Conservatorship and Possession
Texas treats legal and physical custody separately, and either can be awarded to both parents jointly or solely to one parent. Legal custody, called conservatorship in Texas, refers to the right to make important decisions involving the child, such as whether he receives medical care and religious education. Physical custody, called possession, refers to the time the child spends with each parent. It is rare for possession to be split exactly in half, especially when the child is a newborn, because newborns typically need consistent routines. Thus, Texas courts typically award primary custody to one parent and give visitation rights to the other.
Creating Your Own Arrangements
Texas parents can create their own arrangement of conservatorship and possession, and they can customize visitation rather than relying on a court to decide for them. Although the parent-created schedule must be approved by the court before it becomes legally binding, judges typically go with the parents' agreement. Later, after the court adopts the parents' suggested arrangement, they can modify it without the court's involvement. If the parents cannot agree to modifications later, they can return to court for the judge to rule on a modification request.
Standard Possession Order
When parents cannot reach agreement on their own, the court will establish the division of custody rights, typically as part of the divorce decree. Texas courts generally use a standard possession order, established in Texas' Family Code, to make visitation arrangements for older children as consistent as possible. While this standard order is presumed to be in a child's best interests once the child reaches age 3, courts typically do not follow the standard order for younger children. Instead, courts try to provide shorter, more frequent visits for very young children, never going any more than seven days without seeing each parent. A likely schedule for a newborn could place the child with his non-custodial parent for two hours each Tuesday and Thursday and four hours on Saturdays.
Sometimes, a standard or presumed schedule simply does not work well for a particular family's situation, so the court will design a customized schedule for the family. For example, parents who live more than 100 miles away from each other will likely have a different visitation arrangement than those who live in the same town. Long-distance visitation for newborns can be especially difficult because of a young child's preference for routines and stability. Parents who are in the military may have a special schedule, too, since either parent could deploy overseas for several months, making traditional visitation schedules impossible. When the records show a history or evidence of family violence, Texas courts can order supervised visitation for the child to allow him to form a relationship with his parent while still ensuring his safety.