n a word: no. Despite the sound of the term, the court did not grant one parent sole or exclusive custody of the child when it ordered one parent as the sole managing conservator. In fact, when the court made this order, it was not specifically addressing what most people think of when the word “custody” is used, namely possession. So, what did the court just say?
Conservatorship is ordered in two ways, sole/possessory and joint managing. The purpose of different types of conservatorship is to parcel out a series of rights concerning the rearing of the children. The rights include such rights as making decisions about schooling, moral and religious training and non-emergent medical decisions. The typical situation is encapsulated in the joint managing conservatorship arrangement. Usually the rights listed above, as well as several others, are granted to both conservators, and each conservator can exercise those rights without any interference from the other parent.
Conversely, when one parent is named the sole managing conservator, that parent will have many of the rights of child-rearing exclusively, whereas the other parent will have a restricted, and more limited, set of rights. What does that mean for what concerns most parents, namely custody?
The general outline of a possession arrangement is usually granted by way of the right to designate the primary residence of the children. This right is given to one of the joint managing conservators or the sole managing conservator. At this point the confusion often sets in. Sole managing conservatorship means the children will live with that parent, right? So, you may ask your divorce lawyer, why is that not “sole custody?”
The answer is that a possessory conservator, even with his or her limited set of rights, will still be granted rights of visitation and access. In fact, the possession order in a sole/possessory conservatorship can be the same one put in place in a joint managing conservatorship.
What should you take away from this? Maybe that using the word “custody” will only continue to confuse you and keep you and your Texas divorce lawyer from being on the same page. Maybe you should strike that word from your pending divorce lexicon. It might be better to think in terms of conservatorship, and in terms of possession and access. Those are the terms courts and divorce lawyers in Texas use, and if you use the same terms as them, there will be a lessened chance of confusion about exactly what is going on.