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Why "Sole Custody" Doesn't Exist in Texas

When couples with children divorce or separate it is natural for parents to ask the question, "Who gets the kids?" or to say "I want to make sure I have sole custody." But in Texas "sole custody" isn't something that happens very often.

While it does technically exist, and is officially referred to as sole managing conservatorship, judges only assign it in extreme circumstances when there is a history of extreme violence, damaging drug abuse, or when a parent has relinquished their right to be involved in their child's life.

Instead the court assigns some level of Joint Managing Conservatorship (JMC), or “joint custody. JMC is strongly influenced by whatever parenting arrangement parents are able to agree to, but must also consider the best interests of the children.

A JMC doesn’t give parents physical custody

Many parents wrongly believe a JMC grants them time with their children. That is not the case. A standard possession order (SPO) is the legal document that gives each parent time with their children.

It determines the exact visiting schedule and how much time a child will spend with the parent they do not live with. This will not necessarily be half the time. The parents and judge may feel that spending every other weekend is best, or they may stay over one or two nights a week, or may spend a more extended time with the other parent during school breaks.

So what does the JMC do?

The following issues are addressed by the JMC order

  • The child's primary residence and the child support order

  • The right to consent to a child receiving medical treatment, including dental and mental health treatment

  • Access to the child's records, and to be contacted in an emergency

  • Access to school activities and events

  • Decision making rights about the child's education

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