In cases of divorce, parents or a judge must determine the relationship between the divorcing parents and how their children will be raised. One common option is joint custody, where parents share equal responsibilities. Joint custody, known as joint managing conservatorship in Texas, is the preferred choice, although it may not always be feasible. Here are some important considerations regarding joint custody.
The Types of Joint Custody in Texas
In Texas, joint custody differs from other states. There are two categories of custody:
- Conservatorship: This refers to legal custody, which grants the right to make important decisions for the children. While the legal term for shared decision-making is joint managing conservatorship, we will refer to it as joint custody in this article.
- Possession/Access: This pertains to physical custody, where parents agree or the court decides on the child or children’s primary residence, visitation rights, and the visitation schedule.
Decisions Affected by Joint Custody
With joint custody, each parent has a say in major decisions concerning the child or children, including healthcare, psychiatric decisions, education, and religious upbringing.
Parental Rights Under a Custody Arrangement
Under joint custody, each parent has the following rights:
- Discussion with a child’s medical providers.
- Consent to medical treatments.
- Access to information about education or healthcare.
- Access to a child’s education records.
- Consideration of their opinion in decisions regarding sports and extracurricular activities.
A Parenting Plan Facilitates Joint Custody
Joint custody is typically the presumption in Texas as judges believe children benefit from both parents’ involvement in key decisions. However, the law doesn’t assume seamless cooperation between parents. It provides for a parenting plan to outline the relationship between the parents and specify how the joint custody arrangement will work. This plan serves as a custody agreement.
A parenting plan helps parents protect themselves and their interests in raising their child or children. When negotiating such a plan, parents should carefully consider its terms as they will be bound by it in the future. A court would only order a modification if a parent can prove changed circumstances. Seeking the assistance of an experienced family law attorney is beneficial in negotiating a parenting plan.
What Happens When Joint Custody Is Not Possible
In certain cases, parents cannot agree on parenting decisions. They may file a motion in court, and a judge will determine parental rights. If, after adopting a parenting plan, the parents can’t work together or agree, they may seek a modification. The judge may award sole legal custody to one parent or appoint a third party to make key decisions for the children.
With joint custody, parents need to collaborate for the well-being of their children. Regardless of the reasons for the marriage’s end, ex-spouses should set aside their differences for effective co-parenting. This requires communication and flexibility from both parents, benefiting their children’s lives.
Courts May Grant Sole Custody in Certain Circumstances
Texas courts may award sole custody in limited circumstances. For example, if one parent has a history of abusing the other parent, it is not advisable for them to work together, nor is it in the children’s best interests. In such cases, one parent may obtain sole custody. Both parents could also agree to sole custody as part of a divorce settlement. However, assuming both parents are involved in their children’s lives, they usually maintain the ability to participate in decisions regarding their children’s care.
Under joint custody, one parent cannot unilaterally make decisions without consulting the other parent. Doing so may violate a court order, leading to a finding of contempt of court.
Joint Custody Is Preferred When Feasible
Parents should seriously consider joint custody or joint managing conservatorship if they have a history of involvement in their children’s lives and believe they can work together. Even if the parents have a rocky history, a judge will not exclude one parent solely based on that. Instead, the judge may impose strict rules for their interaction, including the use of court-ordered co-parenting software to document their communication. The decision for each custody case is made on a case-by-case basis, as not all family situations benefit from parents trying to work together.
Joint custody does not automatically guarantee a 50/50 split in possession or time spent with the children. Even with joint custody for decision-making, the parents still need to agree separately on the amount of possession and access to the children. One parent may be awarded primary physical custody while the other parent has scheduled visitation time. The visitation schedule is determined based on the children’s best interests. Although one home may be the primary residence, parents can still split custody time as they see fit.
To schedule a consultation, reach out to us today. Our family law attorneys in Brazoria County, Texas, are ready to assist you.