What Are The Basics Of Child Custody In Texas?

Both you and your kids have a lot at stake in a custody dispute, so you should learn as much as you can before filing a divorce or custody suit. Below is a summary of some of the basics of child custody that will give you a head start when you meet with a Dallas divorce lawyer at Epstein Family Law so, together, we can focus on developing the best strategy for your case.

“Full Custody” Isn’t a Real Option

When we meet with new clients, many say they want “full custody” of their kids. They’ve heard that incorrect phrase somewhere, usually on the internet or a TV show. We explain that there’s no such thing as “full custody” in Texas. What most clients really want is to be the custodial parent, which is just one aspect of child custody in Texas. We also help them understand that an all-or-nothing custody demand is unrealistic, except in unique situations where traditional custody arrangements are voluntarily waived by a parent, impossible or unsafe for the kids.

The Primary Issues at Play in a Custody Case

Texas family courts must make decisions regarding the two distinct components of child custody: 1) “conservatorship” (legal custody) and 2) “possession and access” (physical custody). You will hear the phrase “best interests of the children” many times in your case. This standard is the court’s guiding principle when determining issues that will impact the short- and long-term welfare of your kids. What parents want and what’s in the best interests of the kids aren’t always the same, and the court will always choose the latter.


Conservatorship is primarily focused on parents’ rights to make decisions impacting the kids’ lives, including education, religious training, medical treatment and other important parenting areas. Texas law presumes that for most families, it’s in the best interest of the kids for parents to be joint managing conservators where both generally have equal rights, powers and duties. In cases where one parent is unfit to be a joint managing conservator, the court can designate the other parent as sole managing conservator with exclusive authority to make parenting decisions.

Possession and Access

The possession and access component of child custody refers to parents’ rights to physical custody of the kids, including a determination of which parent they will live with the majority of the time (“custodial parent”) and the parent with rights to visitation and parenting time as set forth in a possession order (“non-custodial parent”). The custodial parent generally has the right to designate the kids’ primary residence which oftentimes will be geographically restricted to the county of the suit and which at times will include surrounding counties as well.

There is a rebuttable presumption that the Texas Standard Possession Order is in the best interests of kids over age 3. Unless parents agree otherwise, the non-custodial parent has the right to possession on the 1st, 3rd and 5th weekends of the month and Thursdays during the school year. The Standard Possession Order also contains a schedule for summer, spring break and major holidays. For kids under age 3, the court will create a possession schedule that fits the family’s unique circumstances.

Cases Involving Dangerous Situations

If a case involves substance abuse, mental health problems, domestic violence or any other threat to a child’s physical or mental safety, the court can order various alternative custody arrangements based on the circumstances, including visitation with conditions, such as drug and alcohol testing, supervised visitation, and/or designating one parent as sole managing conservator with sole physical custody.

Consult with a Dallas Child Custody Attorney  

If you have questions about this article or a family law case, contact Epstein Family Law at 972-232-7673 to consult with a skilled Dallas child custody lawyer. We handle divorce and child custody cases in counties throughout the Greater Dallas area, including Dallas, Collin, Denton, Tarrant, Ellis, Rockwall, Kaufman and Johnson, plus others.

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