CHILD VISITATION RIGHTS
The Texas Family Code specifically states that it is the public policy for parents “who have shown the ability to act in the best interest of the child” to have “frequent and continuing contact” with their children. The family law court presumes that it is in the best interest of the children to have the love and support of both parents. The court also presumes it is in the best interest of the children if all children in the family have the same visitation schedule. Working with these presumptions, when parents cannot agree upon a parenting plan, the court will establish a visitation schedule.
The court encourages parents to work together to establish their own parenting plan. If the parties are unable to do that, the Court will make the decision for them. No matter what kind of visitation schedule the parents agree to or the Court orders, it can always be flexible. The visitation schedule set out in the Order will almost always be preceded by a statement that the parents will be able to spend any time with the child that they agree to and in the absence of agreement, they will have to follow the visitation schedule written into the Order.
A Standard Possession/Visitation Order When Parents Live Within 100 Miles of Each Other
When parents live 100 miles or less from each other, the standard visitation order provides for:
- Weekend visitation with possession beginning at 6 p.m. on Friday and ending at 6 p.m. on Sunday for the first, third and fifth weekend of every month (the first weekend starts on the first Friday of the month).
- Midweek visitation on Thursdays during the school year with possession beginning at 6 p.m. and ending at 8 p.m. Notice that this is only during the school year. The Thursdays don’t apply during the Summer or holidays.
- As for school vacations and holidays, the schedule will be changed to accommodate vacation and holiday visitation. For example, for the school’s spring vacation, in even-numbered years, one parent begins visitation at 6:00 p.m. on the day the children leave school for the holiday and ends at 6:00 p.m. on the day before school is to resume. The other parent has the same vacation schedule in odd-numbered years. Thanksgiving is also split so that one parent has the entire holiday break one year and the other parent has it the next.
- For the summer break, the code establishes several possible scenarios for the parents depending on each parent giving notice to the other of dates they hope to have possession. If the visiting parent gives notice of their intended periods of summer possession by April 1st of that year, that parent may have possession of the child for thirty days. Those days may be continuous or may be broken into two parts of at least seven days each. If it is continuous, the other parent will be entitled to a weekend in the middle of the visiting parent’s extended Summer possession. If no notice is given by April 1st, then the visiting parent has possession for 30 days during the month of July beginning at 6:00 p.m. July 1st and ending at 6:00 p.m. on July 31st. The other parent may still elect a weekend in the middle of July.
Expanded Standard Possession
Expanded possession is available to a visiting parent who makes their election for the expanded periods of possession at or before the time of trial. It’s the same as regular standard visitation, but the times are extended. For instance, weekends under an expanded standard possession schedule generally start when school is released on Friday instead of 6:00 pm and end when school resumes on the following Monday, rather than 6:00 pm on Sunday. For the Thursday periods of possession during the school year, the visitation also starts when school is released on Thursday and ends when school resumes on Friday morning. So, as a practical matter, when the children are in school, the weekends effectively start on Thursday when school is released and end on Monday morning when school starts, though technically the other parent has possession during the day on Friday when the children are in school.
A Standard Possession/Visitation Order When Parents Live More than 100 Miles of Each Other
When parents live more than 100 miles of each other, the standard visitation order provides for:
- Either the first, third and fifth weekends of each month from 6:00 on Friday until 6:00 on Sunday or, at the visiting parent’s election, one weekend each month of that parent’s choice.
- No midweek visitation.
- Holiday schedule the same as for parents who live 100 miles or less from each other, with one exception. The visiting parent always gets spring break.
- Extended visitation in the summer of 42 days. The visiting parent may once again break up the extended summer possession into two parts. If the election of what part of the summer is not made, then the 42 days begins on June 15th and ends on July 27th. The other parent is once again entitled to one weekend in the middle of the extended summer period of possession, but if it is one long period of 42 days, the other parent will get to choose two weekends.
Enforcement of Visitation Orders
There are times when conflict between the parents interferes with visitation. Sometimes, a custodial parent will refuse to allow visitation claiming the noncustodial parent has not paid child support and will be barred from visiting until the support is paid. This is a violation of the Order. In fact, it presents two violations: failure to pay child support and failure to provide access to the child. Both may be enforceable by contempt (which can mean jail). Neither parent has the ability to use child support or visitation as weapons against the other. If child support is not paid, the remedy is to file a Motion for Enforcement, not withhold the child. By the same measure, if a parent doesn’t allow visitation, a Motion for Enforcement is appropriate, but not a decision to not pay support.
These are some of the basics. Visitation can take on a life of its own and can look like almost anything in the end. The time you spend with your children is important and they don’t stay this age for long. Every minute counts. We know. We’re parents, too. contact Jeff Anderson, an experienced Texas family law attorney to help you protect the relationship you have (or should have) with your children.