When a parent does not have primary custody of their child, it does not mean they are without rights. Every parent in Texas has rights, regardless of how much time they have with their children and whether the children live with them. The custodial parent must respect these rights under the possibility of penalty from the court. Here is an explanation of the rights that Texas non-custodial parents have.
In Texas, the non-custodial parent is referred to legally as the “possessory conservator.” Any parent can be the possessory conservator, depending on the realities of their relationship with the child. In only about 10 percent of cases in Texas, the mother is the possessory conservator. Texas custody cases begin with the presumption of joint conservatorship, but the parents could always agree on a different arrangement, or a court could order it.
The parent with primary custody is referred to as the “managing conservator.” They are the one who will be with the child the bulk of the time, and they will make major decisions concerning the child’s health and welfare.
The Non-Custodial Parent Has Visitation Rights with Their Child
The primary right of the possessory conservator is visitation with their child. The parents may agree on a custodial schedule as part of the divorce agreement. The managing conservator must stick to that visitation schedule unless there is a legal order to change it. Texas law provides for a standard visitation schedule that would apply unless the parents negotiate something different. These visitation rights are as follows:
- Visitation on the first, third, and fifth weekends of every month
- Visitation on Thursday evenings each week
- Alternating holidays (such as Thanksgiving every other year)
- An extended period of time (30 days) during the summer vacation
These are the rules that apply when the parents live within 100 miles of each other. If they live more than 100 miles apart, different rules apply that allow for fewer but longer visits with the non-custodial parent in order to try and make up some of the time for that parent to spend with their children. This visitation schedule would be as follows:
- The same weekend schedule as listed above, or it can be reduced to one weekend per month
- No mid-week visitation
- Alternating holiday schedules remain the same as above
- The non-custodial parent has the child(ren) every spring break and for a longer extended period in the summer (42 days)
The parent with visitation rights must return the child to the other parent as specified in the conservatorship agreement. Usually, the two parents will have negotiated where and when the children are to be picked up and dropped off with the other parent. The possessory conservator risks losing their visitation rights if they do not return the children in time.
Other Legal Rights of The Non-Custodial Parent
In addition, the possessory conservator has the legal right to know the whereabouts of the child. Further, the noncustodial parent must also be informed of the health, education, and welfare of the child. They should also confer with the other parent, to the fullest extent possible, before that parent makes any decisions concerning the health, education, or welfare of the child. They can also consult with the child’s doctors and obtain healthcare records when necessary. Finally, the noncustodial parent also has the right to attend school activities.
Even though the possessory conservator does not have primary physical custody, they may still take action to enforce their rights if they are being violated. If the other parent will not allow them their visitation in accordance with the schedule, the possessory conservator may seek a contempt of court charge against the other parent. The failure to abide by visitation may even be grounds for changing the custody order and either allowing more time with the other parent or changing physical custody altogether.
Parental Rights Are Independent of Child Support Payments
Although the possessory conservator may be obligated to pay child support, their right to visit with their child is not dependent on making those payments. Child support is a right that belongs to the child, while visitation is a right that belongs to the parent, and the two are considered separate and apart. While the parent may face other consequences from the court for a failure to pay child support, they may still see their child even if they are in arrears.
When one parent has primary custody, circumstances may change over time. A parent may petition the court for additional visitation time, or they may even seek a modification to the order to gain primary physical custody themself. However, in order to modify a child custody order, a parent must show that there was a significant change in circumstances. It is a high burden the parent must carry.
There are a multitude of considerations when you are negotiating a child custody agreement. If you are going through a divorce, you should contact an experienced family law attorney to discuss your options. If you are considering a modification, you should always get the help of a Texas child custody lawyer before you make a filing with the court.