Disagreements about parenting are common in divorced couples. News headlines featuring former spouses going to court to over vaccines, gender identity and other issues show how sharp disagreements can get.
Texas law has its own way of trying to move beyond these problems with child conservatorship (or custody, in other states) and to make sure the child’s best interest comes first.
Joint managing conservatorship
Texas thinks parents whenever possible should find ways to agree and share decisions affecting a child’s health, education and living conditions. That is one reason “joint managing conservatorship” is usual, or presumptive, in Texas family courts.
In a joint managing conservatorship both parents always have their rights and responsibilities as parents, 24 hours a day, no matter which parent the child happens to be with.
This includes access to the child, information about them, and a rightful role in decisions about their health and developmental needs. In the most critical questions like invasive medical procedures and where the child will live, both parents typically must find a way to agree.
When parents don’t agree
Only a rare joint managing conservatorship is exactly or even roughly “equal” between the parents. Texas sees a good conservatorship not as equal for the parents but as beneficial to the child.
Ordinarily, parents and their attorneys put their heads together to draft a parenting plan that suits both parents, sometimes with difficulty and through mediation.
In the end, the judge approves, rejects or changes, cuts or adds to the plan. According to Texas law, a judge must do this with the best interest of the child squarely in mind.
When a joint conservatorship breaks down
Sometimes the terms of a joint managing conservatorship fail. Maybe parents disagree on the kinds of medical issues that sometimes make news, or one parent remarries and wants to relocate, change religions or make other life changes that the other parent doesn’t want for the child.
In such cases, a spouse can ask the court to enforce the approved parenting plan or to change it.
Other times, domestic violence, addiction or other severe issues can lead a court to “sole managing conservatorship.”