The judge might order you to try to negotiate a more acceptable plan, or he might rule on a plan as part of your divorce trial.

Geographic Restrictions

Texas courts typically give one special privilege to only one parent – the right to decide where the children will live. If one parent is named sole managing conservator, this is her right. If you submit a parenting plan to the court and choose to act as joint managing conservators, a judge will only sign off on it if it includes a provision naming the parent who will make this decision. If the court rules on joint managing conservatorship at trial, the judge will designate this right to one parent, usually the one with whom the children will live the majority of the time. Judges usually place some restrictions on this right, however, such as ordering that although you can choose where your children will live, it must be within certain geographical boundaries, such as adjoining counties.