Know the “Legal Lingo” of Child Custody

Folks that come to see me for consultations about divorce with children are always worried and always have the lingo down wrong. They have talked to their neighbor, a co-worker, a friend, or a family member living in another state who has been through a divorce and they want to know about “joint custody.” They have heard this term being bandied about with their spouse during talks (or arguments) about potential divorce and they want to know if this “shared custody” is going to mean their soon to be ex is going to have the children equal (50%) of the time post-divorce?

First, learn and understand the lingo. There is no legal terminology in the Texas Family Code referring to “Joint Custody.” None. The same is true with the phrases “shared custody” and “equal custody.” The terms get all knotted up in discussions and arguments, and it knots my clients’ stomachs when they hear it. They naturally think it means equal time with the kids between them and their divorcing spouse.

What Texas does have is called “Joint Managing Conservators” (or euphemistically referred to in the legal world as “JMCs.”) That’s what our legislature back in 1973 decided to nickname Mom and Dad after divorce legally. It is merely a label – a name the law has put on divorced parents. It confers nothing on divorcing parents other than the label (and all of you are going to be living within a set geographic restriction of each other after the divorce). The name doesn’t mean there will be equal possession of your kids. It doesn’t say neither parent will pay child support. It doesn’t mean all future decisions about your kids are going to have to be agreed upon equally. It means none of that. It merely connotes what the law in Texas is going to call you after divorce.

When you know and understand the terms, then the possible fear that shoots through you when you hear your spouse proclaim he/she is going to have “joint custody,” “shared custody,” or “equal custody” shouldn’t affect a single nerve synapse in your body. Instead, you should smile and know that your divorcing spouse doesn’t know the lingo – and you are already a step ahead because you do.

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