Colby G. Berry

custody-designations-jpgWhen discussing family law matters with individuals outside of the legal field, it is not uncommon to hear people incorrectly describe the types of custody designations. Reasonably so, as the definitions of the various types of custody designations or “conservators” (a person who has some rights or obligations with respect to a child) are somewhat deceiving when you look at the title of the conservatorship. A prime example is “possessory conservator.” This does not mean that the individual who has that conservatorship has custody, rather it means that this conservator has the right to possession at certain times and places accompanied by certain rights and obligations. The following attempts to clear up some of the confusion regarding custody designations and to describe the differences between the various types of conservators.

Before describing the types of conservators, it is important to understand that when a court declares an individual is a conservator of a child, not only does the court determine who shall be the caregiver of a child, but the court also specifies various rights and duties that go along with being the conservator of a child. Further, when a court determines who shall be named a conservator of a child, the court will always do so based on the best interest of the child.

Joint Managing Conservators

Preferred by most courts, this is the standard ruling for the most part as courts deem this to be in the best interest of the child. Under Texas law, there is a rebuttable presumption that the appointment of the parents of a child as joint managing conservators is in the best interest of the child.

A Managing Conservator is a person who actually decides where the child or children reside permanently. Joint Managing Conservators is a form of conservatorship where both parents act as caregivers of the child. Under this form of conservatorship, both parents will have possession of the child at some point in time pursuant to an agreed or court ordered possession arrangement. Under this designation, more than one party has the right to make life management and care decisions about the child or children.

One of the Joint Managing Conservators will be named the Primary Conservator. This person is awarded the right to determine the permanent residence of the child. In addition, this person will have actual possession of the child more than the other conservator along with the right to receive child support.

Sole Managing Conservator

This is what many may refer to as “full” or “sole” custody. The Sole Managing Conservator is the person who has certain exclusive rights and obligations that they do not share with another conservator. Some of the exclusive rights enjoyed by the Sole Managing Conservator include the right to establish primary residence of the child, the right to make decisions concerning the child’s education, and the right to consent to medical treatment involving invasive procedures.

If a person is named Sole Managing Conservator, there can be no other managing conservator. Instead, situations involving a sole managing conservator will often have a parent or individual named a possessory conservator.

Possessory Conservator

An alternative to being named a managing conservator is the Possessory Conservator. In instances where there is a person named a Sole Managing Conservator, there may also be a person named the possessory conservator. This is most common when a judge determines that is not in the best interest of the child for both parents to be named joint managing conservators. In doing so, the Judge can weigh a history of domestic violence, or whether the parent has had little prior contact or relationship with the child when considering restrictions on rights and possession.

Unless the court finds that doing so is not in the best interest of the child, that the child’s physical or emotional welfare could be endangered, the court will name a parent who is not named as a managing conservator a possessory conservator. The possessory conservator typically has periods of possession granted by the court and will also have some rights and obligations with regards to the child.

Concluding Thoughts

While there are multiple ways a judge may order the custody of a child, in most instances a Texas judge will order that the parents of the child be named Joint Managing Conservators. This arrangement is deemed to be in the best interest of the child as the child will have interaction and caregiving from both parents.

In certain situations where a judge believes that naming a parent as a managing conservator would not be in the best interest of the child because doing so would endanger the physical or emotional well-being of the child, a judge may order that the parent is named a possessory conservator or even restrict access to the child altogether.

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