Expanded standard visitation schedule

Understanding the intricacies of family law in Texas is crucial for non-custodial parents looking to enhance their time with their children. Living within 50 miles of your child opens up legal avenues for expanded visitation schedules under Texas Family Code §§ 153.3171 and 153.317. However, a key step often overlooked is the necessity of communicating your preferred pickup times to the judge. This article aims to shed light on these statutes, offering clear guidance on how to effectively secure an expanded visitation schedule by leveraging your proximity, ensuring every possible moment with your child is utilized to its fullest.

Understanding Your Rights Under Texas Family Code §§ 153.3171 and 153.317

For non-custodial parents looking to deepen their involvement in their children’s lives, Texas Family Code sections 153.3171 and 153.317 are essential. These statutes lay the legal groundwork for expanded visitation rights, with a particular focus on the geographical proximity of the non-custodial parent to their child.

Section 153.3171 is tailored for parents living within 50 miles of their child, mandating a modification to the standard possession order to allow more frequent interactions. The statute specifies:

“Except as provided by Subsection (b), if the possessory conservator resides not more than 50 miles from the primary residence of the child, the court shall alter the standard possession order…to provide that the conservator has the right to possession of the child as if the conservator had made the elections for alternative beginning and ending possession times under Sections 153.317(a)(1)(C), (2)(C), (3), (4), (5), (6), (7)(C), and (8).” – Tex. Fam. Code § 153.3171(a).

This provision aims to bolster the bond between the child and the non-custodial parent by using geographical proximity as a basis for increasing visitation opportunities.

Additionally, Section 153.317 elaborates on the alternative possession times available, offering non-custodial parents the opportunity to customize their visitation schedule to better meet their family’s requirements. The statute outlines:

“If elected by a conservator, the court shall alter the standard possession order…to provide for one or more of the following alternative beginning and ending possession times for the described periods of possession, unless the court finds that the election is not in the best interest of the child…” – Tex. Fam. Code § 153.317(a).

It includes comprehensive options for adjusting weekend, Thursday, holiday, and vacation periods of possession, accommodating the child’s school schedule and special days, thereby enhancing the quality of time spent together.

Grasping these rights and the steps required for their activation is crucial. Sections 153.3171 and 153.317 facilitate more meaningful visitation, contingent upon the parent’s initiative to officially elect these alternative times through either a written document or an oral statement in court.

Detailed Overview of Alternative Visitation Times

The Texas Family Code § 153.317 provides non-custodial parents with the option to elect alternative beginning and ending possession times, offering a way to customize visitation schedules to fit the unique needs of their family. This flexibility is crucial for parents living within 50 miles of their child, as it allows for more frequent and meaningful interactions. Here’s a closer look at the specific alternative times available under this statute:

  1. Weekend Possession Adjustments:
    • Option A: Weekend possession can begin at the time the child’s school is regularly dismissed on Friday, extending the standard weekend visitation.
    • Option B: Alternatively, the weekend can end at the time the child’s school resumes on Monday, providing an extended closure to the weekend.
  2. Thursday Visitation:
    • For those seeking midweek contact, Thursday visitation can begin at the child’s school dismissal and end when school resumes on Friday, fostering an additional touchpoint during the week.
  3. Holiday and Vacation Periods:
    • Spring Break: Visitation can start from the time of the child’s school dismissal for spring vacation, allowing for an uninterrupted week with the child.
    • Thanksgiving: The holiday period can begin at the child’s school dismissal, offering an extended time to celebrate together.
    • Christmas Vacation: Adjustments allow for the visitation to start at the child’s school dismissal, maximizing holiday season bonding.
  4. Special Occasions:
    • Father’s Day and Mother’s Day: Visitation can be extended to include the entire weekend from Friday dismissal to Monday school resumption, ensuring the parent enjoys the full special day with their child.
  5. Extended Weekends Due to Holidays:
    • If a student holiday or teacher in-service day occurs adjacent to the weekend, visitation can be extended to include these days, providing a longer period for parent-child activities.

These alternative times are designed to enhance the standard possession order by aligning visitation schedules more closely with the child’s academic calendar and special family occasions. By electing these options, non-custodial parents can ensure that their visitation schedule reflects a commitment to active and engaged parenting.

It’s important for parents to formally elect these alternatives through a written document filed with the court or an oral statement made in open court on the record. This proactive step is essential for securing a visitation schedule that maximizes their time with their child, fostering a deeper and more meaningful relationship.

Key Exceptions: When Expanded Visitation May Not Be Granted

While the Texas Family Code §§ 153.3171 and 153.317 provide a framework for non-custodial parents to seek expanded visitation schedules based on proximity, there are specific exceptions where these provisions may not apply. Understanding these exceptions is crucial for parents to realistically assess their chances of securing expanded visitation rights and to strategize accordingly.

Exceptions Under Section 153.3171(b)

The statute clearly outlines circumstances under which the court might not grant the expanded visitation schedule, even if the non-custodial parent lives within 50 miles of the child. These exceptions include:

  1. Voluntary Decline by the Possessory Conservator: If the non-custodial parent, for any reason, decides against opting for the alternative beginning and ending possession times and communicates this decision through a written document filed with the court or an oral statement made in open court, the expanded schedule will not be applied.
  2. Court’s Decision Based on the Child’s Best Interest: The court has the authority to deny, restrict, or limit the possessory conservator’s possession of or access to the child if it deems such measures are in the best interest of the child. This can be due to various factors, including but not limited to, the child’s health, safety, and emotional well-being.
  3. Practicality and Appropriateness of the Schedule:
    • Distance Challenges: If the court finds that the distances between the residences make the proposed possession schedule unworkable or inappropriate, considering the circumstances of the parties or the area in which they reside.
    • Historical Parenting Involvement: Before the filing of the suit, if the possessory conservator did not frequently exercise the rights and duties of a parent with respect to the child, the court might find the expanded visitation inappropriate.
    • Other Relevant Reasons: The court may consider any other reason it finds relevant to determine that the proposed alternative times are not in the best interest of the child.

Seek Advice from a Skilled Texas Family Law Attorney

Securing the best visitation schedule under Texas Family Code §§ 153.3171 and 153.317 often requires the expertise of a skilled family law attorney. To retain an experienced Texas divorce lawyer for your divorce or child custody case in DallasDentonCollin or Rockwall County, please schedule a consultation with us today.