What Are the Standard Texas Child Visitation Laws?
By Heather Frances J.D.
Updated March 30, 2020
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When parents divorce, the court must decide how to split their time with their children. This split is normally made through custody and visitation terms in their decree. In Texas, child custody is referred to as possession and access. Texas courts use a standard possession order rather than a standard visitation schedule.
Reasons for a Standard Order
Texas' standard possession order allows both parents to have equal possession and access while addressing a child's needs during the school year. The standard order is quite common, so lawyers and judges know how to interpret it. It avoids problems that may arise when an order seems clear at the time of the divorce, but it turns out to be vague or confusing later. For example, an order might say that a parent has every other weekend with his child, but questions can arise when parents disagree about who gets the first weekend or what happens when a parent misses a weekend.
Texas' standard possession order gives the first, third and fifth weekends to the non-custodial parent, called the nonprimary parent. Parents can choose whether they want the nonprimary parent to begin his weekend time at 6 p.m. on Friday, after school on Friday, or at some other time. Weekend time ends either at 6 p.m. on Sunday or when school starts on Monday morning. When a parent's weekend coincides with a holiday, the standard order can allow him to keep the child on the holiday too.
Holidays and Vacations
[Ref 3] Under the standard possession order, parents split holidays equally, alternating years. For example, if the mother gets to spend Thanksgiving with the child this year, the father gets to spend Thanksgiving with the child next year. Parents alternate having their child for spring break, except in situations where the nonprimary parent lives more than 100 miles away from the child. Under these circumstances, the nonprimary parent always gets spring break. The nonprimary parent gets 30 days with the child in the summer if he lives 100 miles or less away from the child. If he lives more than 100 miles away, he gets 42 days with the child.
Changing the Order
Texas believes the standard possession order is best in many situations, but the state recognizes it may not work for every family. Texas judges can deviate from the standard schedule when appropriate. For example, if the nonprimary parent works weekends, the court could design another arrangement to fit his work schedule. The parents can also change the terms of the order if they both agree. Ultimately, Texas courts are most concerned with designing an arrangement that is in the best interests of the child.
Heather Frances has been writing professionally since 2005. Her work has been published in law reviews, local newspapers and online. Frances holds a Bachelor of Arts in social studies education from the University of Wyoming and a Juris Doctor from Baylor University Law School.