In Texas, legal rights and responsibilities, also known as “legal rights and duties”, of a parent in terms of child custody are described as Conservatorship. Unless both parents can agree on the rights and responsibilities of a child, a family law judge will decide the terms of conservatorship. In Texas family law, there is a set of rights and duties that both parents may have.
Of the utmost importance in a conservatorship plan or child custody plan is the best interest of the child. Types of conservatorship in Texas are:
- Sole managing conservatorship (SMC) or sole custody
- Joint managing conservatorship (JMC) or joint custody
Sole custody means that the child primarily lives with one parent who has the exclusive right to make certain decisions about the child.
Joint custody can mean that the child primarily resides with one parent while the other parent has visitation. Parents share some of the decision-making around how the child is raised. Texas courts tend to prefer joint custody arrangements for conservatorship if at all possible, so that a child can have a loving relationship with both parents.
Child Custody Modifications
Parents often make informal modifications to their child custody agreement between each other. While these agreements are usually in the best interest of a child, it may present a legal risk. Changes that are not included in court orders will not officially change the duties and rights of either parent.
How Texas Courts Decide Child Custody Modifications
When a conservator asks for modification in a decree or a modified order, the parent must prove that circumstances have materially and substantially changed for the child since the time of the prior order. A few examples of circumstance changes are an increase of costs for older children or a parent getting a new job and needing to move across country.
In all cases, a parent has to petition the Court for a modification listing the reason(s) for the change and why it is in the best interest of the child. Unless an agreement can be reached between the parents, a hearing will be scheduled and the Court will decide whether the requested child custody modification is in the best interest of the child involved.
How COVID-19 is Affecting Child Custody in Texas
Across the United States, divorced parents are facing difficult decisions related to child custody. Regional lockdowns, school closings, and health concerns have forced parents to evaluate their child custody schedules and adjust their routines.
In some cases, making these changes has gone relatively smooth because the conservators work together in the best interest of the child. However, many estranged parents are dredging up old wounds and feeling anxiety around the current situation.
The COVID-19 pandemic has been ruled in many states as an invalid reason for court orders. Many families are looking to file for modifications of child custody and child support schedules. Some families have experienced serious financial struggles related to job loss and been forced to move in with family members or find a new job in another state. Parents who want to modify their child custody agreements may not be able to right now unless it is considered an emergency.
The Texas Supreme Court issued an emergency ruling earlier this year indicating that parents should follow their current custody orders pursuant to the existing schedule. This ruling also stipulated that stay-at-home provisions of specific counties or cities do not override the possession schedule.
Work with a Family Law Attorney
The Texas Courts are slowly opening back up and all types of family law matters are being scheduled. Due to the backlog and influx of new cases, consider hiring a family law expert to assist you with child custody modifications.
Kelly J. Capps is an experienced family law attorney. She works hard to find the best path for her clients to move their family forward. Our goal in every child custody dispute is to help our client resolve the situation in a way that fosters positive relationships between he or she and their children and preserves a working relationship with the other parent.