How does Joint Custody work? That’s a question that family law attorneys get asked all the time. Answering it takes some explaining.
It’s impossible to answer this question without detailing the contents of a Texas “custody order” first.
In Texas, “custody” orders typically include these sections:
- Rights & Duties
- Possession Schedule
- Child Support
- Health Insurance
- Miscellaneous provisions (like electronic access.)
The titles that the parents receive in the order used to mean everything. Now they often mean virtually nothing. Almost everyone is named as a Joint Managing Conservator.
The Rights & Duties section is where the fighting takes place in a “custody battle.” The most important right fought for is “primary” – which actually means the “right to establish the primary residence of the children.” This right can be limited by a geographic restriction, which is also known as a residency restriction or domicile restriction.
The other rights that people often fight over are: Who gets to make medical decisions? Who gets to make educational decisions? Who gets to make psychological and psychiatric decisions? These can be designated as joint rights, independent rights, exclusive rights, or exclusive after consultation rights.
Following the rights and duties section, the order details the possession schedule – who has the right to have the kids and when. The presumption in Texas basically boils down to mean that the non-primary parent gets to have possession of the children approximately 40% of the time. But, the presumption can be overcome.
After possession comes Child Support. Child Support is not technically a part of custody, but is generally addressed in orders that most people refer to as “custody orders.” The presumption in Texas is that Child Support will be set according to the Child Support Guidelines found in the Texas Family Code.
Next are Health Insurance provisions. In Texas, the presumption is that the party paying child support – typically the non-primary parent – will also pay for health insurance. Most orders detail that the parents will split the cost of all uninsured medical costs 50/50, although as with everything else, that can be negotiated or changed by the court.
Finally, there can be virtually any parenting provisions that the parents can agree on or that the court decides are in the best interest of the children. These can include provisions for electronic access – skype, facetime, texting, phone calls – choice of caregivers, choice of doctors, details regarding extracurricular activities, etc.
So, with all of that discussion: How does Joint Custody work? It’s really a question without an answer. For most people, when that term is used, it means an order that provides for a sharing of rights and possession to an approximately even degree. That would look like a 50/50 possession schedule – whether that’s week to week or otherwise – and joint or independent rights.
Understanding Joint Custody in Texas is one thing. Determining whether such an order can be obtained in any given cases depends on many factors.