If you’re the parent of a child for whom you do not have primary custody, it’s important to understand your right to see your child on a regular basis. Visitation is a separate issue from child custody, but it is equally vital for your child’s well being.
Around the country, parents have a legal right to seek visitation with their biological children. This is the case regardless of whether you are — or ever were — married to your child’s other parent. As in other matters regarding children, courts seek to determine what’s in the child’s best interests when it comes to visitation.
In most cases, courts determining visitation rights and schedules operate on the understanding that having both parents involved is best for the child.
The Importance of Establishing Paternity
The first step in gaining visitation with a child as a noncustodial parent is establishing paternity. Formal recognition of paternity is important because it builds a legal connection between you and your child. Your name appears on your child’s birth certificate, and it gives you the legal right to assist in providing care for your child.
For a child, there are clear benefits of having paternity legally established:
- A sense of identity and enhanced emotional bonding.
- The opportunity to get to know the father’s side of the family.
- Two parents with the ability to access school and medical records.
- Possible eligibility for benefits, including inheritances, Social Security, medical care and some veterans’ benefits.
For the noncustodial parent, establishing paternity is required before asking the court to order visitation.
In Texas, a child’s mother and father can voluntarily agree to establish paternity by signing a legal document. If either parent is not sure about the child’s paternity, it can be established through the courts; in this case, it’s best to seek assistance from a qualified family law attorney. If you’re summoned to court, it is important to attend, or both paternity and visitation may be established in your absence. Courts in Texas can make a paternity determination even without genetic testing.
Getting Visitation with Your Child
After paternity of a child is established in Texas, courts can make determinations for support, custody and visitation. Custody is legally known as “conservatorship,” and visitation is known as “periods of possession.” Texas law assumes that parents serve as “joint managing conservators,” meaning they share the duties and rights associated with parenting. In determining what’s best for a child, courts typically grant the rights and duties to both parents, resulting in a Standard Possession Order.
Under the standard order and when parents live within 100 miles of each other, the noncustodial parent has visitation with the child on the following schedule:
- The first, third and fifth weekends of each month.
- Thursday evenings every week during the school year.
- Alternating holidays.
- A longer period, typically a month, over summer vacation.
When parents live more than 100 miles from each other, weekend visitation may be reduced to once per month. The holiday schedule remains the same, but the mid-week visitation doesn’t occur. The noncustodial parent has visitation with the child over each spring break and for longer periods in the summer.
Courts can modify the Standard Possession Order to ensure the child’s best interests. In some cases, the court may issue a Modified Possession Order, which begins with shorter visits that increase to the time periods in the Standard Possession Order. A modified order might be used for a very young child or if the noncustodial parent has had a minimal relationship with the child previously.
Parents also have the ability to enter into their own agreement regarding possession and access of the child which the court will honor as long as it is in the best interest of the child.
A parent who is responsible for paying child support cannot refuse to do so because of a dispute over visitation. In addition, a custodial parent cannot ignore a court’s visitation order because the noncustodial parent is unable or unwilling to pay child support.