One of the most contentious parts of any divorce is child custody. Issues surrounding child custody and child support are so pervasive the federal government enacted the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA) to minimize custody conflicts across state borders.
Texas child custody laws resemble other state laws, thanks to the UCCJEA. Child custody, support, and visitation depend on a range of factors, so these laws are little more than guidelines for family courts and judges. Courts make decisions about children's lives with the best interest of the children in mind.
This article provides an overview of child custody laws in the state of Texas.
Custody and Conservatorship
In Texas, child custody is called "conservatorship." The parents are usually considered joint managing conservators, meaning they share the right to make decisions for their child. Some states call this joint legal custody.
In some cases, only one parent receives conservatorship of the child. This parent becomes the sole managing conservator if there are allegations against the other parent of:
- Domestic violence
- Substance abuse or alcohol abuse
- Child abuse or neglect
- Absence or abandonment
The other parent becomes the possessory conservator and still has parental rights. They will not have the final say in any decisions about the child. If necessary, a third party may receive sole custody of the child.
The primary managing conservator has physical custody at the child's primary residence. They have possession of the child (where the child lives most of the time) even if it is only 51%. The other parent has access rights or visitation.
Visitation and Parenting Plans
Texas law defines the parent-child relationship as a relationship between the child and each parent. That is, the state wants the child to have a relationship with both parents, regardless of the parent's marital status.
If the parents do not submit their own parenting plan in a child custody case, the court will create a custody arrangement and visitation schedule.
Factors Affecting Custody and Visitation
Whether the parents submit a proposed parenting plan or the court must create a custody agreement for them, the family court judge must consider a number of factors carefully before issuing a custody order, including:
- Any evidence of family violence or use of force against the other parent or child. The judge may not award joint managing conservatorship when there is credible evidence of abuse, neglect, or physical or sexual assault against the other partner or child
- The parental abilities of both parents and their ability to provide a nurturing home for the child
- The parents' ability to communicate with one another about the child's needs in co-parenting and decision-making
- The amount each parent played in the child's upbringing before the custody case and their behavior towards the child and the other parent during the proceedings
- The locations of each parent's home to the child's school, friends, and activities
- Any other factors relevant to the case
This is not an exhaustive list. Above all, the court must weigh the child's well-being when considering granting custody of a child to either or both parents.
Will Your Child's Wishes Be Considered?
Texas courts will consider the wishes of the child in some cases. If the child is over 12 years old and can articulate their reasons for wanting a particular custody arrangement, the judge will consider it. Steps will be taken to ensure the safety and confidentiality of the child's testimony.
Texas family courts grant some legal rights to other individuals besides parents. After the custody determination has been made, grandparents can file for visitation even if the parents do not agree to the visits.
The grandparents must show their visits are important to the child's emotional well-being.
Custody Laws at a Glance
Learn more about Texas child custody laws in the table below. See How Child Custody Decisions Are Made for additional information.
Section 153. 001 et seq. of the Texas Family Code
Year Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act Adopted
Is Joint Custody an Option?
Yes, section 153.134
Are Grandparent Visitation Rights Recognized?
Yes, section 153.433
Are Child's Own Wishes Considered?
Yes, if the child is age 12 or older
Note: State laws are always subject to change through the passage of new legislation, rulings in the higher courts (including federal decisions), ballot initiatives, and other means. While we strive to provide the most current information available, please consult an attorney or conduct your own legal research to verify the state law(s) you are researching.
Legal Help Can Protect You and Your Child
Even if you and your spouse agree on the best interests of your children, you may still want legal advice about conservatorship, court orders, and visitation schedules. If you're going to court and you're unsure about what you need to ensure your visitation rights, you should have legal representation.
A child custody attorney can give you the help you need and explain what you need to do to protect your child and your legal rights in court.
Research the Law
Texas Child Custody Laws: Related Resources