Sharing a child with a former partner can be challenging, especially when one or both parents choose to pursue sole custody of the child.

Understanding the nuances of sole custody in Texas is paramount for those grappling with the complexities of child custody disputes. While the process can be complex and confusing at times, it’s important to remember that you don’t have to navigate it alone.  

Use our guide below to learn more about what constitutes sole custody, how to get sole custody in Texas, and when to consider hiring an attorney to represent your interests. 

What Is Sole Custody in Texas? 

Under Texas law, legal custody is defined as the managing conservatorship of a child. While managing conservatorship rights are most often shared jointly between both parents, in some cases where the underlying facts warrant it, a court may instead award sole managing conservatorship rights to only one parent. 

A parent who is appointed sole managing conservator will have certain exclusive rights and duties with respect to the child. Under Texas Family Code section 153.132, some of these include the right to: 

  • Designate the primary residence of the child; 
  • Consent to medical, dental, and surgical treatment involving invasive procedures; 
  • Consent to psychiatric and psychological treatment; 
  • Make decisions concerning the child’s education; and
  • Apply for, renew, and maintain possession of the child’s passport. 

Notably, sole managing conservatorship does not necessarily mean that the non-custodial parent, or possessory conservator, will be completely excluded from the child’s life. Rather, sole managing conservatorship gives one parent the exclusive decision-making authority regarding the child. The foregoing list is not exhaustive but gives an overview of the types of exclusive rights commonly afforded to sole managing conservators. 

Sole Custody vs. Full Custody: What’s the Difference?

Generally speaking, there is no difference between sole custody and full custody. In many jurisdictions, these two terms are used interchangeably to describe an arrangement in which one parent has primary, or exclusive, decision-making authority regarding the child’s health, education, and general welfare. 

As previously discussed, Texas law refers to sole or full custody as sole managing conservatorship. 

The Best Interest of the Child

Texas Family Code section 153.001 specifies that one of the overarching policies of the state with respect to child custody is to encourage both parents to share in the rights and responsibilities of raising their child even after their separation or divorce. In Texas, it is a rebuttable presumption that it is in the best interest of a child that the parents be appointed joint managing conservators. Thus, unless certain circumstances exist, courts will often appoint both parents as joint managing conservators, rather than appointing only one parent as sole managing conservator. 

In Texas custody disputes, the court’s primary consideration is always the  “best interest of the child” in making decisions regarding issues of conservatorship and possession of and access to a child. This means that the primary consideration of the courts in determining whether to appoint a sole managing conservator or joint managing conservators will be the child’s best interest. 

Examples of reasons a court might name one parent sole managing conservator include the existence of: 

  • A history of violence by the other parent;
  • Child abuse or neglect by the other parent; or
  • Alcohol or drug abuse by the other parent. 

Ultimately, however, the decision will ultimately vary from case to case depending on the particular facts and circumstances underlying the case. 

How to File for Sole Custody in Texas

Obtaining a court order for sole managing conservatorship of a child is never a guarantee and will require several steps as you navigate the legal process. Below are some of the basic steps you may need to take: 

  • Complete and file a Petition in Suit Affecting the Parent-Child Relationship (SAPCR), or Petition for Divorce if you are married, and file it in the proper county; 
  • Serve the child’s other parent with the court paperwork, usually through a sheriff or private process server, to provide them with formal notice of the pending lawsuit; 
  • Engage in informal negotiations or formal mediation with the opposing party in an effort to reach a mutually agreeable custody arrangement outside of court; 
  • If a settlement cannot be reached, the case will proceed to court hearings or trial where both parties will have an opportunity to present evidence and arguments in support of their position; and
  • After taking into consideration all evidence and testimony, the court will issue a final order outlining the terms of the custody arrangement. 

When you’re ready to move forward with pursuing sole or joint custody of your child, speak with an experienced attorney today to discuss your rights and options moving forward. 

The Stout Law Firm, PLLC: Your Trusted Texas Custody Attorneys

At The Stout Law Firm, we pride ourselves on focusing exclusively on family law and divorce matters. Thus, we have the background, experience, tools, and resources necessary to fight for your rights and work to achieve the best possible results for you and your family. 

Navigating a custody dispute in Texas is never easy, but having the right team in your corner can help reduce the stress on your shoulders and increase your chances of a successful outcome. If you have questions about the process or how to get started, contact our team and see how we can help you today.

Angela Stout

Angela A. Stout was admitted to the State Bar of Texas in 2007. Ms. Stout has practiced law since 2007, with an emphasis in representing clients in family law matters. She earned her Juris Doctorate degree from South Texas College of Law in May of 2007. Ms. Stout became Board Certified in Family Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization in December of 2015. The Texas Board of Legal Specialization is a specialized group of attorneys that must obtain exceptional experience in a specific area of law, pass a comprehensive exam, and complete ongoing continuing legal education in that specialized area. Additionally, Ms. Stout is certified as a mediator by the A.A. White Dispute Resolution Center.


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