Experts agree that in most cases, children benefit from a continuing relationship with both parents, even if the parents are no longer in a relationship with each other. If you’re a noncustodial parent – meaning that your children don’t live with you – that means that visitation is very important, because you’ll be using that visitation time to build and maintain a relationship with your child. Take a look at some of the things that noncustodial parents in Texas need to know about visitation.
Agreeing on Visitation
In Texas, as in most other states, parents are given the opportunity to work out a visitation schedule that suits their individual needs and the needs of their children before a court intervenes. Regardless of the relationship between the parents, both parents are responsible for their children until they reach adulthood, and will likely have to collaborate, or at least cooperate, with each other on any number of parenting issues before that time. It’s usually better for everyone involved if parents can work together to come up with a reasonable visitation plan that suits their personal situation. Not only does this mean that the visitation schedule is more likely to be adhered to but it also speaks well of the parents’ ability to cooperate with each other future parenting issues.
In most cases, a visitation schedule that both parents agree on will be approved by a Texas family court, unless there’s some reason to believe that the schedule is not in the child’s best interests. Even when parents agree, it’s still important that both parents sign a written version of the visitation agreement and submit it to the court – that way there’s no argument later about what the agreement is, and it can be enforced if one parent violates the agreement. The same process should be followed when it comes to changes to the agreement.
When parents cannot agree on a visitation schedule between the two of them, Texas has a standard visitation schedule that the court can impose. What that standard visitation looks like depends largely on how far apart the parents live from each other.
When the noncustodial parent lives less than 100 miles from the child and the custodial parent, the noncustodial parent gets visitation every other weekend and on Thursday evenings. They can also have the child for up to 30 days during the summer, and for part of Christmas vacation, Thanksgiving weekend, Spring break, and the child’s birthday.
When the noncustodial parent lives more than 100 miles from the child and the custodial parent, the noncustodial parent gets visitation either every other weekend or for one weekend a month. Summer visitation can last for up to 42 days, but the child must be returned to the custodial parent at least 7 days before the start of the new school year. They may also have visitation during part of Christmas vacation, Thanksgiving weekend, Spring Break, and part of the day of the child’s birthday.
By setting out a standard visitation schedule, Texas family courts can take some of the arguments out of the visitation question for parents. Parents who can’t come to an agreement on their own will simply be asked to work with the standard visitation schedule, whether or not it’s what they prefer. Of course, family court judges do have the latitude to alter the standard schedule if doing so is in the best interests of the child. Even parents who prefer to work out their own visitation schedule may want to look at the standard schedule as a template or starting point, and then make changes in order to suit their individual needs. The standard schedule is designed to give the child and noncustodial parent ample opportunity to build and maintain a parent-child relationship without excessively disrupting the child’s routine or primary living arrangement.
Custodial parents do not have the right to deny a noncustodial parent court-ordered visitation unless they can show the court a good reason for doing so. Nonpayment of child support is not a valid reason for the custodial parent or the court to deny visitation to the noncustodial parent. That means that if you have a court-ordered visitation schedule in place, you have the right to ask the court to enforce that visitation schedule if the other parent violates it.
Generally, the courts ask that you make an effort to resolve visitation disputes with the other parent before going to court. You and the other parent can attend voluntary mediation to resolve disputes, or you can ask the court to sign an order sending both of you to mediation.
Some counties in Texas have domestic relations officers that can help enforce visitation orders. Domestic relations officers are not advocates for either parent; their job is to work with both parents to ensure that they comply with the existing order in place. Domestic relations officers may use tools like mediation, counseling, and parent education classes to help families resolve conflicts and comply with court orders. They can also help facilitate supervised visitations or neutral exchanges if necessary. Domestic relations officers can also file contempt of court charges if one parent refuses to comply with the visitation order even with the help of conflict resolution strategies.
In cases where parents still can’t come to an agreement or comply with the court order even after mediation or assistance from a domestic relations officer, the family court can change or modify the existing visitation order. The court can order supervised exchanges or exchanges that occur at a neutral place, and can also order the noncompliant parent to pay the expenses associated with these exchanges. In order to show the court that you need this type of modification to the visitation order, you’ll need to show a pattern of being denied access to your child at scheduled visitation times, so it can help to keep a journal documenting the time and date of these denials, as well as what happened and the names and contact information of any witnesses.
Getting a visitation order in place and enforcing it when necessary can require some knowledge of Texas family courts and the legal process. A legal resource group like National Family Solutions can help you find the information and documentation you need to assert your visitation rights in Texas.