What is conservatorship in Texas?
Conservatorship is the term used in Texas and most other states to address the legal and physical aspects of sharing children when the parties are no longer or have never been married. Some people say “custody” which is a loose term for conservatorship. The term “custody” actually does not exist in Texas law. The first part of conservatorship in Texas regarding children, the parents will have a title. In Texas, either both parents will have the title “joint managing conservators” or one parent will be called “sole managing conservator” and the other parent will be called “possessory conservator”. In Texas divorce and suits regarding children, the parents start with a presumption for joint conservatorship. Only when there are big negatives, such as domestic abuse, drug/alcohol use, or a pervasive inability to get along, will the sole/possessory titles apply.
Second, the rights and duties regarding the children will be allocated. There are certain rights which are inherent that every parent has regardless of conservatorship titles. Then there are certain rights that may be either shared or allocated to one parent or the other. The main example of a right that must be allocated is the “right to establish the child’s primary residence”. Under Texas law, this right must be given to one parent or another. In rare circumstances, parents may — only by agreement — designate a geographic area as the child’s residence. Sometimes this may be a specific school district or maybe more specifically a particular school feeder zone. Also, the right to receive child support on behalf of the child is usually allocated to one parent. Other examples of rights that may be allocated to one parent would be the right to make educational decisions, the right to make medical decisions involving invasive procedures, or the right to get mental health treatment for a child.
A third aspect of conservatorship is deciding what time the child will spend with each parent. In Texas, this discussion begins with the Texas Standard Possession Schedule, which is presumed to be in the best interest of a child. There are certain expansions that can be requested to the standard possession schedule in Texas, such as the right to pick up the child from school when the period of possession begins. A court can vary from the Texas standard possession schedule based on the circumstances of a particular family.
The fourth aspect of conservatorship is the financial support of the child. This includes regular child support as well as medical support. For child support, Texas has standard child support guidelines for a percentage of net income of the obligor to be paid with a cap on the amount of income considered at $8550/month. The court has some discretion to award in excess of the standard child support guidelines based on the circumstances of the child. For medical support, one parent will be required to provide health insurance for the child. Sometimes providing the health insurance is allocated to one parent, while reimbursement for the cost of the insurance may be allocated to the other parent. Then the uninsured expenses are split between the parents, usually 50/50 or alternatively based on earning capacity.