Types of Conservators in Texas Child Custody

In Texas, conservators are the people in charge of a child. Managing conservators make major decisions about the child and spend time with them, while possessory conservators are only entitled to spend time with the child.

Texas courts always name one or two managing conservators. These conservators can be parents, other competent adults, the Department of Family and Protective Services or a licensed child-placing agency.

Courts have the option to also name possessory conservators.

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Joint managing conservators (JMCs)

This term refers to two people or entities (preferably the parents) who share the rights and responsibilities to make decisions about a child. Texas presumes parents should be named joint managing conservators, unless it would impair the child's physical or emotional health.

Because JMCs must cooperate, they almost always agree to the arrangement. If one parent objects, a judge or jury is likely to award a sole managing conservator.

The court will specify which decisions JMCs must agree upon, which decisions are left exclusively to one conservator, and which decisions can be made by either. Normally, conservators can make everyday decisions on their own, but major decisions — like ones about education, psychological treatment or invasive medical treatment — require agreement.

Joint conservatorship may be right for your family if:

  • Parents can make shared decisions based on the welfare of the child.
  • Each parent can support a positive relationship between the child and the other parent.
  • Both parents participated in child-rearing before the case.
  • The parents live near each other.
  • It's in line with the child's preferences.

Sole managing conservator (SMC)

This is one person or entity with the rights and responsibilities to make decisions about a child.

Although the court prefers to name parents joint managing conservators, it will appoint one as sole managing conservator if that's best for the child. This usually occurs when the parents have a turbulent or violent relationship.

If necessary for the child's well-being, the court can instead name a nonparent as SMC.

Unless a court says otherwise, the SMC has the exclusive right to:

  • Choose the child's main residence (limited to a certain geographic area)
  • Make legal decisions for the child and represent them in legal action
  • Make decisions about the child's education
  • Consent to invasive medical treatment for the child in a nonemergency
  • Manage and use the child's earnings
  • Consent to the child's marriage and enlistment in the armed forces

Split managing conservators

Rarely used, this is when each parent is named sole managing conservator of at least one child. In other states, the arrangement is known as split custody.

One parent might be SMC of the older children, while the other is SMC of the younger ones. Or a father could be SMC of the children who prefer to live with him, while the mother is SMC of the children who want to live with her. Any split the court considers good for the kids is possible.

Texas rarely names split managing conservators because courts prefer to keep siblings together. When split conservatorship is awarded, it's usually decided by the parents through settlement.

Possessory conservator (PC)

A possessory conservator is a person with the right to possess and access a child. In other words, this person has the right to spend time with the child, but they don't get to make major decisions.

If one parent is named sole managing conservator, the other is typically named a possessory conservator. If a nonparent is named sole managing conservator, often both parents will be possessory conservators. Only parents with an extreme history of abuse, neglect or equally concerning behavior are not given managing or possessory conservatorship.

A parent named possessory conservator shares with the managing conservator the rights to:

  • Receive information from any other conservator about the child's health, education or welfare
  • Confer with another conservator as much as possible before that conservator makes a decision about the child's health, education or welfare
  • Access the child's educational records and consult with school officials about the child
  • Attend the child's school activities
  • Be listed as an emergency contact for the child
  • Manage the child's estate, if it was created by the parent or the parent's family
  • Access the child's medical records and speak with medical professionals treating the child
  • Consent to noninvasive medical care and, in emergencies, invasive care (only while the parent has possession)
  • Direct moral and religious training of the child (only while the parent has possession)

They also share the duties to:

  • Care for, control, protect and reasonably discipline the child (only while the parent has possession)
  • Support the child — including providing clothing, food and shelter (only while the parent has possession)

Don't be confused when you read the Texas standard possession order (SPO). It uses the term possessory conservator to mean noncustodial conservator. (See below.)

Custodial and noncustodial conservators

Regardless of which of the above types of conservators your child has — two JMCs, one SMC with a PC, etc. — one conservator typically has the right to choose the child's main residence. This person is unofficially called the custodial conservator. The child then lives with or has visits with the noncustodial conservator the remainder of the time.

The exact amount of time spent with each conservator depends on the possession schedule awarded by the judge.

The custodial conservator may be a joint managing conservator (JMC) or sole managing conservator (SMC), but possessory conservators do not have the right to choose the child's main residence.

Usually, the custodial conservator is required to live within a certain geographic area, such as a county, to make movement between homes easier.

Occasionally, neither conservator is named custodial, and the child lives with each conservator for roughly equal times. In this case, both are required to live within a smaller geographic area, such as a school district, since the child's moves will be more frequent. This 50/50 arrangement is rare. When it happens, it's usually selected by parents in a settlement.

The Texas standard possession order (SPO) uses the term managing conservator to mean custodial conservator and possessory conservator to mean noncustodial. Some judges prefer you use the SPO terminology in your parenting plan.

Putting conservatorship in your parenting plan

Once you decide which conservatorship arrangement will be best for your family, put the details in a proposed parenting plan. This plan can guide your negotiations with the other parent, and you can submit it to the court either as trial evidence or part of a settlement.

Your lawyer or mediator may write up the plan for you. If you're writing your own plan, the Custody X Change app can walk you through each step.

With Custody X Change, you can choose from common parenting plan provisions, as well as write your own customized provisions.

It's a sure way to get a plan that is tailored to your family AND meets court standards.

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