Something I often hear from a parent is, “I want full custody of my child.” In response, I ask, “What does ‘full custody’ mean to you?”
The Texas Family Code addresses custody of a child in three different ways: (1) whether a parent has the ability to make decisions related to the child, (2) when each parent has the right to possession of the child, and (3) child support and medical support for the child. See Chapter 153 and 154 of the Texas Family Code.
To some parents, “full custody” means the first item on the list: making decisions for the child, including designating where the child lives most of the time (which also usually determines where the child will go to school), being able to consent to invasive medical, dental or surgical treatment for the child, and making educational decisions related to the child.
For this parent, who wants to make all of these decisions and to not let the other parent be able to make these types of decisions, “full custody” means being appointed the sole managing conservator of the child. A sole managing conservator is the person who has the exclusive ability to make decisions related to the child, absent life-threatening and emergency circumstances.
Flipping Primary Custody in a Modification
As children grow older, they can outgrow a lot of things: their clothes, their toys, and, sometimes, even their custody arrangements. When a prior custody arrangement is no longer working, a parent can ask the court to modify the old orders to something better for the child.
Generally, a suit to modify requires two things: (1) a material and substantial change in circumstances of one of the parties affected by the order or the child, and (2) that the requested modifications are in the child’s best interest. When requesting a modification of conservatorship or possession, one of the following things must be true: (1) the child is at least 12 years of age and has expressed to the court in chambers the name of the person who is the child’s preference to have primary custody, or (2) the primary conservator has voluntarily relinquished the primary care and possession of the child to another person for at least six months.