Child custody, otherwise known in Texas as conservatorship, can be one of the most emotional and contested issues in family law. It is more than deciding with whom the child lives or how much time is spent with either parent. It also involves determining the rights and duties assigned to each parent with respect to their child.
One of the most important and most contested parental rights is the right to designate the primary residence of the child. Other specific rights and duties assigned to parents include, but are not limited to, the right to consent to medical, dental, and surgical treatment involving invasive procedures for a child, the right to consent to psychiatric and psychological treatment of a child, and the right to make decisions concerning a child’s education.
The standard used by courts to determine how to allocate the rights and duties between parents is the “best interest of the child.” The law presumes that it is in a child’s best interest that parents be appointed joint managing conservators of their child, meaning they have equal rights and duties. Joint managing conservators, generally, are ordered to make decisions about their child either jointly or independently. One parent may be ordered to exercise some rights exclusively, however, such as the right to receive child support.
Courts use a variety of factors to determine what custody arrangement is in a child’s best interest. They may consider, among other things: the physical, psychological, and emotional needs of the child; the extent to which a parent was involved in the child’s rearing prior to the filing of the lawsuit; the geographical proximity of the parents; and whether there has been a history of domestic violence by a parent or child abuse by a parent.
Whether there is a restriction on the geographical area within which a child lives is another issue that falls within the scope of child custody. While only one parent is generally awarded the right to determine the child’s primary residence, courts also frequently order that the child’s primary residence remain within a certain geographical area. The purpose of imposing such a restriction is to ensure that both parents can have a meaningful relationship involving frequent contact with their child. For example, a court may order that only Parent A has the right to decide where the child’s primary residence is. A court may further order that Parent A must keep the child’s primary residence within Hays County and the counties contiguous to Hays County. If the court does not impose a geographical restriction on where the child resides, then it would be within Parent A’s right to move the child to another city, county, state, or country, far from Parent B.
The issue of child custody can be highly contested and complex. It is important to consult with an experienced family law attorney to learn more about what rights you have as a parent and what options and resources may be available to you given the unique facts and circumstances of your case.