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Child custody

Child custody (also known as legal custody, conservatorship, or allocation of parenting time and responsibilities) refers to the legal possession, rights, and responsibilities for a minor child by the child’s birth or adoptive parents—including the right to make health care, religious, cultural, and education decisions about the child's upbringing.

During separation, and following divorce, a child’s natural parents often share custody of the child (shared custody or joint custody)—unless one or both of the child’s natural or adoptive parents are deemed to be unfit or pose a risk to the health, safety, and well-being of the child (the child’s best interests). If one of the parents is deemed unfit, the other parent may be awarded sole custody of the child.

In some cases a parent who is not allowed to have custody of a child may be given visitation rights—sometimes under the supervision of another adult (supervised visitation).

Child custody laws are usually located in your state’s statutes governing family and domestic matters, and may be referred to as the Family Code.

Child custody is distinct from guardianship of a child, which usually involves a relative or an unrelated person temporarily agreeing to take responsibility for a child following the death of the child’s birth or adoptive parents, or their abandonment. And adoption is taking full and permanent responsibility for a child by someone other than the child’s birth parents.

In Texas, child custody is legally referred to as 'conservatorship' and encompasses the rights and duties of parents regarding their child's care, including decisions about health care, education, and religious upbringing. During a divorce or separation, Texas courts aim to establish a conservatorship arrangement that serves the best interest of the child. This often results in joint managing conservatorship, where both parents share in the decision-making responsibilities. However, if one parent is deemed unfit or poses a risk to the child's well-being, the court may grant sole managing conservatorship to the other parent. The unfit parent may receive possessory conservatorship, which typically includes visitation rights, and can be supervised if necessary. Texas Family Code governs these matters, and the specifics of each case can vary based on the circumstances. Child custody in Texas is distinct from guardianship, which is a temporary responsibility typically assumed in the absence of the child's parents, and from adoption, which is the permanent legal assumption of parental responsibility by an individual other than the birth parents.

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