In Texas, the standard possession order (which defines child custody and visitation unless a judge specifies otherwise) does not usually apply until age three. So custody arrangements for children under age three must be negotiated between the parents or imposed by the judge. Texas subscribes to the "joint managing conservatorship" and the "tender age" doctrines which outline that for children under age three, the primary parent should have full-time custody but that the other parent should have regular (several times a week) short visits.
Tender Age Doctrine
According to the tender age doctrine, the interests of a child under the age of three are best served by living full-time with the primary parent (or psychological parent). And practically speaking, in cases where both sides are seeking custody the mother is highly preferred by the court in almost all cases unless she has demonstrated malfeasance or poor parenting.
Typical Noncustodial Parent Visitation Schedule for a Child Under Three
In Texas, courts will typically set up a specific visitation schedule for the noncustodial parent if the parents do not negotiate it themselves. Visits for children under age three are usually shorter visits, for infants often just two- to four-hour visits, three or four times a week. After the child is six months old, visits are frequently lengthened to four to six hours; after the child is a year old, even an occasional overnight visit on the weekend will often be permitted.
Age of Switching to Standard Possession Order Visitation
While the standard possession order automatically takes effect at age three in Texas, the parties can negotiate to have it take effect later (or in rare cases earlier) or be phased in at age 4, 5 etc. All points of the standard possession order are negotiable, and it is typical that the parents try to modify the custody arrangements to fit their schedules. A typical example is the standard possession order specifying that the noncustodial parent has 30 days of custody in the summer. This is often negotiated to be two 15-day visits or even four one-week visits, whatever works best for both parents and the child.