On March 12, 2013, the Texas jury in the Deion and Pilar Sanders divorce ruled that Deion Sanders would have Sole Managing Conservatorship of the couple’s two boys and that Deion and Pilar would be joint managing conservators of the couple’s daughter with Deion determining the daughter’s primary residence.  What does this mean and how does this ruling impact each parent’s ability to raise their children?

I always tell my clients to think of conservatorship as being two pronged: The first prong has to do with rights and duties to a child and the second prong deals with possession schedules – who is going to see the child when.  Today I am only dissecting the first prong of conservatorship as it relates to parents rights and duties to their children.

In Texas, there is a presumption under the law that it is in a child’s best interest for two parents to be named Joint Managing Conservators.  Joint Managing Conservators means that two parents have equal decision making in a child’s life from medical, to psychological, to educational decisions as well as the ability to manage a child’s property, if there is property to manage.  When you hear that a parent is the “primary conservator” in a joint managing conservatorship, it deals with one thing and one thing only; the exclusive right to designate the child’s primary residence. 

The jury in the Sanders divorce trial ruled that Deion and Pilar are joint managing conservators of their daughter with Deion designating the daughter’s primary residence.  Deion is considered the “primary conservator” of their daughter in that he will determine where she will live primarily.  Texas law presumes that it is in a child’s best interest that a child’s primary residence be restricted to a certain geographic area so that each parent will have continuing contact with the children. 

In order to receive Sole Managing Conservatorship of a child, you must rebut the presumption that a Joint Managing Conservatorship is in the child’s best interest.   It is very difficult to rebut this presumption and you must show some form of child abuse, harm, or neglect or domestic violence in order to be awarded Sole Managing Conservatorship as well as demonstrating that it is in the child’s best interest for one parent to be the Sole Managing Conservator

What differentiates Sole Managing Conservatorship from Joint Managing Conservatorship is that the Sole Managing Conservator has sole decision making ability when it comes to all major decisions in a child’s life from medical, to psychological, to educational decisions as well as the ability to manage a child’s property, if there is property to manage.

Deion Sanders being named the Sole Managing Conservator of the two boys is very significant in that he will be making all major decisions regarding the children’s lives (as discussed above) and will not even be required to have Pilar’s agreement prior to making those decisions.  Deion will still have a duty to inform Pilar of these decisions but he will have sole decision making ability.  In order for the Texas jury to have made this ruling, the jury must have found that it was in the children’s best interest for Deion to have Sole Managing Conservatorship of the boys.

Stay tuned for my next blog where I will discuss possession schedules for parents in Texas and the Judge’s ruling on the Deion and Pilar Sanders’ respective periods of possession of their children.