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How does child custody work when unmarried parents separate?

When parents separate, whether married or not, the best interest of the children will always be the most important factor when deciding on custody and visitation. Not all splits are amicable, which can make it difficult to come to an agreement. Getting along or finding a way to be civil with your ex, will be the best gift you could ever give your children. Don't put them in the middle of your relationship problems; it's not their fault you & your ex couldn't make it work.

If an agreement cannot be reached between both parents, it will become the courts responsibility to decide. The best interest of the children will be the courts primary focus.

The state of Texas refers to child custody as "conservatorship," and offers two types:

  • Sole managing conservatorship (SMC)
  • Joint managing conservatorship (JMC)

Sole managing conservatorship (SMC)

SMC means one parent has the legal right to make certain decisions on behalf of the children. Those rights include:

  • Choosing the primary residence
  • Making healthcare decisions
  • Consenting to medical treatment
  • Being their "in case of emergency" contact
  • Attending school activities
  • Receiving child support
  • Making decisions about education

Joint managing conservatorship (JMC)

JMC means both parents share the right to make decisions on behalf of the children. In this case, a judge will assign specific responsibilities to each parent. JMC does not mean both parents share equal custody. That decision will be made in a separate visitation schedule known as a standard possession order (SPO).

Why would one parent be rewarded SMC over the other?

There are many reasons a court might grant SMC to one parent over the other, some of which include:

  • One parent doesn't want JMC responsibilities
  • One parent has a history of alcohol or drug abuse
  • One parent has a history of domestic violence or neglect
  • One parent has been uninvolved or otherwise absent from the children's lives

How does visitation work and what is a standard protection order?

The state of Texas refers to visitation as a standard protection order (SPO). The SPO is a set schedule that determines each parent's time with their children. This order will decide exactly what days and times each parent is responsible to care for their children, including holidays. Parents are allowed to amend or make changes to the set schedule so long as they both agree to it. If they don't agree, they must follow the SPO.

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