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Understanding the types of child conservatorship as you divorce

On Behalf of | Jan 22, 2024 | Family Law |

As Texas parents go into divorce, one of their primary concerns is typically how time with their children will be divided. Another one is whether and how they’ll share decision-making responsibilities for them. These things are typically referred to as “physical custody” and “legal custody” respectively. Many states, including Texas, however, don’t use the word “custody” in their statutes. This can be confusing if you’re reading up on the law.

In Texas, physical custody is called “possession.” Legal custody is called “conservatorship.” Any parent who has the authority to make major decisions for their child after divorce is considered a “managing conservator.” These decisions typically revolve around their medical care, education and religious upbringing.

Joint vs. sole managing conservatorships

Most divorced parents who share possession of a child, even if one parent has the child more than the other, both want a say in crucial decisions involving their upbringing. If they’re both agreeable to that, they benefit from what’s known as joint managing conservatorship (JMC) of the child.

A sole managing conservatorship (SMC) is when only one parent has the legal right to make these decisions. It doesn’t mean the other parent can’t weigh in, but if there’s a disagreement, the SMC has the final say.

This is typically used when one parent has little or no involvement in a child’s life following divorce or if there are serious questions about their decision-making ability (for example, if there’s a substance abuse issue). In these cases, that parent generally has limited possession, and supervision may be required. If a parent has some parenting time rights but no major decision-making rights, it’s called a “possessory conservatorship.”

These terms are crucial to understand if you and your child’s other parent are splitting, because you need to know what you’re working toward and what’s being offered as you negotiate with your soon-to-be ex or make your case to a judge. Whichever situation you’re in, seeking experienced legal guidance can make all the difference in preserving your relationship with your child.