If you have been involved in a family law dispute, you may have heard of joint managing conservatorship. You may be wondering what exactly joint managing conservatorship is and what it means for you in your family law case. Conservatorship relates to rights, and joint managing conservatorship is presumed to be in the best interest of the child. This is a rebuttable presumption, meaning a court can find that joint managing conservatorship is not in the best interest of the child. For example, if one parent has a history of domestic violence in the past two years, the court cannot name that parent as a joint managing conservator. A parent might be able to overcome the presumption by showing the other parent has a history of substance abuse or has been absent from the child’s life. In those situations, the court may find it in the child’s best interest to name one parent as the managing conservator and the other parent a a possessory conservator. A managing conservator has far greater rights related to the child than a possessory conservator.
Parents often confuse conservatorship with possession. It is important to understand that joint managing conservatorship does not mean the parents spend equal time with the child. Rather, it refers to the rights and decision-making ability both parents have regarding the child. This includes legal, educational, medical, and psychological decisions. Joint managing conservatorship does not mean the parents have equal rights. The rights can be allocated in a number of different ways. Rights can be truly joint (requiring joint agreement), they can be independent (allowing each parent to act independently, possibly with prior consultation or notice required), or they can be exclusive (where one parent has that right but the other does not).
When parents are named joint managing conservators, it is common for one parent to be given the exclusive right to determine the primary residence of the child (usually within a certain geographic area.) This parent is referred to as the “primary parent” or “custodial parent,” and that parent usually receives child support payments. The “primary” designation can carry a lot of legal significance beyond just the current custody order, and it is important to understand the implications before agreeing to give the other parent the primary designation in an order. If neither parent is given the exclusive right to designate the primary residence (which is common with 50/50 possession schedules), the residence of the child with both parents is restricted to a certain geographic area.