Public policy in the state of Texas is to make sure that minor children have frequent and ongoing contact with both parents as long as the parents demonstrate the ability to act in the best interest of their children. Your right to visitation as a father are assured by statute, unless the court determines that visitation is detrimental to your child's mental or physical well-being.
Conservatorship and Visitation
To understand visitation rights, it's important to take note of how they fit within a conservatorship arrangement. By statute, the word "conservatorship" is used rather than "custody," although they have the same meaning. "Legal custody," which pertains to the right of one or both parents to make legal decisions for a minor child, is called "managing conservatorship." The term "physical custody" is synonymous with "possessory conservatorship."
Although a joint arrangement is presumed in the state of Texas if this is in the child's best interest, the law goes on to say that this does not guarantee that you and the child's mother will share time with the child equally. The parent who has the child most of the time and who provides the child's primary residence is called the "custodial parent." Generally speaking, the noncustodial parent--this may be the child's father--has visitation rights. "Visitation" simply refers to the amount of time that you spend with your child and when this time occurs.
Parenting Plans and Visitation
If you are a noncustodial parent, your visitation rights may conform to a standard possession order, established in Texas' Family Code--but not necessarily. It's helpful to think of the standard possession order as a "default setting" on which courts rely absent another arrangement agreed upon by you and the child's mother. In Texas, parents are encouraged to devise a parenting plan describing the type of conservatorship arrangement they desire, as well as their specific parental rights and duties. If you and your child's mother reach an accord and the court agrees that your parenting plan is in the best interest of your child, your visitation schedule may be quite different than that described by a standard possession order.
Standard Possession Order
Under a standard possession order, your visitation schedule as a noncustodial parent is fairly well defined. If you and the child's mother live within 100 miles of each other, you have your child every first, third and fifth weekend of each month. Visitation starts at 6 p.m. on Friday and ends at 6 p.m. on Sunday. You may also take possession of your child every Thursday from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. If you're the noncustodial parent, you also have another 30 days to spend with your child during the summer.
Holidays and Special Occasions
Visitation during holidays and school breaks is slightly more confusing. The Christmas holidays are divided into two parts: from the time a child gets out of school until December 26 at noon; and from this point until school starts again. Either you or the child's mother will take the child for the first part of the holidays and the other parent the second; the next year, schedules reverse. Thanksgiving is not divided into parts, but by even and odd years. You may, for example, have visitation with your child during Thanksgiving on odd years. The same applies to spring break.
If you don't already have possession of your child on Father's Day, you can see your child on this date. Similarly, the child's mother has the right to see the child on Mother's Day, even if this date falls during your visitation schedule. Whichever parent doesn't have possession of a child on his or her birthday is entitled to see the child from 6 to 8 p.m.
Other Visitation Issues
If you and the child's mother live more than 100 miles apart, your visitation rights under a standard possession order will be slightly different. You have less access to your child during any one month; however, this is offset by increased visitation time during the summer and school breaks. Ultimately, the court is guided by what it feels is in your child's best interest. For example, in the case of newborns and infants who are still breastfeeding, your visitation rights may be abbreviated until the child reaches the age of three. If you have questions about your visitation rights as a father or have problems enforcing your rights, please seek advice from an attorney.
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