Types of Conservators in Texas Child Custody

In Texas, conservators are the people in charge of a child. Managing conservators make decisions about the child, while possessory conservators are entitled to visits with the child.

Texas courts will 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.

The court has 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 joint managing conservators 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 (see below).

The court will specify which decisions joint managing conservators 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 suit
  • 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 it's best for the child. This usually occurs when the parents have a turbulent or violent relationship.

If it's best for the child, the court can instead name a non-parent as sole managing conservator.

Unless a court says otherwise, the sole managing conservator 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 him or her in legal action
  • Make decisions about the child's education
  • Consent to invasive medical treatment in a non-emergency for the child
  • Manage and use the services and earnings of the child
  • Consent to the child's marriage and to 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 an arrangement known as split custody.

One parent might be sole managing conservator of the older children, while the other is sole managing conservator of the younger ones. A father might be sole managing conservator of the children who prefer to live with him, while the mother is sole managing conservator of the children who want to live with her. Any split the court considers in the best interest of the kids is possible.

Texas rarely names split managing conservators because courts prefer to keep siblings together. When split custody 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 a right to visitation.

If one parent is named sole managing conservator, the other is typically named a possessory conservator. If a non-parent 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
  • When the parent has possession: Consent to non-invasive medical care (and invasive care, in emergencies)
  • When the parent has possession: Direct moral and religious training of the child

He or she also shares the duties to:

  • When the parent has possession: Care for, control, protect and reasonably discipline the child
  • When the parent has possession: Support the child — including providing clothing, food, shelter and non-invasive medical and dental care

Don’t be confused when you read the Texas standard possession order (SPO). It uses the term "possessory conservator" to mean "non-custodial conservator" (see below).

Custodial and non-custodial conservators

Regardless of which of the above types of conservators your child has — two JMCs, one SMC with a PC, etc. — one conservator will typically have 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 so-called "non-custodial" 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 "non-custodial." Some judges prefer you use the SPO terminology if you write your own possession order.

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’s tailored to your family AND meets court standards for language, formatting and detail.

Custody X Change is software that creates parenting plans and possession schedules.

Make My Texas Plan Now

Custody X Change is software that creates parenting plans and possession schedules.

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