“Custody” can refer to many things in the context of family law litigation. Primarily, it regards conservatorship, possession and access.
Conservatorship – Who has what rights and duties regarding a child? Who decides where the child resides primarily, where they go to school, in what activities they engage? In Texas, there are two conservatorship scenarios—when you have Joint Managing Conservatorship, which is most common and favored by the Texas Family Code, and Sole Managing Conservatorship, which is less common but far from rare.
With Joint Managing Conservatorship, each conservator has rights regarding decision-making about the child, to one degree or another. One conservator may have what is often loosely referred to as “primary,” but what is more accurately termed the “exclusive right to determine the primary residence” of the child.
When you have Sole Managing Conservatorship, the other parent or conservator is called a Possessory Conservator. The Sole Managing Conservator has all the rights regarding decision-making, and the Possessory really simply has a right of access to or possession of the child, usually under a standard possession order.
Possession and Access are separate from conservatorship, but of course related to an extent. Here, the question is essentially—“Who has the child and how often?” Most cases have a “primary” parent (the conservator with the exclusive right to determine the primary residence) who generally has the child for a majority of the time, and the other conservator will have a standard possession order, or “expanded” standard possession order, which is set out in the Texas Family Code and is deemed to be the minimal amount of time that a responsible and loving conservator should have. A standard possession order involves the 1st, 3rd and 5th weekend routine often referenced in family law discussions.
Custody issues arise in many family law contexts, and can be part of a divorce, part of a modification suit (a lawsuit seeking to modify a previous order regarding custody), or part of a Suit Affecting the Parent-Child Relationship-also called a “SAPCR,” these cases regard conservatorship rights and obligations between non-married conservators.