In many divorce and child custody cases, the most important issue decided is how much time each parent will get to spend with the child.
In these types of situations, if the parents are unable to come to an agreement on the duties they will have over the child and the schedule they will follow, the court must then make a ruling on which parent will be the “custodial” parent and which parent will be the “non-custodial” parent. The custodial parent determines the primary residence of the child and the non-custodial parent follows a possession schedule (discussed below).
In the state of Texas, the court system generally bases child visitation decisions on the child's best interests, which takes into account a large number of factors, which can include:
- Gender, age, grade level, and physical and emotional health of the child.
- Quality of the school districts in which the child will be located in
- Each parent’s:
- Physical and mental health
- Financial standing
- Stability of living situation
- Willingness to maintain a positive relationship between the child and the other parent
- Prior emotional ties between each parent and the child or children
- The child's wishes, if the child is over 12 years old
Possession and Access:
Possession and access refers to when the parents have physical custody of the children or when they can visit with the children. Texas has two statutory possession and access schedules: standard and extended standard. However, if parents can agree on a different visitation schedule, and it is in the best interest of the child, the court can order that schedule. If the schedule is part of the child custody agreement, any modification should be documented and submitted to the court for approval.
Standard Visitation Schedule:
This schedule is for the non-custodial parent (the parent without physical custody). This schedule is often the 1st, 3rd, and 5th weekends of each month. Other details include:
- Friday determines which weekend is the 1st, 3rd, or 5th.
- Each weekend begins at 6p.m. Friday and ends at 6p.m. Sunday.
- Every Thursday night from 6p.m.-8p.m.
- 30 Days in the Summer
- Dates/Holidays that alternate every year: Christmas, Thanksgiving, and spring break.
- The mother gets Mother’s Day weekend and the father gets Father’s Day weekend.
Extended Standard Visitation Schedule:
This schedule allows the non-custodial parent to extend the duration of the standard visitation schedule. This extension can be beneficial to increase the child’s bond with the non-custodial parent. This schedule includes extensions to the following:
- Weekends: The non-custodial parent can choose to pick up the child when school is dismissed on Friday and/or return the child when the child’s school resumes the following Monday.
- Thursdays: The non-custodial parent can choose to pick up the child when school is dismissed on Thursday and/or return the child when the child’s school resumes the following Friday.
- Holidays: Lengthens the time available due to holidays.
Children under 3 years old:
The state of Texas allows the non-custodial parent to have an increased number of visitation hours, but no overnight visits until the child reaches 3 years old.