TX Conservatorship Orders: Types, Modifying, Enforcing

When a court rules on what someone must or must not do, it issues the details as a court order.

Below, see four types of orders the court may use in a case involving child conservatorship, possession or access (i.e., child custody or visitation).

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Standing orders

Standing orders are rules that automatically apply to parties in certain types of cases. They begin immediately when a case is opened and stay in effect until a judge changes them or the case comes to a close.

More than 75 Texas counties have a standing order for family law cases.

For example, Travis County's standing order prevents either party in a divorce case or a suit affecting the parent-child relationship from moving with the child or withdrawing the child from school unless the other parent agrees. It also prohibits one party from threatening the other, and more.

If your county uses a standing order, you'll need to attach it to your petition when you file your suit.

A standing order is a type of temporary order (details below).

Temporary restraining orders

Another type of temporary order is the temporary restraining order (TRO).

You can request a TRO when there's a strong possibility the other parent will do something damaging in the initial days or weeks of your case. A TRO can be issued without first notifying the other parent and without a hearing.

A TRO dictates what a party can and cannot do in the next 14 days (28, if you receive an extension) or until a temporary order hearing — whichever comes first. The order may require a parent to stay away from a child, but it will not address conservatorship or child support.

Courts do not issue TROs often, reserving them for emergency situations. You should request one only if you or your child could suffer irreparable harm and your court's standing orders (explained above) don't protect you.

To request a TRO, file a motion when you open your case or as soon as possible thereafter. You must also file a sworn statement explaining why you can't wait for a hearing about temporary orders.

Temporary orders

In custody cases, temporary orders provide short-term solutions to parenting disputes that can't wait until the end of legal proceedings. They remain in effect until a judge modifies them or issues final orders (details below).

Lawyers advise temporary orders in most family law cases as a way to hold your co-parent accountable during the litigation process or settlement process.

Temporary orders can cover many of the same topics as final orders (e.g., conservatorship, possession schedules, child support, health insurance), but they usually don't include a full parenting plan.

Temporary orders can be decided by a judge or agreed upon by parents (with approval from a judge).

If parents agree on temporary orders, these can be entered without a hearing.

If you need a judge to decide, file a motion for temporary orders when you open your case. You'll then have a hearing, usually within four weeks, where a judge will issue orders.

Temporary orders can also be issued or modified later in the legal process, if necessary.

Attorneys caution that final orders in a case often look very similar to temporary orders issued earlier. Treat your temporary orders hearing as seriously as you would a trial because it's likely to impact your case well into the future.

Final orders/decrees

A final order in a child conservatorship and possession case lasts until the child becomes an adult, the parents agree on an alternate parenting plan, or a parent successfully requests a modification from the court.

The order will address any issues you asked the court to decide. It will include a parenting plan that outlines each parent's rights, duties and possession schedule. The final order replaces any temporary orders that were in place, including standing orders.

Final orders can be reached in three ways.

Ideally, the parties draw up the terms together, and a judge gives approval to make them a court order. Known as settlement, this is considered the gold standard because it keeps families in charge of their own lives.

Alternatively, if the other parent never responds to the suit, the parent who filed can finish the case through a default final hearing.

Lastly, a judge or jury can rule based on evidence after a trial.

For divorce cases, final orders come in a document known as a final decree. The decree addresses issues related to the divorce (like division of property) and the child (like conservatorship and possession).

Modifying a final order

To modify final orders, one parent should file a suit to modify the parent-child relationship.

If the parents agree on the modification, they can then submit a proposed order to the judge and settle the case.

If they're not in agreement, a judge or jury will decide the case for them. The court process will be similar to the process for an initial custody ruling.

The court will only update your orders if it's in the best interest of your child and at least one of the following is true:

  • The child is 12 or older and wants to switch their main residence.
  • The custodial parent (who gets to choose the child's main residence) has relinquished care and possession for at least six months for reasons other than military duty.
  • There's been another major change in the circumstances of someone affected by the orders.

Unless both parents agree, you can't reassign the right to choose the child's main residence until at least a year after receiving final orders. Courts may make exceptions for extraordinary circumstances.

Any modifications must be made by the court that issued the initial custody decision, unless the child has moved out of the county and the case meets requirements for a transfer.

If a judge discovers you've filed for modification just to harass the other parent, you'll have to pay the other parent's attorney fees.

Sometimes final orders include planned modifications. For example, in a step-up parenting plan, one parent's possession time gradually increases.

Enforcing orders

If the other parent doesn't follow orders issued by a court, you should gather as much evidence as possible. You can keep detailed records of the violations with a Custody X Change journal or actual parenting time tracker.

For serious or repeat violations, contact police or file a motion to enforce with the court.

Following court orders correctly

When a court issues orders, you must follow them. If you don't, you can be brought back to court, fined and more.

But orders are complicated, especially for possession and access. When exactly does "Week 2" begin this month? Which day marks the middle of summer break?

Use Custody X Change to plug your order into a calendar you can edit, share and print so you'll never have to wonder whether you're following the order correctly.

With the Custody X Change online app, you can combine schedules for the school year, summer break and holidays into one calendar.

You can even track how well court orders are being followed with our parenting time tracker and parenting journal.

Custody X Change has all the tools you need to set your new parenting arrangement up for success.

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