When discussing conservatorship (commonly referred to as custody), parents want to know what rights they may exercise with regard to the child. Who decides what school the child will attend? Who decides when the child will get braces?
In Texas, there are nine basic rights and they may each be exercised in one of three different ways. Generally, the rights are awarded independently, meaning that each party may exercise the same rights. Alternatively, a right may be awarded exclusively to one parent. Finally, a right may be exercised only subject to the agreement of the other parent. The rights in Texas that courts award to parents concerning a child are set forth in the following list. The list also addresses the manner in which the rights are generally exercised.
- Designate the primary residence of the child: The primary residence of the child is generally awarded exclusively to one parent (frequently referred to as the primary parent). The parent awarded this right is allowed to determine where the child will live. The remaining parent is generally the one that has visitation with the child and may pay child support.
- Consent to medical, dental, and surgical treatment involving invasive procedures: This parent makes medical decisions for the child involving surgery and similar issues. This right is usually granted exclusively to the primary parent, however, the right usually requires the primary parent to consult with the other parent before making decisions.
- Consent to psychiatric and psychological treatment of the child: The parent awarded this right may determine whether a child will attend counseling or receive similar types of care or treatment. This right is also frequently granted exclusively to the primary parent conditioned upon the obligation to first consult with the other parent.
- Receive and give receipt for child support: Child support is generally awarded exclusively to the primary parent. This parent receives child support from the remaining parent.
- Represent the child in a legal action and make legal decisions for the child: A parent with this right may file suit on behalf of a child – this need may arise in the event of an automobile accident or similar event. Courts may permit each parent to exercise this right independently.
- Consent to marriage and military enlistment: Courts will frequently permit parents to exercise this right subject to the agreement of the other parent.
- Make decisions concerning the child’s education: This right is also frequently granted exclusively to the primary parent conditioned upon the obligation to first consult with the other parent.
- Receive the services and earning of the child; and act as an agent of the child in relation to the child’s estate if required by Texas or the United States: Courts may permit each parent to exercise this right independently. Parents are also assigned the following duty: To manage the estate of the child if the estate has been created with community property.
It should be noted that the allocation of rights affecting children is subject to modification by the court. Therefore, even thought a Final Decree of Divorce might award, for instance, one parent the exclusive right to make decisions regarding a child’s education, that can be modified if the court believes something has transpired to require a change and that the change would be in the best interest of the child.
Faun Rowland is an attorney that has been practicing in the area of family law for fifteen years. In addition, she has been an adjunct professor of law at Tarrant County College for approximately seven years. Faun is a member of the State Bar of Texas, State Bar of California (inactive), Tarrant County Bar Association, and the Tarrant County Family Law Bar Association.