As a parent and going through a divorce, chances are you will be sharing custody with your ex. This means the court is likely to address the question of possession of the children and set up a reasonable visitation schedule.
But you may be wondering, how does the court decide what are reasonable visitation rights? And what happens if your ex doesn’t hold up his or her end of the deal? So let’s learn a little more about your visitation rights as a parent.
What Does It Mean to Be a Conservator?
Have you been hearing the term “conservatorship” a lot lately? If so, it might be because the pop singer Britney Spears has been in the news, contesting her conservatorship.
However, Spears is a grown woman. Let’s briefly explain what it means to be a conservator in Texas, as the terms can be confusing. The State of Texas has two types of custody. Physical custody defines who the children will live with.
Legal custody means having the right to make important life decisions regarding the upbringing of the children. Often, the judge will give primary physical custody to only one person. The court refers to this person as the custodial parent. The other person, of course, is called the non-custodial parent.
However, Texas courts typically don’t use the word custody. Instead, they use the term conservatorship. The court calls the custodial parent the primary conservator, and the non-custodial parent the possessory conservator. The possessory conservator may not have decision-making authority but usually does have visitation rights.
How Does the Court Decide Who Gets Custody in Texas?
The Texas Family Code Section 153.002 states that the court shall make decisions about child custody and visitation based upon the best interests of the child. In an ideal scenario, it is the child’s best interest to spend equal time with both parents. In addition, both parents are equally involved in making decisions for the kids. The court calls this arrangement a Joint Managing Conservatorship.
Of course, in some situations, the judge will restrict the legal and physical custody and visitation rights of a parent. The court calls this arrangement a Sole Managing Conservatorship. This arrangement also can impact the parent’s visitation rights. The judge may require that the visits be supervised. In extreme cases, he or she may forbid any child visitation.
Reasonable Visitation Rights Should Be Flexible
As we mentioned, the State focuses on the child’s best interests. However, parents (usually) have a legal right to spend time with their child. And it is (usually) best for both parents to be involved in the child’s life.
Texas judges understand that one parent or both may have non-traditional schedules. For example, firefighters, police officers, and health care workers often work unusual schedules. In these cases, a strict custody and visitation schedule may not work.
Thus, courts are likely to give parents the opportunity to create their own parenting agreement. This allows the custodial and non-custodial parent to come up with a plan that is reasonable for both parties. If both parents can agree on a plan, they can submit it to the court for review. This plan may become part of the final visitation order.
What If the Parents Cannot Agree on Reasonable Visitation Rights?
The court wants parents to work together. But if they cannot, the court will develop a possession schedule for them, ensuring that the non-custodial parent will have time with the child.
The Texas Family Code has what is called a Standard Possession Order (SPO). This is the default possession order and visitation schedule in Texas. The typical SPO works like this:
- During the school year, children spend the first, third, and fifth weekend of each month with the noncustodial parent.
- They also spend one weeknight evening with the non-custodial parent during the school year.
The Standard Possession Order also covers visitation rights for summer and holidays.
Can a noncustodial parent request more time with his or her children? Yes. In this case, the parent can request a Texas Expanded Standard Possession Order (ESPO). In a typical ESPO, children also spend Thursday nights with the non-custodial parent. The child stays with this parent until Monday morning, following the regularly assigned weekends as well. The ESPO also addresses visitation during the holidays and summer vacation time.
What do Do If A Parent Is Not Following the Visitation Order
Unfortunately, divorcing parents do not always have an amicable relationship. Or parents who previously got along well may have a falling out. In these cases, the parent with primary custody of the child may act in spite, intentionally trying to punish the ex. For example, your ex decides to stop cooperating, making it difficult for you to spend time with your child.
If the custodial parent strays from the reasonable visitation rights you originally agreed to, you may need to modify the court order. As a Texas parent, you (usually) have a legal right to see your child. We recommend you consult with an experienced family law attorney who can help protect your parental rights. Read our recent blog, Enforcing a Court Order in Texas.
Don’t Let Temporary Visitation Rights Become Permanent
Life is unpredictable, and occasionally, parents end up having to adjust their visitation plan to accommodate unforeseen circumstances. One parent may end up caring for the children more or less than the court’s original possession schedule. This was a common occurrent last year, when many parents were struggling to cope with the pandemic. Some parents worked from home or had to work additional hours. Others had to home-school their kids. And many parents lost their jobs.
During the pandemic, these temporary adjustments may have gone on for several months. Parents who were now sharing equal custody time began to wonder why they were still paying child support. And primary conservator parents began to worry that they would lose custody. Some parents thought this might be a good time to request a legal change to the possession and visitation agreement.
Parents who have had a significant change in circumstances do have grounds to request a court order modification. However, even if you get a 50/50 custody arrangement in Texas, you may still need to pay child support. In these cases, we suggest you talk with a trusted lawyer. Read our recent blog, Does Being Unemployed Affect Child Custody?
How Long Does It Take to Get Visitation Rights Set Up?
Courts usually can establish visitation rights quicker if they can address them in conjunction with the divorce petition. The process also is likely to go quicker if you and your spouse can agree to a temporary possession and visitation schedule.
On the other hand, the court may need more time to address custody cases for parents who are not married. Again, the judge’s ability to establish reasonable visitation rights will be heavily influenced by how well the parents get along.
An attorney experienced in child custody issues can be very helpful in these situations. Sean Lynch + Associates have over twenty years of Family Law experience and have been voted Best Family Law Attorneys by Fort Worth Magazine five years in a row.
Texas Judges Cannot Make a Parent Visit His or Her Children
If the custodial parent is denying the other parent court-ordered visitations, the court may intervene to ensure that the parenting agreement is being followed. However, the court cannot force the non-custodial parent to spend time with his or her children.
Of course, in these situations, the children suffer the most. If a parent doesn’t show up for a visit, the kids may hold themselves responsible.
If the non-custodial parent routinely misses visitations, the primary conservator can petition the court to modify the visitation agreement. Unfortunately, limiting the other parent’s visits, even if they are inconsistent, may not be in the child’s best interests.
One more point: If your ex is consistently failing to visit the kids, try to be discreet. We recommend you resist criticizing him or her in front of your kids. You may have more success by meeting with a family counselor. Read our recent blog, How to Win Child Custody in Texas.
Have Questions About Visitation Rights in Texas?
Our family law lawyers in Fort Worth TX have the skills and experience to serve you. To schedule a no-cost case consultation, contact our firm by phone at 817-668-5879 or connect with us online.