Visitation rights, in a divorce or child custody action, refer to the permission a court grants to the non-custodial parent to be with his or her child/children at times that have been agreed upon by both parents or determined by the court (courts, however, rather prefer that schedule of visitation be decided by both parents).

Visitation rights, once approved by a court, should be respected and observed by both the custodial and non-custodial parents (in Texas, particularly, the terms used to refer to parental custody are “sole managing conservatorship” for parents who have sole custody, and parents with “possessory conservatorship” for non-custodial parents). In situations wherein a custodial parent denies his or her former partner the right to visit their child/children, the non-custodial parent gains the right to request the court for a modification in the child custody decision.

A court has the authority to grant or deny visitation rights to a parent with sole or partial custody. Denial of this right becomes necessary if spending time with the non-custodial parent would only negatively impact the child’s growth and development. This is most likely the case if the non-custodial parent would be proven as unfit, meaning, that such parent is abusive, dependent on illegal drugs or alcohol, would expose the child to immoral and/or illegal activities, has the tendency of abandoning the child, or using of excessive, unnecessary discipline.

To make sure that ‘fit’ non-custodial parents are given time with their child/children, some states determine specific days when parent and child/children can spend bonding moments. The Texas state legislature, for example, has adopted what is known as the “Standard Possession Order.” Under this rule, the non-custodial parent may see his or her child/children:

  • A couple of hours every Thursday night
  • On the first, third and fifth weekends of each month
  • On alternating holidays
  • At least one month in the summer

“The SPO tells the parents where the exchanges of the child will take place, where the child will spend the holidays, and has special rules for parents who live more than 100 miles apart. The court does not have to follow the SPO if a child is under three years old or if the SPO is not in the best interest of the child.”

As stipulated in the website of The Maynard Law Firm, PLLC, there are times when the SPO will need to be crafted to work around parents with non-typical work schedules and for other reason that are in the best interest of the children. The legality of this issue often requires the assistance of attorneys who are adept in visitation rights and custody laws to make sure that no laws will be violated by both parents and that the changes agreed upon will not compromise the best interest of the child. If the parents, however, will fail to arrive at an agreeable new schedule of visitation, then they will just have to follow the SPO.

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Types of Child Custody

Part of the divorce proceedings is the decision for custody of a child. In most cases, child custody is decided or agreed by both parents without the necessary intervention of the court. However there are instances where both parents cannot come to an agreement, therefore the court can then help decide the custody of the child, along with the possible child support and visitation rights.

Child custody can fall into legal, joint or physical, or a variety of the two, depending on the agreement of both parents or the decision of the court. According to the website of the BB Law Group PLLC in The Woodlands, it is important for parents to understand the differences between legal custody and physical custody so as to avoid complications in visitations and child support. Many lawyers specialize in divorce and child custody cases, therefore they can help in understanding these differences in order to prevent any custody battles in the future.

Legal custody refers to the right and responsibility of a parent to decide for the upbringing of the child. These decisions often include school religion, medical care, and many others. Most states generally implement shared or joint legal custody of the child to both the parents, therefore ensuring that both parents have shared decisions about the wellbeing and upbringing of the child. Meanwhile, physical custody means that one parent with have the child living with them, while the other parent will be given visitation rights. Joint physical custody happens when both parents have equal share of spending time with the child.

Sole custody means only one parent has the legal custody or physical custody of the child, and this usually happens when one parent is deemed by the court as unfit (such as where that parent is an alcoholic, drug abuser, neglectful, or has been physically violent in the past). When sole physical custody is awarded to one parent, the non-custodial parent will have ample visitation rights (as agreed upon by both parties and the court). Many states award sole physical custody to one parent but give legal custody to both parents in order to give both parents equal say in their child’s future.

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