What Does Joint Custody Really Mean?

February 13, 2017 Posted in Child Custody

Few issues of divorce are as emotionally-charged as those that cause parents to lose time with their children. This is why many parents fight hard to gain sole custody of their children — or at least joint custody. However, these terms can be misleading.

Full custody does not typically prevent the non-custodial parent from spending substantial time with the children, and joint custody does not typically guarantee half of residential time. Understanding the true nature of custody can help parents negotiate terms that provide the best outcome for the entire family.

The Two Elements of Custody

Actually, Texas law does not refer to custody at all. The correct legal term in the state is conservatorship, which is divided into two categories:

  • Managing conservatorship is commonly referred to as legal custody, and it determines the rights and responsibilities of both parents. When parents receive joint managing conservatorship, they continue to share major decision-making responsibilities for the children until they reach the age of majority. In other words, they must agree on all important issues, such as education, medical care, religion and anything requiring parental consent.
  • Possessory conservatorship is commonly referred to as physical custody, which is seldom all-or-nothing. Even though the courts generally give one parent the right to provide the children's primary residence, the law uses any number of factors to determine how much time each parent spends with the children (called, access). While the division of physical time seldom achieves a precise 50-50 mix between the two parents, the non-residential parent can potentially gain a higher quality of the time. This might be the case when they have access during more of the children's free time, such as weekends or summer vacations.

Due to the complex nature of family relationships and circumstances, judges often exercise discretion when making conservatorship decisions, even though their decisions may be driven initially by specific guidelines.

Parenting Plans Can Give Parents Greater Control Over the Outcome

With some exceptions, parents need not leave the child custody decisions in the hands of the court. Their time and effort can be well-spent by finding ways to negotiate the details of conservatorship to create a cohesive parenting plan. This document, which is not required by TX law, must be approved by the court. However, it generally provides the best chance of creating an arrangement that serves the best interests of the children while addressing the needs and wishes of the parents as well.

Parents who are at odds regarding the children may have difficulty developing the cooperative spirit needed to negotiate the terms that can affect their relationship with their children over the long term. With the help of experienced child custody lawyers parents gain great benefits from the guidance that helps achieve a meeting of the minds. Contact us for knowledgeable representation from a Dallas child custody attorney who is dedicated to working for the best interests of the children and the entire family.