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Father and son hugging.What is Visitation According to Texas Custody Laws?

Texas law does not use the term visitation in custody agreements. Instead, the term ‘possession and access’ is used to describe when parents have physical access to their children or when they can visit.

A possession order dictates how much time each parent spends with their child. If parents agree to a schedule based on their needs, then this may be accepted by the court. However, the court may issue an order that deviates from the standard schedules if they believe it is in the best interest of the child.

At Skillern Firm, we are dedicated to helping people navigate family law matters in Texas. When you have the support and guidance of an experienced attorney, you can rest a little easier knowing that you are doing everything in your power to protect yourself and your family.

Making decisions about child custody can often bring about a lot of hostility. At Skillern Firm, we will help you with the mediation process so that you can come to an agreement that protects your rights while prioritizing the best interests of your child. If an agreement cannot be reached, then we will be prepared to advocate on your behalf in front of a Judge.

Securing experienced legal representation is the best way to protect your parental rights and ensure that your child’s needs are met. Arrange a consultation with an esteemed family law attorney today at 936-213-8479.

What is Possession and Access in Texas?

In Texas, child visitation is referred to as possession and access. Each parent has a right to possession and access to their children unless one is determined to be an unfit parent. The only reason why a parent would be considered unfit is if they are a danger to their child’s well-being, such as in cases involving abuse or addiction.

When parents divorce, the Divorce Decree must outline a possession schedule, known as a possession order. If the parents of a child were never married, then a possession order can also be issued separately.

The possession order outlines the specific days and times that each parent (or sometimes a nonparent) is granted possession and access to the child, including arrangements for school holidays. Usually, one parent becomes the custodial parent who the child lives with for the majority of the time, and the other (the noncustodial parent), is granted possession and access. This arrangement helps create stability for the child while keeping both parents involved in their life.

In accordance with the Texas Family Code, the different possession orders are:

  • Standard Possession Order
  • Modified Possession Orders
  • Possession Orders for a Child Under Three
  • Supervised Possession Orders

What is the Texas Standard Possession Order?

The Standard Possession Order, also referred to as the standard visitation schedule, is the schedule that is presumed to be in the best interest of a child over the age of three.

The Standard Possession Order allows parents to come to an agreement regarding when each party will have possession of the child. A family law attorney can guide you in the mediation process to ensure that your rights are protected and a decision is reached that protects the child’s best interests. If parents do agree to a possession schedule, the Judge will review it and will need to approve it before an order can be issued.

In accordance with the Standard Possession Order, if parents do not agree, the noncustodial parent has the right to possession of the child at times provided in the Texas Family Code.

If parents live within 50 miles of each other, the noncustodial parent has the right to possession of their child at the following intervals:

  • 1st, 3rd, and 5th weekends of each month
  • Every Thursday evening during the school year
  • Alternating holidays
  • An extended period of 30 days during the summer vacation

If parents live more than 100 miles apart, then the rights of the custodial parent change, instead they have the right to possession of their child at the following intervals:

  • Depending on the circumstances, the weekend schedule may remain the same, or it may be reduced to just one weekend each month
  • No mid-week visit
  • Alternating holidays
  • An extended period during the summer holidays of 42 days and an extended period of time for Spring Break

What is a Modified Possession Order?

If you and the other parent agree that the Standard Possession Order is not practical or appropriate for your family, then you may request a Modified Possession Order. If your case is contested, then this decision may also be made by a Judge.

A Modified Possession Order is any arrangement that differs from the standard model. A lawyer can help you write a possession order that meets the specific needs of your family. Examples could include alternating weeks, no overnight visits, or a non-parent being allocated possession and access.

What is a Possession Order for a Child Under The Age of Three?

If a child is under the age of three, then the legal presumption that the Standard Possession Order is in their best interest does not apply. If a child is under the age of three, although parents can still agree to use the Standard Possession Order, they may also agree to a different schedule.

For example, if a child is still breastfeeding, then a different schedule may be in the child’s best interest. An attorney and mediator can help you come to an agreement that works for you and your family. If this is not possible, they will present your case to a Judge so that they can make a final decision based on what they believe to be in the child’s best interest.

It is also important that your order specifies how possession and access will change when your child turns three. This ensures that the ongoing arrangement is fair and will prevent you from having to file for a modification to meet your child’s ongoing needs.

What is a Supervised Possession Order?

If you are concerned about your child’s well-being and safety when they are in possession of the other parent, then you can request a Supervised Possession Order. The court will not grant this easily, and you will need to present strong evidence to the Judge regarding why this is necessary. An experienced family law lawyer can help you evidence your claims and will fight to protect your children.

If you can demonstrate to the Judge that parenting time needs to be supervised, then the Judge may order it to be supervised by a neutral third party, family member, or private agency. Visitation may also need to take place in supervised visitation centers. If a private agency is used, the visiting parent will usually be responsible for paying their fees.

Although rare, the Judge could also order no visitation. However, this is only used if the visiting parent is considered a risk to the child’s emotional or physical well-being, even when visitation is supervised.

If you are a parent whose ex-spouse is fighting for supervised visitation unjustly, then it is also essential you have an attorney. Your lawyer will ensure that your side of the story is heard, and they will fight to protect your possession and access to your child.

Can I Change an Existing Possession Order?

Although a possession order is a court order and must be adhered to, the court also understands that sometimes an existing order is no longer practical for you or your family. That is why the court allows anyone involved in a possession order to apply for a modification.

However, you will need to prove that there has been a substantial and material change in circumstances such as relocation, changing needs of the child, or job loss. Furthermore, usually, the court will expect you to wait at least a year before modifying an existing possession order unless the child’s safety is at risk.

If you need to change an existing possession order, then you should speak to a family law attorney who can help you file for a modification and provide evidence of why it is necessary.

What Will The Court Consider When Determining Child Custody in Texas?

If your child custody case is contested, then the Judge will have the final say on all child custody decisions, such as who the custodial parent will be and what Possession Order you will be required to follow.

Stereotypical views of the mother having the strongest parent-child relationship should not play a factor. The Judge is required to make decisions free from gender bias and to instead consider what is in the best interest of the child.

The court, as well as parents, are required to make decisions based on a child’s best interest. However, it is common for involved parties’ to disagree about what that means. Generally, the court will try and maintain stability in the child’s life while keeping both parents involved as much as possible.

Common considerations include:

Which Parent Can Best Meet the Child’s Needs?

The court will consider which parent can best meet the child’s mental and physical needs. That could involve assessing how much time each parent has to spend with their child and the ability of each parent to provide a stable home environment.

The court will also consider the stability of each parent, such as whether their home and job are secure and enables them to meet their child’s needs both now and in the future.

The Ability of Each Parent to Provide a Stable Home

As mentioned above, the court will consider each parent’s ability to provide a stable and loving home. Some examples of when a parent may be considered unable to provide a stable home include:

  • Emotional instability due to poor mental health
  • A demanding job that takes up a substantial amount of time
  • An inability to maintain a safe standard of living with food, shelter, and access to medical care
  • The child’s exposure to third parties poses a risk to their well-being or creates a threatening environment
  • An inability to create a safe and supportive home. The home may be in ill repair or not have electricity or water
  • Financial instability due to unemployment or significant debt
  • A history of family violence

The Proximity of Family and Community

If a child has grown up with a close community, such as close family members, school friends, or churchgoers, then the court will try and keep the child close to their established community.

Previous Involvement From Each Parent

The courts will also consider each parent’s previous involvement in their child’s life. For example, if one parent has typically attended school events, and organized medical appointments, then the court may be more likely to consider this parent as the custodial parent.

The Potential Impact on The Child’s Well-Being

If either parent poses a risk to their child’s well-being, then this will be an important consideration when determining possession and access.

Evidence that one parent may pose a risk to their child could include a history of violent or abusive behavior or a history of substance misuse and/or abuse. The Judge may also consider each parent’s home and the other people who live there.

The Child’s Wishes

If a child is over the age of 12, then they can confer with the Judge regarding their preference for which parent they would like to live with. The Judge may consider the child’s preference but will ultimately still make a decision based on their best interest and not their preference.

What is Visitation According to Texas Custody Laws? FAQ

What if my ex-spouse tries to alienate me?

If one parent alienates the other parent by speaking badly of them in front of their child, whether intentionally or unintentionally, this is known as alienation. The court will not look favorably on this, and you should speak to a family law lawyer who can help you to evidence your claims and protect your parent-child relationship.

Which parent is more likely to be awarded custody in Texas?

Texas law requires the court to make decisions based on the child’s best interest, free from gender bias..

What do I do while I wait for a possession order to be finalized?

It is common for child custody decisions to take many months to finalize. If your case is particularly complex, then it could take a year or more. In the meantime, you may need clear legal guidance on parenting time.

Your family law attorney can help you file for a Temporary Order, which will place a legal obligation on parents while they wait for a final decision to be made. The Judge may also implement a temporary possession order independently if they deem it to be necessary.

What if I have a possession order, but the other parent is refusing visitation?

If the other parent is refusing visitation, then you will understandably feel a lot of frustration. You should speak to an attorney who can help you take the proper legal steps and fight for your parental rights. You can also call the Visitation Hotline at 866-292-4636 or go to the Texas Access website for more information.

Contact a Child Custody Attorney From Skillern Firm Today

Few things bring up as much emotion as child custody decisions. It is important that the agreement that you arrive at prioritizes the needs of your children. At Skillern Firm, our family law attorneys will make sure that happens.

Utilizing a wealth of resources, an individualized approach, and a passion for helping families in Texas, Skillern Firm will advocate fiercely on your behalf to secure the best possible outcome.

We will use mediation where possible so that you can arrive at a personalized arrangement. However, we have tested trial lawyers and will always be prepared to present your case to a Judge if that’s what it takes to protect your children.

Give us at 936-213-8479 and speak to an experienced family law attorney today.

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