As a parent, you must know how to protect your family law rights. Whether you have primary custody of your child or you have visitation rights, it is crucial that you have a basic understanding of the Texas child custody and visitation laws.

In this article, our top-rated Austin child custody attorney offers a comprehensive overview of child visitation laws in Texas. If you have any questions or concerns about visitation, child and custody agreements, child support, or any other family law issues, please do not hesitate to contact our law firm for fully confidential legal guidance.

Know the Terms: Conservatorship, Possession, and Access

Our state’s child custody and visitation laws are under Chapter 153 of the Family Code. One of the many confusing things about Texas law is that the popular terms ‘custody’ and ‘visitation’ are not technically used in legal parlance. The general concepts certainly do still exist, but the state of Texas has its own terms. The terms that you should know include:

 Conservatorship: A conservatorship is a term used to note specific parental rights. Essentially, this term is used instead of the word ‘custody’. If you have a conservatorship over your child, you have at least some parental rights. However, there are several different types of conservatorships. Parents are often appointed as joint managing conservators (JMCs). In effect, this means that they have shared custody. If a parent is granted sole managing conservatorship (SMC), which is not often done, they will have sole custody. Even with shared custody, one parent may be granted primary physical custody, meaning they will be the child’s primary joint managing conservator, whereas the noncustodial parent will be referred to as a possessory conservator.

 Possession and Access: Instead of using the term ‘visitation’, the Texas family code uses ‘possession’ and ‘access’. Under state law, parents will generally either agree to a possession and access schedule (visitation schedules) or a family law court will set up this schedule. This schedule is a key part of any successful parenting plan as it will set up the basic structure for how child visitation will work in your specific case.

Understanding the Standard Possession Order (SPO)

In Texas, family law courts will assume that a so-called ‘Standard Possession Order’ or SPO is in the best interests of any child who is three years old or older. An SPO has two important basic elements:

First, this order says that a parent can have possession of a child when both parents agree that they should have possession. With the SPO in place, parents who can work together have considerable latitude to make their own decisions regarding joint custody and child visitation.

In addition to determining custody, the Standard Possession Order outlines very specific times for when a child should be with the non-custodial parent; in other words, when the child should be with the parent with visitation rights. When parents live within 100 miles of each other, the visiting parent is assumed to get:

● Every other weekend;
● Thursday nights;
● Alternating holidays; and
● At least one 30-day period during the summer.

When parents live more than 100 miles apart, the legal presumption is the non-custodial parent will have somewhat less time with the child. To be clear, the Standard Possession Order creates a rebuttable assumption. While it is assumed that this will go into place, it does not have to be that way in every case.

Visitation Agreements Can Be Individually Crafted

It is important that Texas parents recognize that visitation schedules and shared parenting plans can be individually crafted. Every family is different and each family has its own unique set of needs. A visitation and parent-child relationship schedule that works great for the family up the road may be wholly ineffective for your family.

If your family has specialized concerns regarding child custody agreement visitation, the best option is typically to try to work out a mutually agreeable visitation schedule. Texas family law courts are willing to give parents considerable deference when they can reach an agreement on their own. If you are negotiating a child custody or visitation agreement in Texas, you should be represented by an experienced Austin child custody attorney who can protect your parental rights.

Modification of a Visitation Order

Reaching an agreement on a child visitation schedule can create great relief. As the logistics can be very challenging to sort out, having the additional stability that a clear, well-constructed child visitation schedule can bring to your life can be comforting. Unfortunately, a child visitation order/schedule may not work forever. Life brings changes. The child visitation schedule that worked so well three years ago may be inappropriate today. The good news is that Texas allows parents to seek a modification of their visitation schedule if there has been a substantial change in circumstances.

The most simple way to get a modification of a visitation order/agreement is to create a revised schedule that both parents support. Of course, this is not always achievable. Under Texas law, it is sometimes possible for one parent to get a visitation modification over the other parent’s objections. If you have any questions or concerns about changing your visitation order or are locked in a dispute over a modification, you should speak to an experienced Austin custody order modification lawyer as soon as possible.


At the Law Office of Ben Carrasco PLLC, our skilled Texas child custody lawyer has extensive experience representing parents and other family members in the full range of child visitation cases. If you need child visitation help in Texas, our law firm is ready to protect your rights.

To arrange a fully private review of your child’s visitation case, please do not hesitate to contact us today at 512.320.9126. From our law office in the heart of Austin, we serve clients in communities throughout the region, including Travis County, Hays County, Caldwell County, Bastrop County, and Williamson County.

FAQs on Child Visitation Laws in Texas

1. What does Texas law say about child visitation?

In Texas, child visitation rights are typically granted to the noncustodial parent unless it is determined to be against the child’s best interest. The visitation schedule is typically based on the Texas Standard Possession Order (SPO) unless the parents agree to a different schedule or the court orders otherwise.

2. What is a Texas Standard Possession Order (SPO)?

The Texas Standard Possession Order (SPO) outlines a visitation schedule for parents living within 100 miles of each other. It details when the noncustodial parent can access the child, including every first, third, and fifth weekend of the month, Thursday evenings during the school year, and extended time during summer vacation and spring break.

3. Can a noncustodial parent refuse to return the child after visitation in Texas?

No, a noncustodial parent cannot refuse to return a child after visitation. Doing so violates Texas law and the custodial parent can seek a court order to return the child.

4. What happens if the custodial parent denies visitation?

Denying court-ordered visitation can lead to legal consequences, including contempt of court. If you’re denied visitation, document each incident and consult with a legal representative.

5. Can visitation rights be changed in Texas?

Visitation orders can be modified if it’s in the child’s best interest. The parent seeking the modification must show a significant change in circumstances since the last order.

6. Can the noncustodial parent waive visitation rights?

Yes, noncustodial parents can choose not to exercise their visitation rights. However, they cannot waive their obligation to pay child support.

7. How does supervised visitation work in Texas?

Sometimes, the court may order supervised visitation to ensure the child’s safety. This means a neutral third party, like a family member or a parenting time specialist, must be present during visits.

8. Can a child refuse visitation in Texas?

In Texas, a child aged 12 or older can express their preference to the court. However, the court will ultimately base its decision on the child’s best interests, not just the child’s preference.

9. How far apart can parents live and still have visitation in Texas?

If parents live more than 100 miles apart, the standard possession order changes to accommodate the distance. This typically includes one-weekend visit per month and longer visits over school holidays.

10. Can visitation be denied if child support isn’t paid in Texas?

Visitation cannot be denied if a parent fails to pay child support. The Texas Attorney General states that visitation and child support are separate legal issues.

Remember, these FAQs provide general information. It’s best to consult Family Law Attorney Ben Carrasco for advice on specific visitation issues.