Possession Of And Access To A Child - Visitation

Sec. 153.001. PUBLIC POLICY.

(a) The public policy of this state is to:

(1) assure that children will have frequent and continuing contact with parents who have shown the ability to act in the best interest of the child;

(2) provide a safe, stable, and nonviolent environment for the child; and

(3) encourage parents to share in the rights and duties of raising their child after the parents have separated or dissolved their marriage.

(b) A court may not render an order that conditions the right of a conservator to possession of or access to a child on the payment of child support.

WORDS AND DEFINITIONS

The State of Texas has rejected the concept of “visiting with” one’s child[ren]. One may “visit” one’s children after they are adults and have separate lives, but during their formative years, one does not “visit with” one’s child[ren]. So, Texas speaks in terms of “access to and possession of” a child for the purpose of fostering a close and enduring relationship with the child and instilling one’s values in the child by word and example.

ACCESS TO AND POSSESSION OF A CHILD IN TEXAS

I am frequently asked questions about why Texas access and possession orders are so detailed when other states sometimes have a one-line statement about access to and possession of a child. One of the reasons appears to be the difference in the way possession orders are handled after the final order is signed in other jurisdictions. In some jurisdictions, post-order enforcement appears to be administrative in nature; i.e., special masters or magistrates with limited powers seem to handle disputes in short order and with little notice to the parents. Failure to follow the orders of this intermediate judicial official then becomes the real violation for which punishment is meted out if one fails to obey the specific order of this administrative judge.

Texas is much more rigid in its view of the powers invested in a court. Texas has historically limited the role of its judiciary. This, historically, grew out of the experiences of those who founded Texas, who came from states where the judiciary was extremely biased in favor of big business. With the memory that fear in the forefront of their minds, the framers of our State Constitution sought to place firm limits on the powers of the courts to disenfranchise Texas citizens as it pertains to their property or their children. Our Constitution, statutes and case law accomplish this objective by requiring a high degree of specificity in court orders before a citizen can be deprived of his/her liberty for violation of an order. As a result of this philosophy, our possession orders are long and very detailed.

STANDARD POSSESSION ORDERS

In short, the Texas Standard Possession Orders provides for the following periods of access to and possession of a child by a parent:

● the first, third and fifth weekends of each month from 6:00 p.m. on Friday until 6:00 p.m. on the following Sunday;
● Thursday of each week from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m.
● 30 days in the summer
● Spring Break in alternate even/odd years (from 6:00 p.m. on the Friday on which school lets out for Spring Break and ending at 6:00 p.m. on the Sunday before school resumes)
● Thanksgiving in alternate even/odd years (from 6:00 on the day on which school lets out for the Thanksgiving Break and ending at 6:00 p.m. on the Sunday before school resumes)
● Christmas Vacation in alternate even/odd years:
● from the time school lets out for the Christmas Vacation until 12:00 o’clock noon on December 28th; OR
● from 12:00 o’clock noon on December 28th until 6:00 p.m. on the day before school resumes after the Christmas Vacation.

EXPANDED STANDARD POSSESSION ORDERS

If the non-custodial parent elected in writing or on the record in open court, except upon proof that such an expansion of additional time will likely be against the best interests of the child, a parent may receive the following extra time during his/her periods of access to and possession of the child:
● the first, third and fifth weekends of each month from the time school lets out on Friday until the time school resumes on the Monday following;
● Thursday of each week from the time school lets out until the time school resumes on Friday morning.

With the extension of time contained in the Modified Standard Possession Order, the non-custodial parent ends up with 42.5% of the child’s time each month.

SPECIALIZED POSSESSION ORDERS

Parents often chafe at the imposition of either the Standard Possession Order or the Expanded Standard Possession Order. Parents often want Possession Orders which accommodate the realities of their lives, as the realities of shift workers, members of the armed services, and others simply do not work with either the Standard or Expanded Standard Possession Order dictated by our Legislature. Parents often proffer other Specialized Possession Orders upon which they have agreed to the Court. So long as the implementing language of the Specialized Possession Orders is sufficiently well written to accommodate the court’s need to be able to enforce its own orders, the courts will generally approve those orders, especially if the implementing order grows out of a Mediated Settlement Agreement on file with the Court. This is, of course, a general statement and any court of competent jurisdiction can refuse to enter an order which it finds unenforceable or which it finds is not in the best interests of the child the subject of the suit.

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