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Child Visitation & Possession Orders

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In Texas, a visitation order is called a “possession order.” This article tells you about possession orders, including how get or change a possession order. SAMPLE POSSESSION ORDER FORMS ARE INCLUDED.

What is a possession order?

A possession order says when each parent (or sometimes a nonparent) has the right to time with a child. 

There are several types of possession orders in Texas:

  • Standard Possession Order
  • Modified Possession Orders
  • Possession Orders for a Child Under 3
  • Supervised Possession Orders

What is the Standard Possession Order?

In Texas, the law presumes that the Standard Possession Order is in the best interest of a child age 3 or older. See Texas Family Code chapter 153.252.

The Standard Possession Order says that the parents may have possession of the child whenever they both agree. The Standard Possession Order says that if the parents don’t agree, the noncustodial parent has the right to possession of the child at these times:

When the parents live within 100 miles of each other, the noncustodial parent has the right to possession:

  • 1st, 3rd and 5th weekends of every month,

  • Thursday evenings during the school year,

  • alternating holidays, and

  • an extended period of time (30 days) during summer vacation.

When the parents live more than 100 miles apart:

  • the weekend schedule may be the same or reduced to one weekend per month,

  • there is no mid-week visit,

  • holidays are the same, and

  • the non-custodial parent has the child a longer period of time (42 days) during summer vacation and every spring break.

See Texas Family Code Chapter 153.313.

This is a Standard Possession Order form.

If a judge has already ordered standard visitation, you can use this online tool to make a visitation calendar based on your order:

Make a Visitation Calendar

What is a Modified Possession Order?

You and the other parent (or the judge, if your case is contested) may decide that the Standard Possession Order is unworkable or inappropriate for your family. A modified possession order is anything different from the Standard Possession Order. Talk to a lawyer if you need help writing a modified possession order. A lawyer can help you write a possession order that meets the specific needs of your family. Here are some sample modified possession orders:

What is a Possession Order for a child under age three?

The legal presumption that the Standard Possession Order is in a child’s best interest does not apply when a child is younger than three years old. See Texas Family Code chapter 153.251(d).

If your child is under three, you and the other parent may still agree to use the Standard Possession Order. Or you may agree to use a different possession schedule. If you and the other parent cannot agree on a schedule, the judge will make an order based on all relevant factors, including those listed in Texas Family Code Section 153.254.

You can find helpful information about possession schedules for children under three, including sample schedules, at Informal (Out-of-Court) Agreements for Children from Birth to 3 Years Old.

Talk to a lawyer if you need help writing a possession order for a child under three.

TIP: Make sure your order also says what will happen after your child turns three.

What is a Supervised Possession Order?

If the judge is concerned about the safety of a child, the judge can order that a parent’s time with a child be supervised. The judge may order that the parent’s time be supervised by a family member, neutral third party or agency. If a private agency is used, the visiting parent may be responsible for paying the agency’s fees. The Texas Attorney General has an online directory of community services available to families to facilitate shared parenting after separation or divorce. The directory includes supervised visitation centers: www.texasattorneygeneral.gov/cs/access-and-visitation-help

Here is a sample supervised possession order:

Although rare, a judge may also order that a parent have no visits. This option is used when visiting with the parent, even with supervision, would be physically or emotionally harmful to the child.

Note: It’s important to talk with a lawyer, if you are concerned about your child’s safety with the other parent.  

Will the judge consider family violence when making visitation decisions in my case?

Yes. The law says that Texas judges must consider evidence of family violence when making decisions about custody and visitation. See Texas Family Code chapters 153.004 and 153.005.

If the other parent has been violent or abusive, it’s important to talk with a lawyer about your case. You may be entitled to free legal help. Call one of the organizations listed below for more information:

  • National Domestic Violence 24 Hour Hotline at (800) 799-SAFE (7233) or
  • Texas Legal Services Center's Crime Victims Program at (888) 343-4414.

In an emergency, please call 911. Find out more in the Protection From Violence or Abuse section of this website.

 

 

How can I get a possession order?

A possession order can be ordered by a judge as part of a:

  • divorce case,
  • suit affecting the parent-child relationship case (SAPCR case),
  • paternity case, or
  • family violence protective order case.

A possession order can be changed by a judge in a modification case.

Are there do-it-yourself forms I can use to ask for a visitation or possession order?

Yes. TexasLawHelp.org has toolkits with instructions and do-it-yourself forms you can use to ask for a possession order. Note: The instructions are written for uncontested cases (agreed or default). If your case is contested, it’s best to hire a lawyer or apply for help from the Texas Attorney General Child Support Division.

  • Use this toolkit if you and the other parent are married and want a divorce: I need a divorce. We have minor children. The judge will make custody, possession, child support and medical support orders in your divorce.
  • Use this toolkit if (1) you and the other parent are not married (or don’t want a divorce) and (2) you and the other parent have signed an Acknowledgment of Paternity: I need a SAPCR (custody) order. I am the child’s parent. The judge will make custody, possession, child support and medical support orders in the custody case.
  • Use this toolkit if (1) you and the other parent are not married and (2) you and the other parent have NOT signed an Acknowledgment of Paternity: I need a paternity order. The judge will make custody, possession, child support and medical support orders in the paternity case.
  • Use this toolkit if (1) you are not the child’s parent and (2) there are no court orders about the child already in place: I need a SAPCR (custody) order. I am not the child’s parent. The judge will make custody, possession, child support and medical support orders in the custody case.
  • Use this toolkit if there is already an existing court order: I need to change a custody, visitation or support order. The judge can change possession/visitation orders in the modification case.

If you need help choosing the correct toolkit, use Ask a Question to chat with a law student or lawyer online.

If you need a family violence protective order call the National Domestic Violence 24 Hour Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). They can refer you to help in your community.

Can anyone help me get a possession order?

You can hire a private lawyer or apply for legal aid if you need help. You can use our Legal Help Finder tool to search for a lawyer referral service or free legal aid program in your area.

Or, you can open a case with the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) Child Support Division. Although the OAG cannot represent you, the OAG may be able to help you get a custody, visitation, child support (including back child support) and medical support order. For information about opening a case with the OAG, call 1-800-255-8014 or go to its website: Texas Attorney General Child Support Division

If there has been family violence, get information about working with the OAG safely here: www.getchildsupportsafely.org

How do I change an existing possession order?

A parent (or sometimes a nonparent) can ask a judge to change an existing visitation or possession order by filing a modification case. Get instructions and do-it-yourself forms here: I need to change a custody, visitation or support order.

I already have court ordered visitation. What should I do?

  1. Get a copy of your court order and read it. If you do not have a copy, you can get one from the district clerk’s office in the county where the order was made.
  2. Get a copy of your child’s school calendar for the current school year.
  3. If you have standard visitation, use this online tool to make a calendar for you and the other parent that lists all the visitation weekends, holidays, and summer vacation: Make a Visitation Calendar
  4. Learn about co-parenting your children. Get information and resources here: www.txaccess.org/co-parenting/
  5. If you are concerned about the other parent following the possession order, print out a Visitation Journal to keep track of your visits.
  6. If you have questions, call the Access and Visitation Hotline at 1(866) 292-4636 (toll free) or go to their website: www.TxAccess.org.

What if I have court ordered visitation, but the other parent isn’t letting me visit?

For information about how to enforce your visitation or possession order, call the Access and Visitation Hotline at 1(866) 292-4636 (toll free) or go to their website: www.TxAccess.org.

Do I have to let the other parent visit if he or she stops paying child support?

YES! You can be held in contempt for not allowing court ordered visits.

It’s also important for your child’s development and self-esteem to spend time with both parents.  

If you are concerned about your child’s safety with the other parent, you can ask the judge to change the visitation order by filing a modification case.

Where can I learn about co-parenting our children?

Co-parenting (sometimes called “shared parenting”) is when both parents work together as a team to raise their children. Get information about co-parenting here: www.txaccess.org/co-parenting/

Where can I read the law about custody and visitation?

Read the law about custody (conservatorship) and visitation (possession and access) in Chapter 153 of the Texas Family Code.