Child Custody and Visitation – In matters of child custody, the best interests of the child is the primary concern of the court. Judges strive to arrive at decisions that will result in the best outcome for the child, regardless of how the decision might impact the parents or how the parents might feel about the decision. The purpose of the child custody laws is to encourage frequent contact between a child and each parent in order to optimize the development of a close and continuing bond between the child and his or her parents.

In cases involving child custody issues, the court may appoint a managing conservator and a possessory conservator. A managing conservator is the parent who retains primary physical custody of the child. A possessory conservator is the non-custodial parent. Additionally, the court may appoint joint managing conservators. This means that the parents share joint physical custody of the child.

Pursuant to Texas law, courts may use the standard possession order unless the work schedule or other special circumstances of the managing conservator, the possessory conservator, or the child, or the year-round school schedule of the child, make it necessary to set other custody and visitation guidelines. The standard possession order sets forth a visitation schedule for situations in which the possessory conservator lives 100 miles or less from the child’s primary residence and for situations in which the possessory conservator lives more than 100 miles from the primary residence of the child.

If the court finds it necessary to set a visitation schedule that deviates from the standard possessory order, it will look at the following factors in determining what is appropriate:

  • the age, developmental status, circumstances, needs, and best interests of the child;
  • the circumstances of the managing conservator and of the parent named as a possessory conservator; and
  • any other relevant factor

If the court finds it necessary to limit or restrict the possessory conservator’s time with or access to a child, those restrictions or limitations may not exceed those that are required to protect the best interests of the child.

The standard possession order is meant for use when the child involved is three years of age or older. If a child is under three years of age, the court will enter an order that is appropriate under the circumstances. Additionally, the court will enter a prospective order, presumably the standard possession order, to go into effect on the date of the child’s third birthday.

In situations where the court appoints joint managing conservators, there is no requirement that parties be granted equal or nearly equal periods of physical custody of or access to the child. Furthermore, when a child reaches the age of twelve, he may file with the court in writing the name of the person who is his or her preference to have the exclusive right to designate the primary residence of the child, subject to the approval of the court.

The courts prefer for parties to reach an amicable settlement of the issues of custody and visitation. Therefore, parties are encouraged to resolve these issues without the assistance or intervention of the court and toenter into a written agreement which outlines the parenting plan and containing provisions for conservatorship and possession of the child and for modification of the parenting plan, including variations from the standard possession order. If the court determines that the parenting plan submitted by the parties is in the best interests of the child, it will enter an order adopting that parenting plan.