Frequently Asked Questions
Some children find it hard to go from one parent’s home to the other, and they express these feelings through their behavior. There are many reasons children say they do not want to spend time with the other parent. Some reasons have to do with a child’s age and personality, while others react to how their parents get along. How a parent is reacting can also affect whether the child or teen wants to see the other parent. Toddlers, for example, may not understand what is happening at exchange time, and they may cry when they leave one parent.
Many kids fuss when they go back and forth between parents. This is a natural reaction, and most children calm down once they are distracted with a fun activity. Sometimes children just don’t want to stop doing what they are doing because they’re having fun. Other children may not have settled into a new environment, and they would rather stay in a home and a neighborhood that they know. Parents can help children adjust by understanding their feelings, but requiring that they spend time with the other parent, just as a parent the child is required to go to school.
Sometimes, family counseling can help parents and children deal with problems they are facing. Trained professionals may be able to take a fresh look and will see patterns and behaviors that parents cannot. For example, some children may have serious problems getting used to a parent’s new partner and his or her children. Children who are caught in the middle of their parents’ conflict may take sides and refuse to follow the parent or judge’s instructions about spending time with the other parent. In situations like this, professional help is usually necessary. If there are concerns that the children don’t want to go because they’re being abused or neglected, contact Child Protective Services.
The court order is your fall back schedule when you and the other parent don’t agree. If you both can agree to temporarily change the plan, there’s no need to return to court. Children’s needs change as they grow. Children’s schedules change as they move from pre-school, elementary, and middle school and into high school. The courts encourage cooperation and flexibility in developing plans to ensure regular, consistent contact with both parents. When you and the other parent cannot agree, then the court order is the fall back plan you both must follow.
If you need help coming up with a plan that works for both of you, read about mediation and mediation alternatives here. A trained mediator can help both parents focus on the interests of the children and resolve outstanding issues that may be keeping you from reaching a solution. Parents may attend mediation voluntarily or may ask the court to order the parties into mediation.
If the other parent keeps you from spending time with your child on the days and times listed in your court order, you may want to modify your order. This involves filing a motion with a court, and having a hearing in front of a judge. The other parent must be served with the motion and given notice of the hearing. At the hearing, you can explain to the judge why the visitation schedule is not working, and request a new order. You may use a mediator to work out the terms of the new schedule, and submit that to the court or the court may order you both into mediation. Many courts have a separate docket for agreed orders, which gets the new schedule into a court order more quickly than the contested (you don’t agree) docket.
If you need help reaching an agreement, read about mediation and mediation alternatives here.
Parents may agree to exchange the children at a midway point. If parents do not agree, then each parent must follow the court order. Check your court order for details. Many court orders specify the parents’ homes or use the children’s school as the pick-up and drop-off point.
Most Texas court orders involving children require both parents to keep each other and the court informed about their current residence and place of employment. A court order that outlines visitation may have identification information that could be helpful in trying to locate your child. Obtain a copy of the court order from the district court clerk in the county where a decree was issued or paternity was established.
If the other parent moves without notifying you, or if the other parent disappeared with the child or is intentionally hiding the child, contact an attorney about your options. You may also need the assistance of a private detective or law enforcement officials. If you do not have an attorney, call the Access and Visitation Hotline at 1 (866) 292-4636 from 1 – 7 p.m., Monday through Friday, and speak with a parenting time specialist for more information. Follow the link to learn more about hiring an attorney.
Locate services are available from the OAG to individuals who are not receiving full child support services, but who request help in locating a parent. The OAG does not release address or other contact information.
You may apply for State Parent Locator Service if you are:
• the custodial parent with physical possession of the child(ren);
• a person (other than a parent) who, for at least the past six months, has had physical possession of the child(ren);
• the legal guardian or managing conservator with legal custody of the child(ren);
• a judge or agent of a court with jurisdiction over the paternity and/or support case;
• a court with jurisdiction to enforce custody or visitation; or
• the attorney of the child (ren) for whom paternity and/or support is sought.
Complete the application and send it to:
Office of the Attorney General
Child Support Division – MC 036
State Parent Locate Service
P.O. Box 12400
Austin, TX 78711-2400
Most Texas court orders involving children require both parents to keep each other and the court informed, in writing, about their current residence and place of employment. Not all parents follow the court order and violations are enforceable through the court. Filing a motion with the court requires letting the other parent know about the pending action.
Court orders in cases involving family violence may not have this requirement to notify the parent about a change in residence or current contact information for safety reasons.
If you cannot pick up your children when it is your time for possession, you must notify the custodial parent ahead of time. Virtually all visitation orders allow parents to swap weekends, or make any other visitation arrangements they wish, as long as both parents agree. If both parents cannot agree on a change, then that visitation period is lost.
Parents who must work during their weekends can offer additional time to the other parent or offer to swap weekends. The other parent is not required to change or accept the additional time or weekends. Children benefit when parents are flexible and able to work out mutually agreeable swaps.
Check your court order to see if moving is restricted. In general, if you move less than 100 miles away from your child, your visitation will not change.
If you have the standard possession order AND a parent moves more than 100 miles away from your child, then you may have the option of changing to one weekend a month instead of every 1st, 3rd, and 5th weekend. Some parents continue the 1st, 3rd, and 5th weekend if time and money allow. Summer visitation will become longer (from about 30 days to about 42 days) and you will get possession of your child every year during spring break rather than every other year. You may have to give up your weekday visits.
If the alternate schedule works better for you, you have 90 days after you move to give the other parent notice that you have moved, and that you intend to exercise the alternate possession schedule.
Unless the court order has a different requirement, you may have to drive to the custodial parent’s house to pick up and drop off your child (unless you and the other parent make another arrangement). The costs of transportation, including flying, can be addressed in the court order. Some orders require the parent that is moving to pay all costs, and other orders require the parents to divide the costs equally or in proportion to their incomes.
How will the move affect your child? Moving may reduce the time you can spend with your child. There are ways to fill this gap, such as scheduling time every week or so to talk to your child on the phone, or online. If you schedule a time to communicate, follow through to keep from disappointing your child. Most importantly, make sure your child understands why you are moving and that you still want to be an involved parent.
A current protective order (not expired) addressing parenting time or visitation takes precedence over another court order. If you have a protective order that addressed parenting time and the protective order has expired, another valid order is the controlling order. If you have a current order giving you visitation rights or access to your child, an expired protective order does not affect those rights.
If there is no court order, an expired protective order is evidence of a history or pattern of family violence. If the protective order is less than 2 years old, the judge must consider it. If it is more than 2 years old, it is an option the judge may consider.
Check your court order for restrictions, but generally there are none. During your periods of possession, you have the right to let the children visit their grandparents, spend the night at a friend’s home, or engage in activities as long as they return to the other parent on time. You may allow your parents to take the children on a vacation, even out of state. Avoid misunderstandings by letting the other parent know when the children are traveling with your parents or relatives. Write up the days and locations and contact information to keep everyone on track and informed.
Many studies have shown that children are more likely to thrive when both parents are actively involved in their lives. Extended times with both parents are built into the standard possession order (for children ages 3 and older) to facilitate vacations or extended family time. Flexibility and understanding when working with very young children is important for ensuring the child adjusts easily to extended time away from the primary caregiver. Children benefit when they have time with both parents.
Prepare your child for extended absences in several ways. An extended absence for a very young child may be as short as a week. Here are some tips:
- If going on a trip, show the child on a map where the child will be.
- Talk about the weather where the child will be.
- Plan together what to pack for the fun times the child will have while away.
- Encourage your child to have a good time on the break from you and everyday routines.
- Give your child a calendar and you both can mark off the days.
- Ask your child to put drawings or funny stories into a special envelope to bring back home and share with you.
- Send a fun note, text message, or email.
- Tape record the child’s favorite bedtime story and send along.
- Do not make the child feel guilty for going.
- Schedule at least one time to call the other parent. Set an alarm and don’t forget.
Plan something special when your child returns. Children often fuss and cry when going back and forth between families. They want to reassure each of you that they love you and will miss you (and that you’ll take them back). It’s normal to be fussy during the exchange. Once the other parent is out of sight, most children will bounce back after a few minutes of quiet time.
Look at your order underneath the heading “Possession and Access Order.” If the noncustodial parent is given the 1st, 3rd, and 5th weekends (beginning on Friday and ending on Sunday), a weeknight visit once a week during the school term, a period of extended summer visitation, and shared holidays, then you probably have an SPO.