If you share custody of your child or children with another parent, there are many important, yet challenging, conversations you will need to have with your co-parent regarding what is in your child’s best interests.

One of the big topics of discussion will likely be health care. When it comes to major health decisions, such as surgeries, vaccines, and psychiatric care, a child’s parents may not agree about how to proceed.  Sometimes your parenting agreement or parenting plan will outline how certain decisions are made. However, in other cases, one parent or the other parent may disagree about how to move forward with major decisions like medical care. In these instances, it is important to know what co-parenting laws say about your particular case. Factors such as child custody, conservatorship, and family violence may all come into play, depending on your situation.

Joint legal custody vs. shared custody

In Texas, child custody falls under two legal categories: conservatorship and possession and access. Conservatorship (custody) relates to who makes important decisions about a child’s wellbeing and future, such as education and medical decisions, while possession and access (visitation)  relates to where a child spends their time.

There are two main types of child custody in Texas:

  1. Sole custody. A parent with sole custody has their child or children living primarily with them and also has the legal right to make decisions about the child’s needs. In Texas, a parent with sole custody is referred to as a sole managing conservator. 

2. Joint Custody. Parents with joint custody share the care and responsibility for their children, but one parent typically has their child or children living with them the majority of the time. The Texas Family Code provides a standard, called a Standard Possession Order, to help determine joint legal & physical custody arrangements and many courts revert to this standard by default. Typically, this works out to a 44/ 56 split, with the primary, custodial parent spending the majority of the time with the child or children

The role of conservatorship in co-parenting laws

In Texas, the legal right for co-parents to make decisions about their children’s education or medical care is determined by conservatorship.

Conservatorship is an important aspect of child custody that is often overlooked or forgotten by parents. When navigating split custody of a child or children, many parents focus on visitation and child support. Their immediate concern is often what they will pay or receive in child support and how visitation will be determined. 

Ideally, co-parents are able to work together to determine the best decisions for their children regarding healthcare and education. However, this is not always the case. Sometimes conservatorships are structured in a way that gives one parent the authority to make a decision if both parents can’t agree. In practice, this could look like one parent independently or exclusively making the decision. 

Can a Texas child custody order be modified?

Sometimes legal custody orders can be modified, but it has to be in order to meet the best interest of the child. It can only happen under a few circumstances, including instances of family violence or physical or emotional danger to the child.

In addition, if the child is 12 years old or older and tells the court he wants to change his primary caretaker; if the parents agree to a change; if the primary caretaker gives up possession of the child for at least six months; or if there’s been a significant change in the financial or medical circumstances in a child or parent.

What if I believe my child’s health is in danger?

If you are unsure of your co parent’s ability to keep your child safe or believe that mental illness, substance abuse, or a violent situation is putting your child at risk, there are certain steps you can take.

  1. Call 911. One thing a parent should think about if there is immediate danger to the parent and/or children is calling 911 and addressing it that way. Sometimes that may not be a solution because the other parent may have a right to the child and the police may view the situation as a civil case and suggest hiring an attorney.

2. Hire an attorney. The next option is speaking to an attorney. If there is immediate danger, an attorney can help you file for a protective order. Your attorney will also help you assemble paperwork, including a summary of what the immediate danger is, and then you can proceed with an emergency hearing before a judge.

3. Get an emergency court hearing. At this point, a judge will hopefully have enough information before them in the paperwork to realize there is an immediate need and the children need to be retrieved through an order. You may not get into court immediately, so it is very important for a parent to see an attorney so the timeline isn’t stretched out unnecessarily.

This blog does not constitute legal advice. If you have questions about sole custody, joint custody, child support payments, parenting agreements, or other issues related to child custody rights, it is important to contact a family law attorney.

At Sandoval Law Firm we understand the stress of dealing with divorce, child custody and domestic violence. Our firm consists of founding attorney Raul Sandoval Jr. and a dedicated support staff. Mr. Sandoval earned his law degree from Texas Tech University School of Law. Since that time, he has been practicing family law in the Austin area, as well as teaching seminars, classes and other forms of professional development.