In the child’s best interest: Texas custody and visitation

Nothing is more important than the responsibility of a parent for his or her child’s well being. When parents do not live together, legal questions of Texas custody and visitation must be decided, and that process can be extremely stressful. Custody and visitation can be determined in divorce or legal separation, or when the parents are unmarried.

Texas terminology

Family law matters are mostly governed by state law. Texas has some unique family law terms different from those most states use:

  • Conservatorship means custody.
  • Managing conservator is the parent who makes important decisions about the child, often held jointly by both parents, but sometimes by one.
  • Possession or access means visitation.
  • Possessory conservator is the parent who has visitation rights.

That being said, many Texans often use traditional family law terms.

Texas public policy

The Texas legislature enacted a public policy regarding child custody of which the main tenets are:

  • A child should have “frequent and continuing contact” with a parent who has a history of demonstrating that he or she can act in the child’s best interest.
  • A child deserves a “safe, stable, and nonviolent” home.
  • Separated or divorced parents should “share in the rights and duties of raising their child.”

A child’s best interest

In Texas, as in other states, the guiding principle of child custody is the child’s best interest, which is first and foremost in all court decisions concerning child custody and visitation. State law also says that custody decisions must be based on parental qualifications without regard to marital status or gender (of parent or child).

State statute also lays out detailed restrictions on child contact with a parent who has a history of abuse or neglect.

The managing conservator

The Texas custody model is a little different than those of most other states. In Texas, a parent (or other eligible adult in unusual circumstances) who is appointed managing conservator makes major decisions for the child such as medical, educational, religious and so on.

If it is in the best interest of the child, the parents may be appointed joint managing conservators, in which they are given certain decision-making powers together to share, or solely for certain types of decision. For example, one may be given sole power over religious decisions and they may share medical, educational and more.

If it is not in the best interest of the child for the parents to be joint managing conservators, the court will appoint one as sole managing conservator, who will make all major decisions.

The power to determine the child’s primary residence is always given to just one managing conservator. If the child lives all or mostly with one parent, the other is normally given visitation rights, known in Texas as child access or possession.

Parenting plans

Often parents can negotiate a custody agreement, called a parenting plan in Texas. The Texas state court judge will review the agreed-upon plan and adopt it if it is in the best interest of the child. If the judge feels the agreement is not in the child’s interest, the judge may order that the parents submit a revised proposed parenting plan, or the judge may craft one him or herself that reflects the child’s best interest.

Any Texas parent facing legal issues of custody and visitation should speak with an experienced family lawyer for help assessing the best interest of the child and for skilled, knowledgeable representation in negotiation or in court, if necessary.

Written by Amsberry Law Firm

Amsberry Law Firm

Mr. Amsberry is board-certified in family and labor and employment law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. He is also active in family law, estate and elder law, and business law. He is a proven litigator who has argued before the United States 5th Circuit Court of Appeals and earned favorable outcomes in complex, precedent-setting employment and civil rights cases. He served as a reservist assistant judge advocate general in the U.S. Army and is a sought-after lecturer and speaker on a range of legal issues.