Child Custody & Conservatorship
In Texas, the legal word for child custody is “conservatorship.” This article tells you about child custody/conservatorship in Texas, including how to file or respond to a custody case. LINKS TO FORMS INCLUDED.
Texas law says that parents should usually be named Joint Managing Conservators. A joint conservatorship order means the parents share decision making about most issues. It does not mean the child’s time is split equally between the parents. A possession order will say when each parent has the right to time with the child. Read this short article to learn more about possession orders: Child Visitation & Possession Orders.
In most joint conservatorship orders, one parent will have the exclusive right to decide where the child lives (usually within a certain geographic area). This parent is called the “custodial parent” and the child usually lives primarily with this parent. The other parent is called the “non-custodial parent.”
In some joint conservatorship orders, neither parent will have the exclusive right to decide where the child lives but the child’s residence will be restricted to a certain geographic area, like a school attendance zone or county.
The law says that parents should not be named Joint Managing Conservators if there is a history or pattern of violence by one parent against the other parent.
When there is a good reason to do so, one parent (or sometimes a non-parent) can be named Sole Managing Conservator. A Sole Managing Conservator has the exclusive right to make most decisions about the child.
Reasons a judge might name a parent (or nonparent) Sole Managing Conservator include:
- family violence by the other parent
- child abuse or neglect by the other parent
- alcohol or drug abuse by the other parent
- absence of the other parent in the child’s life
If one parent is named the Sole Managing Conservator, the other parent is usually named the Possessory Conservator. If a nonparent is named the Sole Managing Conservator, both parents will usually be named Possessory Conservators. A Possessory Conservator still has the rights of a parent, but will not have the final say on most decisions.
If the other parent has been violent or abusive, it’s important to talk with a lawyer about your case. You may be able to get free legal help. Call one of the organizations listed below for more information:
- National Domestic Violence 24 Hour Hotline at (800) 799-SAFE (7233) or
- Advocates for Victims of Crime (AVOICE) at (888) 343-4414
In an emergency, call 911. Find out more in the Protection from Violence or Abuse section of this website.
TexasLawHelp.org has toolkits with instructions and do-it-yourself forms that can be used to ask for a custody order.
- Use this toolkit if you and the other parent are married and want a divorce: I need a divorce. We have minor children. The judge will make custody, visitation, child support and medical support orders as part of your divorce.
- Use this toolkit if (1) you and the other parent are not married (or don’t want a divorce), (2) you and the other parent have signed an “Acknowledgment of Paternity” and (3) there are no existing orders about your child: I need a SAPCR (custody) order. I am the child’s parent. The judge will make custody, visitation, child support and medical support orders as part of your SAPCR (custody) order.
- Use this toolkit if (1) you and the other parent are not married and (2) you and the other parent have NOT signed an Acknowledgment of Paternity: I need a paternity order. The judge will make custody, visitation, child support and medical support orders as part of your paternity order.
- Use this toolkit if (1) you are not the child’s parent and (2) there are no court orders about the child already in place: I need a SAPCR (custody) order. I am not the child’s parent.
- Use this toolkit if there is already an existing court order: I need to change a custody, visitation or support order. The judge can change a custody order in a modification case.
If you need help choosing the correct toolkit, use Ask a Question to chat with a law student or lawyer online.
If you need a family violence protective order call the National Domestic Violence 24 Hour Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). They can refer you to help in your community.
NOTE: The TexasLawHelp.org instructions are written for uncontested cases (agreed or default). If your case is contested, it’s best to hire a lawyer or open a case with the Texas Attorney General Child Support Division.
Get instructions and do-it-yourself modification forms here: I need to change a custody, visitation or support order.
NOTE: The TexasLawHelp.org instructions are written for uncontested cases (agreed or default). If your case is contested, it’s best to hire a lawyer.
You do not have to have to a lawyer to file or respond to a custody case. However, custody cases can be complicated. It’s a good idea to talk with a lawyer about your situation (even if you decide not to hire one). A lawyer can explain your rights and options.
It’s really important to talk to a lawyer if any of the following are true.
- You are afraid for your or your children’s safety.
- Your case is contested (not agreed).
- The other parent has a lawyer.
- Your child has a disability.
- You are not sure about the identity of the child’s father.
If you need help finding a lawyer, you can:
Yes! You can hire a family law lawyer just to give you legal advice, review your forms, draft a document, or help you prepare for a hearing. You may then be able to handle the other parts of your case yourself. Hiring a lawyer for a limited purpose is called “limited scope representation.”