FAQs

Child Support

Co-Parenting

Custodial and Noncustodial Parents

Enforcement

Incarcerated Parents

International Travel FAQs

Mediation and Mediation Alternatives

Modification

Safety Concerns

Standard Possession Order and Parenting Time

Teen Parenting

Visitation

Visitation FAQs for Grandparents

Visitation FAQs for Non-Conservator Parents

Visitation FAQs for Non-Parent Conservators


Child Support

Do you currently have a child support court order that says at least one person has to pay child support?

If you talked in front of a judge or met with someone at an OAGOffice of the Attorney General. In Texas, this office supervises all court orders related to paternity, custody, visitation and child support. Click here to visit Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton's website. child support office to discuss child support and other issues, you probably have a court order.

If you got divorced and hired an attorney to help you, then you probably have a court order. Call the district clerk’s office in the county where the child lived at the time when you went to court or where you were divorced. Be prepared to give your full name and the other party’s full name. The clerk will ask for the cause number or case number and for both Social Security numbers, if you know them. Search for Texas district clerks by the name of the county.

How do I know if I am the custodial parent or noncustodial parent?

If you receive child support, you are the custodial parent.

If you pay child support, you are the noncustodial parent.

If you do not know if you are the custodial or noncustodial parent, read more about conservatorship

Call the Access and Visitation Hotline toll free from 1-7 p.m., Monday through Friday, at 1 (866) 292-4636. Attorneys can help you determine if you are the custodial or noncustodial parent. Hint: Have your court order in front of you to read to the attorney.

I am in prison or I am serving a long-term jail sentence and I have questions about child support and parenting.
I can’t afford to pay child support right now; can I still spend time with my children as outlined in my court order?

Unless there is a court order restricting your time with your child, the answer is yes. Child support and visitation rights are separate issues in the eyes of the court. Both parents must obey the child support portion of the order and the possession portion of the order.

If your court order has a possession order, the custodial parent must make your child available to you for parenting time. The custodial parent has to follow the possession (parenting time) order, even if you cannot pay child support.

If the custodial parent refuses to let you see your child because you are not paying child support, you can file a motion to enforce the access and possession portion of your order. There are potential legal consequences to moms and dads who do not obey the court orders.

Noncustodial parents can apply for legal help enforcing an existing possession order if they meet certain eligibility requirements. To find out more about enforcing a visitation order, go to Enforcement of Visitation.

I want to start the child support process through the Office of the Attorney General.
I have questions about paternity.

Read more about paternity.

I am worried about my safety if I file for child support.

If you are planning to leave a relationship, be aware that physical violence often escalates during periods of separation and around the time that someone files for divorce or child support. This can be true even if the relationship was not previously physically violent.

If you are worried about your safety, take these steps to protect yourself:

Talk to family and friends about what is going on so that they can be prepared to help you and your family if the need arises. You can get child support safely.

Office of Attorney General – Stay Safe, Get Support video

Motion to Redirect Child Support

The court order does not change until the judge changes it. The Attorney General’s Office (OAG) may file a Motion to Redirect Child Support if a custodial parent (CP):
• Voluntarily relinquishes the primary care and possession of the child for at least six months
• Is incarcerated or has been sentenced to be incarcerated for at least 90 days,
• Relinquishes the primary care and possession of the child to:
o the Texas Juvenile Justice Department;
o to foster care; or
o in a proceeding under the Juvenile Justice Code.

The order to redirect does not give the person with possession of the child all of the rights and powers of a sole managing conservator. Instead, the CP retains all of the rights and powers concerning the health, education, and welfare of the child, including the right to determine the primary residence of the child, but the CP does not have the right to receive payments or disburse money for the benefit of the child.

A redirection of support based upon a CP’s incarceration must be requested so the CP can receive current child support again. The CP may file an affidavit with the court, stating each of the following:
• the CP has been released from incarceration
• no modification of the conservatorship of the child occurred during the incarceration
• the CP now has physical possession of the child [TFC §156.409(a-3)]

Note: In cases where court ordered child support was changed in some other way, such as through a change of status or a modification of conservatorship, the former CP may not receive current support until the order is modified to name the CP as the obligee.

Contact your local law library, or call the Access and Visitation Hotline at 1 (866) 292-4636 to find out how to ask the court to give you additional rights if there is no case with the OAG, and the child has been in your care for more than six months.

A court order that reflects your agreements says where the child is supposed to be, in case conflicts arise. Read more about Modification of Visitation.

What happens to child support if the custodial parent decides to let the child live with the noncustodial parent?

The court order does not change until the judge changes it. If the case is with the Attorney General’s Office, contact the local child support office about a change in status. A change of status is a change in the child’s primary residence from one parent’s home to another parent or caregiver’s home. A change of status request will address current child support, medical support, and arrears (if any) that are relevant for your case. You can also file a motion to modify with the district or other appropriate court. If the parties agree, the child support office can assist with the change. The obligation to pay child support continues until the judge signs the request. If there is no agreement, the OAG cannot assist. The parties must go before a district court in the county that issued the original (or latest) court order.

Before taking action, think about whether the child is likely to move again, or if is this a permanent or extended (several years) change. Children benefit when things are stable, and friends, home and school do not change. The court is unlikely to make repeated changes because the court does not consider frequent changes to be in the child’s best interest. The noncustodial parent is still under a court order to pay the child support until there is a new court order signed by a judge. In other words, if you are currently paying child support, don’t stop. The custodial parent might take the child back, and you don’t want to get into trouble for not paying child support.

The OAG may be able to assist you in filing a Notice of Change of Status. You could also hire a private attorney to help you modify custody (conservatorship). Find an attorney.


Co-Parenting

Why don’t my children want to spend time with the other parent?

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.

What if parents cannot agree on what the order says regarding visitation (I am confused about how visitation works)?

The court order is your fall back schedule when you and the other parent don’t agree. The courts encourage parents to cooperate and be flexible. Parents who agree can set up any parenting plan/visitation schedule they want. Children’s schedules change as they move from pre-school or one grade to the next. Children benefit when parents create plans that fit their family’s needs. When you and the other parent cannot agree, the court order is the fall back plan you both must follow. If you need help coming to an agreement, read about mediation and mediation alternatives here. If you want to change the order through court, you can file a motion to modify.

If you are trying to follow the court order, check it to see if you have a standard possession order (or SPO). If you don’t have a copy, contact the district clerk’s office in the county where you went to court – probably the county where your child lived at the time the order was signed — and ask them for a copy. There may be a charge for a certified copy.

Look at the “Possession and Access Order” section of your court 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. The My Sticker Calendar highlights the 1st, 3rd, and 5th weekends in gold. Parents are encouraged to go through the calendar with their children and use the stickers to personalize time spent with each parent. Each parent’s calendar should match to keep everyone on time.

Click here to download a My Sticker Calendar in PDF format, or order a paper copy here: My Sticker Calendar order form.

SPO’s may vary a little bit. Some parents tell child support staff they want to select the option to start their weekend visitation when school ends on Thursday, while other parents may start their weekend parenting time at 6 p.m. on Friday. Read your order before you leave the office and check to see if your requests were included in it.

Click here to learn more about how the SPO schedule works.

If you don’t have an SPO or don’t understand your order, ask an attorney to explain the order. If you don’t have an attorney, call the Access and Visitation hotline at 1 (866)-292-4637, Monday – Friday from 1 – 7 p.m. to speak to an attorney. If the order uses general language that does not specify a time, date, and place, then you may need to ask the court to clarify your order. Click here to learn more about how to do this.

What are my options if the parenting (visitation/possession) schedule in my order doesn’t work for me?

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.

Learn more about modifying (or changing) your visitation schedule, or go to TexasLawHelp.org.

If you need help reaching an agreement, read about mediation and mediation alternatives here.

Is it okay for significant others to participate in the exchanges of my child?

Unless your court order forbids others from coming along, either parent can bring along friends or companions.

In consideration of your children’s feelings, check out these tips:

  • Don’t introduce someone to your child until you have been dating a long time and things are serious.
    Children bond easily. If they grow attached to someone you are dating, they will suffer if you breakup.
  • Children younger than 5 only need to know you are seeing a friend.
  • Show your children they come first. Keep pick-up and drop-off arrangements between Mom and Dad or other friends or relatives that you child knows and trusts. Children want to know who is picking them up.
What happens if I must work on a weekend when I am supposed to have my children?

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.

My parents would like to take my children for the weekend or during part of the summer during my extended summer visitation. Do I need the custodial parent’s permission?

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.

When things get really tough, what can I do?

If you and the other parent are having an especially hard time with your co-parenting relationship, take a step back. Think about the role you played in the last dispute and try some of these strategies.

  1. Don’t see each other in person. Have your conversations over the phone. You may be able to keep a record for court if using email or texting. Do not post family business on Facebook or other social media.
  2. Make sure everything you say or put in writing is polite and to the point. Do not talk about anything other than your “parent-business.” Be clear in what you say.
  3. Say something to show the other parent that you understand what he or she has said. Listen when the other parent is talking. When he or she is finished, say something like, “Let me make sure I understand. What I just heard you say is…” and then say what you heard.
  4. Don’t push the other parent’s buttons. You probably know what makes the other parent angry, sad or upset. Don’t make the other parent feel bad on purpose.
  5. Look for what is good. Try to see what the other parent is doing well. Sometimes, just letting the other parent know that you noticed goes a long way toward making a conversation easier.
  6. Stop and ask yourself, Is this worth fighting over? There are many things to fight about if you look for them. You can’t argue about everything and still have time to make decisions. When you feel yourself starting to argue, stop. Ask yourself, “Is this worth fighting over? Will I even remember this in six months?”
  7. Remember that your child loves the other parent. Your child’s other parent is an important person. Give him or her the respect your child would want you given.
  8. Do what you say you will do. Keep your promises. Do this for your child. Don’t break promises, show up late or change plans just because the other parent does. You can only control yourself. You cannot control whether or not the other parent follows through on promises.
  9. Keep detailed notes. Keep a record of meetings and conversations. If things are really bad, and they don’t improve, you may want to review these notes before talking to a mediator or attorney.
  10. Use a mediator. There are times when problems are too big for two people to resolve on their own. If you and the other parent can’t get along, try to find a mediator to help you. For a list of mediators, go to the Texas Association of Mediators or contact your local dispute resolution center or visit the Access and Visitation Directory.
  11. If a mediator doesn’t help, see a lawyer. Generally, you will be able to work things out without going to court. Sometimes, though, the situation calls for some major intervention. Be sure to get the help you need.

 
*This list is adapted from Mom’s House, Dad’s House: Making Two Homes for Your Child, by Isolina Ricci, Ph.D. (New York, NY: Fireside Books, 1997) p. 108.

The other parent does not pick up our child on time. What should I do?

This can be frustrating, but try to think about the reasons the other parent is late. For example, does he or she work late on certain days? Is the traffic bad on the way to your house? Are there transportation issues? Does he or she feel uncomfortable coming to your house when your new girlfriend or boyfriend is there?

Most of these problems can be worked out by having a conversation about the problem and how to address it. For example, have your child ready for pick up one hour later than the order says or just quietly have things ready in case the parent shows up.

You and the other parent can agree to any parenting time schedule that works for both of you.

For help coming to an agreement, read about mediation and mediation alternatives.


Enforcement

The custodial parent wants to move away. What can I do?

See if your court order has a “geographic restriction,” which means the custodial parent cannot move outside a certain area. If you need a copy of your court order, go to the district clerk’s office in the county where you got your court order. This is most likely the county where your child was living when you got the court order). The district clerk’s office can look up your court order by the Cause Number or your name or Social Security number, and can give you a copy.

If there is a geographic restriction, the custodial parent will be disobeying the court order by moving outside of the designated area. In this case, you can attempt to work it out, or ask the court to order both of you into mediation or take steps to enforce your court order.

Read more about enforcing a court order.

If there is no geographic restriction in your order, you can ask the court to modify or change your order to require the other parent to stay in a certain city or county or geographic area.

The Attorney General’s Office cannot help you get a geographic restriction.


Custodial and Noncustodial Parents

What rights do I have at all times?

Unless limited by court order both custodial and noncustodial parents ALWAYS have the right to:

  1. receive information from the other parent about the health, education, and welfare of the child;
  2. confer with the other parent to the extent possible before making a decision concerning the health, education, and welfare of the child;
  3. access medical, dental, psychological, and educational records of the child;
  4. consult with a physician, dentist, or psychologist of the child;
  5. consult with school officials concerning the child’s welfare and educational status, including school activities;
  6. attend school activities;
  7. be listed on the child’s records as an emergency contact;
  8. consent to medical, dental, and surgical treatment during an emergency involving an immediate danger to the health and safety of the child; and
  9. manage the estate of the child to the extent the estate has been created by the parent or the parent’s family.

Sharing Information

You also have the duty (requirement) at all times to inform the other parent of any important information regarding the child’s health, education, and welfare. Unless you have requested confidentiality or that a family violence indicator be placed on your case, court orders require parents to share information with each other regarding their child’s health, education, and welfare. Things that you should ALWAYS tell the other parent include:

  • If you move, your new address (not doing this is a contemptible offense)
  • If you change your phone number (not doing this is a contemptible offense)
  • If you are married to or intend to marry a person who you know is a registered sex offender (not doing this is a Class C misdemeanor)

These requirements to share information apply to parents named in the order. You are not required to give your address if:

  • there was a history of domestic violence; AND
  • your court order does not require you to give your information.
  • The court order may specifically state that the other parent has no right to know your address.

Each of these rights and duties will be outlined in your order. If anyone questions your right to information, such as your child’s medical records, take a copy of your court order with you to the doctor’s office.

Parent tip: Take your court order to your child’s school and ask that it be placed in his or her file. This will make it easier to speak to your child’s teacher or eat lunch with your child at permissible times.
Rights and duties during your possession or parenting time with your child

You have possession of your child when your child is staying with you. This is also the time you are parenting your child, or parenting time. The noncustodial parent with a standard possession order will usually have possession of the child on the 1st, 3rd, and 5th weekends, one weeknight per week during the school term, on certain holidays, and for a long period during the summer. The custodial parent will have possession at all other times.

Unless limited by the court order, you have the following rights and duties during the period that you spend with your child:

(1) duty of care, control, protection, and reasonable discipline of the child;
(2) duty to support the child, including providing the child with clothing, food, shelter, and medical and dental care that does not involve an invasive procedure;
(3) right to consent for medical and dental care for the child that does not involve an invasive procedure;
(4) right to consent to medical, dental, and surgical treatment during an emergency involving immediate danger to the child’s health and safety; and
(5) right to direct the moral and religious training of the child.

What rights are divided between the parents?

There are certain rights given exclusively to the parent with whom the child primarily lives, or the custodial parent or the primary joint conservator. These rights are to:

  1. establish the primary residence of the child; and
  2. receive child support on the child’s behalf.

These are some rights the parents may agree to share or the court may decide that only one parent has the rights below (usually the custodial parent). These include the right to:

  1. Consent to medical, dental, and surgical treatment involving invasive procedures;
  2. Consent to psychiatric and psychological treatment of the child;
  3. Represent the child in legal action and to make other decisions of substantial
    legal significance concerning the child;
  4. Consent to marriage and to enlistment in the armed forces;
  5. Make decisions concerning the child’s education;
  6. The services and earnings of the child;
  7. Act as an agent of the child’s estate if any action is required by federal or state law (unless a guardian has been appointed to take care of the child’s estate).

Read your order closely to see which decisions you have the right to make.

I am a teen parent. Is anything different for me?

A teen parent, also known as a “minor parent,” refers to a person under 18 years of age, who requires an adult (preferably a parent or legal guardian) to represent him or her in the child support court process. An adult representative must come to court because a minor cannot legally sign a waiver of service or enter a general appearance before the court in lieu of being served in person. When a child support case is opened with the OAG, a child support worker will contact the minor parent. The child support worker will describe the child support process; explain why the minor parent must have his or her parent, legal guardian, or adult representative present during all legal proceedings; and verify who can serve as the minor’s adult representative. If the minor parent identifies someone other than his or her parent or legal guardian, the OAG must get an Authorization for Release of Information or payment form on file so that the representative can receive information on the minor’s case.

Additional Resources from the Attorney General of Texas:

What if I don’t know where my child is living?

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 an attorney for more legal 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.

Office of the Attorney General – Application for State Parent Locator Service

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.

I am planning to move. Will this change my visitation/court order?

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.

What if I want to switch from possessory conservator to managing conservator?

If the managing conservator voluntarily gives the child to you, you can seek help from the OAG. Go here to read more about how to do that.

If the parent does not agree that you should be managing conservator, it can be a little harder. You must prove that circumstances have changed and living with you is in the child’s best interest.

A court would be more likely to appoint you as a managing conservator if the parent has voluntarily given the child to you or another person or agency.

Contact an attorney if you want to be the managing conservator. An attorney can help you file a motion to modify the court order. Read more about motions to modify here. Check with your local library or law library to find forms you need to file.

If you think that the child is in serious and immediate danger, contact 911 (in the case of an emergency) and/or Child Protective Services at 1 (800)-252-5400 if you believe the child is being abused or neglected.

In cases involving family violence, you may also be able to get emergency relief in the form of a protective order. You should follow the protective order with a suit to modify conservatorship.

Where can I obtain a certified birth certificate?

In most cases, you need to contact the court clerk of the county where the child was born. You can also find this information using VitalChek, or in Texas, the Texas Department of State Health Services – Vital Statistics Unit.

I want the child to live with me (change of custody).

This requires filing a motion with the court to change the conservatorship, possession and access and child support orders. The Office of the Attorney General cannot help with this—it must be handled by a district court. You must file a motion to change conservatorship with a district court (check with the law library in the county that issued the original order and follow the rules about giving the other party notice). If you have a case with the OAG, include the OAG on the notice so any changes to who receives or pays child support are addressed. TexasLawHelp.org has a Modification Kit to help with this process.

The court will hear evidence about why it would be better (in the child’s best interest) for the child to live with you. The court may appoint a guardian ad litem to meet with all parties and report the findings to the court. Guardians ad litem represent children’s best interests in family law cases. Their service may be through a domestic relations office or through a private practice. There is a fee for this service, and the judge may make both parties pay a portion of the costs.

When the court decides where a child should live, it is making a decision about conservatorship (commonly called custody). Read more about Custody and Visitation.

Although only one parent gets to determine where the child lives, both parents typically have significant access through the standard possession order. Read more about the Standard Possession Order. Read more about the importance of a father’s involvement.

How can I tell if my name is in the court order?

Read the court order to find out if your name is in it.   If the parents do not have a copy of the signed court order, ask for a copy from the district clerk’s office in the county where the order was issued.  Look at the section about conservatorship that lists the names of those appointed as conservators (or custodial or noncustodial parent) of the child.  If your name is missing, then you are not a conservator, even if you have always been involved in the child’s life.  Only conservators have the legal ability to make certain decisions for a child.


Incarcerated Parents

I want to learn more about my parenting rights and responsibilities while I am incarcerated and after I am released from incarceration.

In 2014, more than 1 in 28 children in the United States had an incarcerated parent. The loss of the parent is a crisis for the child on many levels, families and friends can work together to help the child succeed. The Families and Corrections Network of Families and Children of incarcerated fathers has several recommendations for parents and caregivers. Go to Rutgers University – The National Resource Center on Children and Families of the Incarcerated to learn more about why maintaining relationships can be important in some situations.

What Should I Do After I Enter Prison To Let My Children Know I Still Love Them?

Do everything you can to let your children know you care for and are committed to them. Use the suggestions below to learn how to protect your children from problems with the court system or with the other parent.

Incarcerated parents may be able to write letters to a child, and perhaps telephone the child, if permitted. The custodial parent has the option to say no to either form of contact, unless the court order says otherwise. If telephone or letter contact is not mentioned in the court order, it is suggested that you check with the other parent about the possibility of writing or telephoning the children, and get approval from him or her before you do it. Ask the law librarian about the facility’s rules for mailing letters to children.

If you are allowed to contact with the custodial parent, you are more likely to have his or her contact information once you are released. If possible, take parenting classes and communication classes and let the other parent know that you are working toward being a better parent and a better co-parent. Parenting is hard and many parents take classes to learn about parenting, even when apart from their children or the other parent.

Tips for Writing and Talking with Children

The Children of Prisoners Library has several articles on visiting with mom or dad in prison, talking with children, and answering their questions. Although children need contact with the absent parent for the relationship to continue to develop, any communication must fit the child’s needs, not the parent’s needs. There are many benefits to writing letters to a child. Letters are a way to let your child know what you value about him and what is so special about her. Writing a letter is a way to connect. It is not a way to offer your side of your “story.” The child may read the letters many, many times. Think carefully about what you want your child to remember.

Children also need help coming to terms with what happened. Keeping the focus on your child and not on yourself helps children understand that you are thinking about them and not about yourself. Writing a letter to a 3- year-old is a lot different from writing to a 16-year-old. Even though your children were a certain age the last time you saw them, think about the ages they are now. That’s hard to do, but your children will like your recognizing they are growing up.  Let your children know how proud you are of them and that you have hopes for their future. This is not about setting the record straight or going into lots of details. Share a few memories that mean a lot to you personally.

The law librarian may be able to help you with writing notes. If you are a friend, relative, or caregiver, visit The Children of Incarcerated Parents library from Rutgers University’s National Resource Center on Children and Families of the Incarcerated, and print and mail the articles to the incarcerated parent.

Parents or caregivers can help the child by talking with them about the letters. Children respond best when they hear the truth. Telling the truth does not mean going into all the details or expressing your option about what happened. For instance, if the child wants to know the whereabouts of the absent parent, do not make misleading comments to them and say he or she is in the military, working far away, or in school. Children learn the truth when parents don’t come home from the military, or work or school. If you mislead the child, the child will not trust you. The child may feel hurt, angry, and resentful when the truth comes out. Children need to know who they can count on in good times and sad times.

If you are worried about staying connected with your children, read more about your parenting time rights at Rutgers Children of Incarcerated Parents Library.

Contact with an Incarcerated Parent

An incarcerated parent is still the child’s parent. In many cases, a child has a legal right and an emotional need to remain in contact with the parent in prison. It’s important to understand the needs of the child may be different from the custodial parent’s needs regarding contact with the incarcerated parent. Before a child visits the parent in jail or prison, the custodial parent should talk to the child about what to expect. After the visit, the child should be encouraged to talk openly about thoughts and feelings regarding the visit, and the custodial parent should respond sensitively.

If Incarceration Happens After Your Court Order

If incarceration is not mentioned in your court order, a custodial parent is generally under no obligation to bring the children for visits. The inability to pick up your children is viewed as forfeiting your right to physical time with them.

Incarcerated parents may be able to write letters, and telephone the child. The custodial parent or caregiver has the option to say no to any form of contact, unless the court order says otherwise. Get the other parent or caregiver’s approval to write or telephone the children.

If permitted, stay in contact and on good terms with the custodial parent or caregiver while you are incarcerated. That way, you will have his or her contact information once you are released. That will make it easier to spend time with your children. Think about what you will want once you are released, and make a plan for maintaining positive relationships with your children’s caregivers.

After Release from Incarceration

A criminal conviction does not affect your parental rights and responsibilities unless a court decides to specifically address it. Therefore, any visitation rights you had prior incarceration, are still in effect after your release, unless your court order was changed to remove your access and possession rights.

Think about how the child will feel about seeing you for the first time after a long absence. Instead of building up expectations that might lead to disappointment, start off slowly. You have many years to build on a strong start. The custodial parent may have valid concerns about you spending long periods of time with children that you have not seen in a while. Prepare yourself for the many questions they will have and what you think would be helpful for them to hear.  Reunions rarely meet anyone’s expectations and feeling let down afterward is a normal response. It may take several reunions to get reacquainted. It gets better. It may take 10 or 12 or 20 times of showing up and sticking it out. Show your child you are committed. You may be shocked to see how much they’ve grown since you last saw them. Talk to them at the age level they are now, not at the level they were when you last saw them. Teenagers, especially, resent being talked to as if they are in elementary school. Your children may test you and this is normal. Common reactions at reunions are shock, sorrow, happiness, anger and tears—sometimes all in the first few minutes, or sometimes spread over several visits.

Think about what type of child you have. Is the child shy or up for anything? Is your child slow to warm up to people, or does your child worry easily? You could start to visit with the children over lunch at school, or spend an afternoon with them in the park with another adult present, in order to rebuild trust. An adult friend or relative that the child could run to for reassurance and a hug can help everyone get through the first few visits. The child may be excited, yet still feel the need for approval that it’s really okay.

Read about Warm-up Visitation

The Seedling Foundation provides mentors for children of incarcerated parents. Seedling’s Promise program pairs children ages 5-18 with a caring adult who meets them at the school. Positive relationships are developed that can improve children’s lives for years to come.

Big Brothers Big Sisters makes meaningful, monitored matches between adult volunteers and children ages 6 through 18. The volunteers develop positive relationships that have a direct and lasting effect on the lives of young people.

Resources from The Office of the Attorney General

Child Support Information for Incarcerated Parents and Parents Returning to the Community


International Travel

The other parent is moving out of the country with our child; what can I do?

For general tips to prevent child abduction, see the State Department’s International Parent Child Abduction Prevention Tips page for more information.

If you are in the middle of a custody case, you may be able to ask the judge to seize (hold on to) the child’s passport. If there is no ongoing case, you may be able to file for a restraining order, and ask the judge to hold the child’s passport as part of that case.

If the child does not have a passport, but you fear the other parent may apply for one for the child, the State Department has a program called the Children’s Passport Issuance Alert Program. Visit the U.S. Department of State Children’s Passport Issuance Alert Program (CPIAP) for details. The program allows parents to register their U.S. citizen children under the age of 18 in the Department’s Passport Lookout System.

To enter your child into the program, complete the Request for Entry into Children’s Passport Issuance Alert Program, provide proof of your identity (a photocopy of your driver’s license or other ID card), and submit a photocopy of your child’s birth certificate or other documentation to show that you are the child’s parent or legal guardian. Mail, fax or email these items to Passport Services, Charleston Passport Center:

U.S. Department of State
Passport Services, Charleston Passport Center
Attn: Children’s Passport Issuance Alert Program
1269 Holland Street, Building D
Charleston, SC 29405

E-mail: ChildrensPassports@state.gov
Phone: 1 (843) 202-3863
Fax: 843-746-1827

Note: If your child has dual citizenship, the child may be able to travel out of the country on the passport of the foreign country. Since the State Department cannot regulate passports from other countries, you may want to contact that country’s embassy or consulate to ask if it has a similar program. Find contact information for specific embassies and consulates.

How can I get a passport for our child?

For children under 16 years old, both parents’ signatures are required on the application. Both parents or legal guardians must present evidence of the child’s U.S. citizenship, present evidence that they are the parents or guardian(s), show valid personal identification, and take the oath before an authorized passport acceptance agent. If one parent is unable to appear, proof of sole custody (divorce decree, death certificate, etc.) or form DS-3053 is required.

Can my child travel with me on a trip out of the country?

Even if you have sole legal custody, you must provide a copy of the court order granting sole custody to the applying parent (unless child’s travel is restricted by that order).

The U.S. Customs and Border Protection strongly recommend having the other parent’s written permission if it is not included in the court order as many other countries may require it.

International parenting time and travel have unique challenges. Children may leave the country without restriction, but cannot return without proof of citizenship. Passports and visas are required. The primary custodial parent should safeguard these documents and make them easily available to the other parent at the scheduled times and places of exchange for foreign travel. Likewise, the documents should be returned promptly at the conclusion of parenting time. The noncustodial parent should keep copies of important travel documents. For the latest requirements, review the crossing borders section of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security web page. For long‐term planning, review the information found in the U.S. Department of State Office of Children’s Issues. For more information, visit U.S. Department of State Passports for Minors Under 16.


Mediation and Mediation Alternatives

When things get really tough, what can I do?

If you and the other parent are having an especially hard time with your co-parenting relationship, take a step back. Think about the role you played in the last dispute and try some of these strategies.

1. Don’t see each other in person. Have your conversations over the phone. You may be able to keep a record for court if using email or texting. Do not post family business on Facebook or other social media.

2. Make sure everything you say or put in writing is polite and to the point. Do not talk about anything other than your “parent-business.” Be clear in what you say.

3. Say something to show the other parent that you understand what he or she has said. Listen when the other parent is talking. When he or she is finished, say something like, “Let me make sure I understand. What I just heard you say is…” and then say what you heard.

4. Don’t push the other parent’s buttons. You probably know what makes the other parent angry, sad or upset. Don’t make the other parent feel bad on purpose.

5. Look for what is good. Try to see what the other parent is doing well. Sometimes, just letting the other parent know that you noticed goes a long way toward making a conversation easier.

6. Stop and ask yourself, Is this worth fighting over? There are many things to fight about if you look for them. You can’t argue about everything and still have time to make decisions. When you feel yourself starting to argue, stop. Ask yourself, “Is this worth fighting over? Will I even remember this in six months?”

7. Remember that your child loves the other parent. Your child’s other parent is an important person. Give him or her the respect your child would want you given.

8. Do what you say you will do. Keep your promises. Do this for your child. Don’t break promises, show up late or change plans just because the other parent does. You can only control yourself. You cannot control whether or not the other parent follows through on promises.

9. Keep detailed notes. Keep a record of meetings and conversations. If things are really bad, and they don’t improve, you may want to review these notes before talking to a mediator or attorney.

10. Use a mediator. There are times when problems are too big for two people to resolve on their own. If you and the other parent can’t get along, try to find a mediator to help you. For a list of mediators, go to http://www.TXmediator.org or contact your local dispute resolution center or visit the Access and Visitation Directory on www.texasattorneygeneral.gov.

11. If a mediator doesn’t help, see a lawyer. Generally, you will be able to work things out without going to court. Sometimes, though, the situation calls for some major intervention. Be sure to get the help you need. *

*This list is adapted from Mom’s House, Dad’s House: Making Two Homes for Your Child by Isolina Ricci, Ph.D. (New York, NY: Fireside Books, 1997) p. 108.

What if parents cannot agree on what the order says regarding visitation (I am confused about how visitation works)?

The court order is your fall back schedule when you and the other parent don’t agree. The courts encourage parents to cooperate and be flexible. Parents who agree can set up any parenting plan/visitation schedule they want. Children’s schedules change as they move from pre-school or one grade to the next. Children benefit when parents create plans that fit their family’s needs. When you and the other parent cannot agree, the court order is the fall back plan you both must follow. If you need help coming to an agreement, read about mediation and mediation alternatives here. If you want to change the order through court, you can file a motion to modify.

If you are trying to follow the court order, check it to see if you have a standard possession order (or SPO). If you don’t have a copy, contact the district clerk’s office in the county where you went to court – probably the county where your child lived at the time the order was signed — and ask them for a copy. There may be a charge for a certified copy.

Look at the “Possession and Access Order” section of your court 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. The My Sticker Calendar highlights the 1st, 3rd, and 5th weekends in gold. Parents are encouraged to go through the calendar with their children and use the stickers to personalize time spent with each parent. Each parent’s calendar should match to keep everyone on time.

Click here to download a My Sticker Calendar in PDF format, or order a paper copy here: My Sticker Calendar order form.

SPO’s may vary a little bit. Some parents tell child support staff they want to select the option to start their weekend visitation when school ends on Thursday, while other parents may start their weekend parenting time at 6 p.m. on Friday. Read your order before you leave the office and check to see if your requests were included in it.

Click here to learn more about how the SPO schedule works.

If you don’t have an SPO or don’t understand your order, ask an attorney to explain the order. If you don’t have an attorney, call the Access and Visitation hotline at 1 (866)-292-4637, Monday – Friday from 1 – 7 p.m. to speak to an attorney. If the order uses general language that does not specify a time, date, and place, then you may need to ask the court to clarify your order. Click here to learn more about how to do this.

What are my options if the parenting (visitation/possession) schedule in my order doesn’t work for me?

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.

Learn more about modifying (or changing) your visitation schedule, or go to TexasLawHelp.org.

If you need help reaching an agreement, read about mediation and mediation alternatives here.

What happens if I must work on a weekend when I am supposed to have my children?

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.

My parents would like to take my children for the weekend or during part of the summer during my extended summer visitation. Do I need the custodial parent’s permission?

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.


Modification

I don’t want the child to see one or both birth parents anymore, even though the court order gives them visitation rights.

The current court order continues until the judge approves a modification. All parties under a court order are required to follow the order. Failure to follow the order, with certain exceptions, can result in contempt of the court’s order, and the punishment could include fines and jail time. If talking to the parent doesn’t work and the danger to the child is immediate, call 9-1-1 (for an emergency) or Child Protective Services at 1 (800)-252-5400 (if you suspect the child is being abused or neglected). If the parent shows up for visitation and is intoxicated or showing other signs of danger, call the police and report the incident.

If you and the parents are having a disagreement, see if the parties will voluntarily go to mediation or ask the court to order all parties into mediation. Read more about mediation here: Mediation and Mediation Alternatives.

Your next step may be to seek a protective order and modification of the current order to a more restrictive schedule. Talk to an attorney about your options, call the Access and Visitation hotline, or visit www.texaslawhelp.org for do-it-yourself forms.

The custodial parent wants to move away. What can I do?

See if your court order has a “geographic restriction,” which means the custodial parent cannot move outside a certain area. If you need a copy of your court order, go to the district clerk’s office in the county where you got your court order. This is most likely the county where your child was living when you got the court order). The district clerk’s office can look up your court order by the Cause Number or your name or Social Security number, and can give you a copy.

If there is a geographic restriction, the custodial parent will be disobeying the court order by moving outside of the designated area. In this case, you can attempt to work it out, or ask the court to order both of you into mediation or take steps to enforce your court order.

Read more about enforcing a court order.

If there is no geographic restriction in your order, you can ask the court to modify or change your order to require the other parent to stay in a certain city or county or geographic area.

The Attorney General’s Office cannot help you get a geographic restriction.

What if my child wants to live with me full time?

Parents can expect pre‐teens and teens, at certain ages and levels of maturity, to negotiate with both parents about their living arrangements. One solution is to build into the plan some “wild card” days for the child to expand or contract time inside an otherwise fixed schedule. There are many reasons a child may tell the parent they want to live with the other parent. While some children feel may try to control their living environment, it is best for parents to decide where their children will live. Parents who can agree on a plan before meeting together with the child to discuss it, show that mom and dad are a united front, even when they live in separate households.

Some courts may consider the wishes of children older than 12 when deciding where they should live. Most parents do not want to put the child in the middle by asking the child to choose between mom and dad. The judge does not have to agree with the child and make the change. The child’s preference is one of many things that a judge considers when deciding where a child should live. The judge may appoint a neutral third party to look into the dispute and make a recommendation. Fees for this service are divided between the parties to the case.

If you want to become the primary parent, you must file a motion to modify with the court, asking the judge to make you the primary conservator. You must convince the court that the change is in the child’s best interest, which can sometimes be difficult. Contact an attorney about the changes you want to make to your order or go to TexasLawHelp.org for do-it-yourself information.

Read more general information about modifying a court order here.

If the other parent has voluntarily given the child to you and/or the child has been living with you for at least 6 months, it may be easier to become the custodial parent. (This is not true if the only reason you are taking care of the child is the other parent is on military deployment.) The OAG may be able to help you get a Notice of Change of Status.

What if I want to switch from possessory conservator to managing conservator?

If the managing conservator voluntarily gives the child to you, you can seek help from the OAG. Go here to read more about how to do that.

If the parent does not agree that you should be managing conservator, it can be a little harder. You must prove that circumstances have changed and living with you is in the child’s best interest.

A court would be more likely to appoint you as a managing conservator if the parent has voluntarily given the child to you or another person or agency.

Contact an attorney if you want to be the managing conservator. An attorney can help you file a motion to modify the court order. Read more about motions to modify here. Check with your local library or law library to find forms you need to file.

If you think that the child is in serious and immediate danger, contact 911 (in the case of an emergency) and/or Child Protective Services at 1 (800)-252-5400 if you believe the child is being abused or neglected.

In cases involving family violence, you may also be able to get emergency relief in the form of a protective order. You should follow the protective order with a suit to modify conservatorship.

Can I make changes to the court order?

If you are a conservator, you have standing to ask the court to modify or change a court order. Learn more about modification.

I am not the parent of the child, but I am a family member or a caregiver. What are my rights as a non-parent caregiver?

A caregiver is an adult who is present in the home and supervises and cares for a child.

There are different reasons a non-parent may want to learn more about getting a court order or changing a court order. Sometimes, a non-parent may take care of a child without a court order giving that person any parental rights or responsibilities. If the child was given to you by the custodial parent so you would care for the child, you may be able to ask a court to give you additional rights. If you are not a biological parent but you are doing everything for the child that the parent would normally do, you can also ask for additional rights.

If you do not want to go through the Attorney General’s Office and the parent or relative voluntarily gave the child to you, hire an attorney or contact your local law library. Additionally, call the Access and Visitation Hotline at 1 (866) 292-4636 for help in how to ask the court for additional rights. A court order says where the child is to live. Court orders that document agreements between parties help avoid conflicts that could arise in the future.

Read more about Modification of Visitation.


Safety Concerns

I don’t want the child to see one or both birth parents anymore, even though the court order gives them visitation rights.

The current court order continues until the judge approves a modification. All parties under a court order are required to follow the order. Failure to follow the order, with certain exceptions, can result in contempt of the court’s order, and the punishment could include fines and jail time. If talking to the parent doesn’t work and the danger to the child is immediate, call 9-1-1 (for an emergency) or Child Protective Services at 1 (800)-252-5400 (if you suspect the child is being abused or neglected). If the parent shows up for visitation and is intoxicated or showing other signs of danger, call the police and report the incident.

If you and the parents are having a disagreement, see if the parties will voluntarily go to mediation or ask the court to order all parties into mediation. Read more about mediation here: Mediation and Mediation Alternatives.

Your next step may be to seek a protective order and modification of the current order to a more restrictive schedule. Talk to an attorney about your options, call the Access and Visitation hotline, or visit www.texaslawhelp.org for do-it-yourself forms.

I am concerned about the safety of my grandchild.

If you think the child is in serious and immediate danger by continuing to live with a parent (or parents), call 9-1-1 in the case of an emergency. Call Child Protective Services at 1 (800)-252-5400 if you believe the child is being abused or neglected.

You may also be able to get emergency relief in the form of a protective order and follow up with a suit to modify conservatorship.

It is possible for a grandparent or other non-parent to become a managing conservator. It can be very difficult, especially if you want to be the ONLY managing conservator. The Texas Family Code says that a parent or both parents should always be a managing conservator unless it is not in the child’s best interest (because it would significantly hurt the child’s physical health or emotional development). You must prove to the court that living with you is in the child’s best interest.

A court may be more likely to appoint you managing conservator if:

  • the parent has voluntarily given up the child to you or some other person or agency; or
  • both of the child’s parents are dead.

There may be other reasons as well. Contact an attorney for advice and assistance. An attorney can help you file a motion to modify the court order. Read more about motions to modify. Also, check with your local law library for the forms to file the motion to modify yourself or go to www.texaslawhelp.org. The process will be much easier if the parent agrees that you should become the managing conservator.

What should I do if I think the other parent (or someone who lives with the other parent) may be a danger to my child?

If the danger is immediate, call 911. If the danger is not immediate or serious, talk to the other parent about your concerns. Do not make the issue personal; put the focus on keeping your child safe. Think about what the other parent could do to make you more comfortable with the situation, and come up with a plan together.

If the other parent does not listen to your concerns, and the danger is immediate; call law enforcement. If the danger is not immediate, a protective order may be appropriate. Follow the protective order with a request that the court modify your visitation order. If you think that the child is in serious and immediate danger, contact 911(in the case of an emergency) and/or Child Protective Services at 1 (800)-252-5400 if you believe the child is being abused or neglected.

Talk with an attorney about your options.

Does a protective order affect a visitation order?

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.

How will my concerns about my safety be handled if I apply for or get referred to the child support system?

If you are planning to leave an abusive relationship, you should be aware that violence and abuse often escalates during periods of separation and when someone files for divorce or child support. This can be true even if the relationship was not previously physically violent.

Information about the child support process in Texas is provided to help survivors of family violence with information to make informed choices about paternity establishment, child support, conservatorship (custody), access, and visitation. There are several steps you can take to protect yourself:

CAUTION — Online Safety: Computer use can be monitored and is impossible to completely clear. If you are afraid your internet and/or computer usage might be monitored, please use a safer computer, and/or call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−SAFE (7233) or TTY 1−800−787−3224.

  • Call the National Domestic Violence Hotline and talk to someone who can help you think through your options, safety plan with you, and talk about your concerns. The Hotline can be reached 24 hours a day, every day at 1 (800) 799-SAFE (7233). For the deaf and hearing impaired: 1 (800)-787-3224 (TTY).
  • Create a safety plan before you leave, file for divorce, or apply for child support. A safety plan is a personalized, practical plan that includes ways to keep yourself and your children safe. You can learn more about safety planning and ways to think through the steps you need to take before you leave the relationship by calling the Hotline or by visiting their website at: http://www.thehotline.org/help/path-to-safety/
  • Reevaluate your safety plan as your situation and / or safety concerns change.
  • Consider calling your local family violence program or local hotline to safety plan, to find out about what services would be available for you and your children, including emergency shelter if you need it. Your local program may also be able to provide you with an advocate to possibly go with you to child support court. If you are interested in having an advocate assist you through the child support process, some family violence programs across Texas can provide you with that support. For more information about services in your area, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline (NDVH) at 1-(800) 799-SAFE or go to the Texas Council on Family Violence service provider search page.
  • If safe to do so, talk to family and friends about what is going on so that they can be prepared to help you and your family if the need arises.
  • Tell the Attorney General’s Office about your safety concerns when you apply for child support. The OAG can put a Family Violence Indicator on your case in order to route your case to court to provide some safety measures and can ask for a Nondisclosure Finding from the Judge that will keep your address confidential in court records.
  • If you are assigned to appear for a Child Support Review Process (CSRP), then your case IS NOT yet marked as a family violence case. If there has been a history of domestic violence or other abuse in your relationship with the other parent, you should inform the Attorney General’s Office. If you report the past violence, a family violence indicator will be placed on your case, and you will not be asked to participate in a CSRP. This means that you will go in front of the judge, instead, and he or she will decide how to set up visitation.
  • Prepare and safety plan in advance for the different phases of the child support process.
    • after the other parent being served / notified about the child support case and leading up to the court date
    • the actual court hearing
    • directly following the hearing

    See the Get Child Support Safely website for more information about preparing for court and the court process.

  • Bring any current or prior protective orders with you, if available.
Things to know about court:
  • You will not be provided with an attorney for your child support hearing.  In court, there will be an Assistant Attorney General (AAG) present, but this attorney represents the best interest of the state and the best interest of the child(ren).  The AAG does not represent you or the other parent.   
  • You are not required to have an attorney with you at child support court hearings, but if you would like legal representation, you have to find your own attorney. If there has been a history of family violence, find an attorney who is knowledgeable in both family law and family violence matters. You may be eligible for an attorney through your local Legal Aid provider. To access information about this potential option, go to http://texaslawhelp.org/find-legal-help.
  • At court, you should not be required to negotiate in the same room or at the same table as the other parent.
  • Keep in mind that even though the OAG will take steps to keep parents separated at court, you may still see the other parent and may have to be in the same waiting area.
  • If a hearing is required, you may also have to stand before the judge near the other parent. Also, keep in mind that you will be required to testify about the family violence in front of the judge with the abuser present.
  • The child support order established by the court will address paternity (if necessary), child support, medical support, custody (conservatorship) and visitation (possession and access).
    • For visitation orders, consider requesting the exchange of children at a safe exchange site or via a neutral third party, if needed.
    • The court may also order supervised visitation. Supervised visits can be held at a professional facility that has trained staff to supervise visits, if available in your area, or if you and the other parent can agree upon a neutral third party, that third party can supervise visits. See the next section for more information on this topic.
Options for Parenting Time/Visitation

A standard possession order may not be in the best interest of your child if the other parent has acted violently in the past. Texas law says that a court must consider past instances of family violence or sexual abuse in determining whether to deny, restrict, or limit parenting time with a child.

Denied, Limited or Restricted Parenting Time/Possession/Visitation: if the threat of violence to your children is too great to permit visitation with the other parent, you can ask the judge to deny, limit or restrict visitation. You will need to provide evidence that domestic violence or abuse has occurred during the two years before your case started. The Texas Family Code, Section 153.004, requires the court to consider such evidence in the appointment of conservators and in making decisions regarding custody, access and visitation. A judge is more likely to grant supervised visitation than no visitation at all unless you can show that your situation is extreme. Be prepared to bring proof that supports your request. Even if you plan to ask for no visitation, prepare a backup plan for supervised visitation that includes a list of possible supervisors. Think about which days of the week and times that visitation will work best for your child. Think about two or three possible locations for the exchange. If you do not feel safe or comfortable with the other parent coming to your house, suggest that the exchange take place at a safe, public place.

Supervised Visitation: allows the other parent to visit with his or her children, but requires that all visits be supervised by another adult. The adult can be a friend or family member, or supervision can be provided by a professional agency that provides the service for a fee. Call your local domestic violence shelter or other advocacy group to find out about the services in your area. You can also find a listing of supervised visitation options online [these centers often charge for their services]:

Denied, Limited or Restricted Parenting Time/Possession/Visitation

If the threat of violence to your children is too great to permit visitation with the other parent, you can ask the judge to deny, limit or restrict visitation. You will need to provide evidence that domestic violence or abuse has occurred during the two years before your case started. The Texas Family Code, Section 153.004, requires the court to consider such evidence in the appointment of conservators and in making decisions regarding custody, access and visitation. A judge is more likely to grant supervised visitation than no visitation at all unless you can show that your situation is extreme. Be prepared to bring proof that supports your request. Even if you plan to ask for no visitation, prepare a backup plan for supervised visitation that includes a list of possible supervisors. Think about which days of the week and times that visitation will work best for your child. Think about two or three possible locations for the exchange. If you do not feel safe or comfortable with the other parent coming to your house, suggest that the exchange take place at a safe, public place.

I am worried about my safety if I file for child support.

If you are planning to leave a relationship, be aware that physical violence often escalates during periods of separation and around the time that someone files for divorce or child support. This can be true even if the relationship was not previously physically violent.

If you are worried about your safety, take these steps to protect yourself:

Talk to family and friends about what is going on so that they can be prepared to help you and your family if the need arises. You can get child support safely.

Office of Attorney General – Stay Safe, Get Support video

The child’s parent wants the child back, but I don’t think it is a good idea.

Depending on the level of threat to the child, refusing to return the child might be a valid option if you think the child is in imminent danger. If possible, speak with an attorney about your situation before taking any action. For general legal information, call the Access and Visitation hotline at 1 (866) 292-4636 between 1 p.m. and 7 p.m., Monday-Friday. Spanish-speaking attorneys are available.

Talk with the parent about your concerns, and try to work out a solution that allows the child to stay with you. If the parent has been away a long time, talk about making any transition as easy on the child as possible. You could offer to take the child to the new home for progressively longer visits to the new home for a gradual transition.

If talking to the parent doesn’t work and the danger to the child is immediate, call 9-1-1 (for an emergency) or CPS at 1 (800)-252-5400 (if you suspect the child is being abused or neglected).

Tips for Court

Have a Plan.

It will be easier if you know the details of the plan you want and have a backup plan. Get a calendar and mark up an ideal parenting schedule so you can see what it looks like.  The Office of the Attorney General publishes such a calendar called the My Sticker Calendar (PDF download). Then, note the areas you are willing to change and the ones you feel are too important to change. Prepare one or two best alternatives to your plan. Practice explaining your plan saying it aloud, if you have time to do so.

Bring Evidence.

Although it is OK if your testimony is the only evidence that visitation should be limited, having more evidence to support your request can be very helpful and make you feel better prepared. Examples of evidence include:

  • Copies of threatening text messages, emails, letters, or voicemail
  • A list of threats (including date, place and time, and what happened) that you can show the judge
  • Friends and family with knowledge of past abuse or violence who are willing to testify at court
  • Pictures of injuries, including bruises
  • Medical records showing past history of abuse
  • Police records and other criminal records

Bring all of this evidence with you to court. Bring extra copies of everything, if possible.

Be prepared to talk with the judge.

Write down everything you want to say before you get to court. List any evidence you have to support what happened and why you are making your request. This will help you remember everything, stay on track and reduce your nervousness. This is your time to explain what happened that justifies your request for a specific visitation order.

Going in front of a judge can be scary and intimidating. A judge’s time is limited but the judge wants to hear your story and get enough information to make a decision.     Judges want to hear from each party and have to ask very direct questions to make sure they understand. Sometimes judges do not hear everything correctly, especially if both parties are talking at once. The judge does not want you to agree to something just because you want it over, or because the judge asks you hard questions. Judges know the parties are nervous and may have a hard time telling their story. Focus on your goal: ensuring you and your child are safe. A court order can be difficult to change once a judge signs it.

Ask for more time.

If the judge asks for additional evidence that you don’t have, it is OK to ask for time to gather the evidence. Ask the judge to consider resetting the case, or entering a temporary order to give you the time you need. Although the request may not be granted, it does not hurt to ask.

Take a friend.

Although your friend or family member may not get to stand in front of the judge with you, he or she can come into the courthouse with you and provide support, make you feel safer, and help you stay calm.

Have an advocate.

This may not be possible for everyone, but if you have an advocate (specifically, an attorney) to help you through the process, it may not seem so hard. Contact your local domestic violence program and find out what services it offers. An advocate can help you develop a safety plan for you and your children for before, during, and after court. Find information about local programs by calling the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−SAFE (7233) or TTY 1−800−787−3224, or online at: Texas Council on Family Violence – Service Provider Search.

If you are planning to leave the relationship
  • Think of a safe place to go if an argument occurs – avoid rooms with no exits (bathroom), or rooms with weapons (kitchen).
  • Think about and make a list of safe people to contact.
  • Keep change with you at all times.
  • Memorize all important numbers.
  • Establish a “code word” or “sign” so that family, friends, teachers or co-workers know when to call for help.
  • Decide how you can act around the abuser to keep him or her calm. It is usually best not to argue or threaten, although every relationship is different. Remember, you have the right to live without fear and violence.
  • Think about what you will say to your partner he or she becomes violent.

Be careful about searching for information or resources online in case your internet activity is being monitored.

If you have left the relationship
  • Change your phone number and screen all calls.
  • Save and document all contacts, messages, injuries or other incidents involving the batterer.
  • Change locks, if the batterer has a key.
  • Avoid staying alone.
  • Plan how to get away if confronted by an abusive partner.
  • If you must meet your former partner, do it in a public place.
  • Vary your routine.
  • Notify school and work contacts.
  • Call a shelter for survivors of domestic violence.

When you leave the relationship, take important papers and documents with you so you can apply for benefits or take legal action. If you are thinking of leaving, make a copy of the important documents and put them in a secure place. Important documents include Social Security cards and birth certificates for you and your children; marriage license; leases or deeds in your name or both your and your partner’s names; checkbook; charge cards; bank statements and charge account statements; insurance policies; proof of income for you and your spouse (pay stubs or W-2’s); and any documentation of past incidents of abuse (photos, police reports, medical records, etc.).

Planning to escape

Often, it is not practical or possible to leave the abuser immediately. If you find yourself in an abusive situation, think about setting up a separate bank account in your own name. Make extra sets of keys to leave with a friend or relative. You may want to rent your own post office box so that you can continue to receive mail. Make a list of people’s phone numbers who could help you. Make a list of emergency shelters and their phone numbers. Buy a cell phone or save up some change for pay phone calls. Don’t try to leave while the abuser is with you. Plan on a time when the abuser is away from home (for example, at work).

Obtain a protective order

A protective order is a court order that can protect you from someone who has been violent or threatened to be violent. Sometimes, applying for a protective order is a safe plan, but other times it may escalate the violence. Contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233), or a local family violence program to talk about your options.

If you have been recently threatened or assaulted and think it is safe to get a protective order, contact the local district or county attorney and request a protective order. There are also forms online you can use to request a protective order:

TexasLawHelp.org – Free Protective Order Kit

Keep in mind that each county has its own eligibility requirements for a protective order.

Once your protective order is granted, always keep it with you. Call the police immediately if the abuser violates the protective order. Make sure your friends, neighbors, and relatives know you have a protective order. If the protective order involves your children, make a copy for their school or daycare.

Being safe in your own home

If the abuser has left your home, keep all windows locked at all times. Change the door locks and add additional security measures like dead bolts or an electronic monitoring system.

Develop a safety plan with your children so they know what to do and where to go if the abuser causes problems.

Make sure the children’s school or day care provider has a list of approved persons to pick up the children.

Make sure your friends and neighbors know that the abuser no longer lives with you so they can report it if the abuser returns.

If you have moved away from the abuser, don’t contact or call from your home and never say where you are living, get an unlisted telephone number, and block your cell number.

The National Domestic Violence Hotline will help with your safety planning and answer your questions about dealing with domestic violence at 1 (800)-799-7233 or 1 (800)-787-3224 (TTY).

The The Texas Council on Family Violence also has information.


Standard Possession Order and Parenting Time

I’m not listed in the court order. Do I have any rights to see the child?

Texas does not give automatic rights to extended family members, such as grandparents, aunts, uncles, stepparents, or other relatives.

Unless you go to court and get a judge to give you rights, you do not have any legal right to visit with a child who is not your biological child. This does not mean you cannot see the child, but it does mean that you must get the permission from one of the parents to do so.

During court-ordered parenting time, the parent with possession decides who can spend time with the child.

Are you a grandparent?

Under rare circumstances, grandparents can obtain a court order to visit grandchildren over the objection of the parents.

First, attempt mediation. Mediation with a professional neutral third party can keep the focus on the child and future relationships, rather than rehashing the past. Mediation can keep things on track, even when dealing with highly emotional issues.

For links to mediators, go to:
Texas Association of Mediators
Office of Attorney General – Child Support Access and Visitation Provider Search
Most judges order everyone into mediation before court intervention. Contact an attorney for more information.

What is the difference between possession and access?

Possession of your child means you can see the child in person and decide where the child goes. It is your time with your child.

Access means that you can interact with your child by phone, text messages or by Face Time or Skype or other social media. You also can attend your child’s extracurricular activities and have access to school, medical, and dental records.

How do I know if I have a child support order?

Have you appeared with the other parent at the Attorney General’s Office to negotiate an order or at court? Are you required to pay child support? A support order may be called a Decree of Divorce, a Paternity Decree, or an Order in Suit Affecting the Parent-Child Relationship. Regardless of its name, the order will always include the parent’s names, the name of the child, and the rights and responsibilities of each parent.
[Insert a graphic, or link to sample ct order.]

I don’t have a court order – how can I see my child?

If the parent is not allowing access and there is no support order, you may file a child support case with the OAG to establish a child support order that addresses parenting time/visitation or file a case with a district court. Either parent, custodial or noncustodial, can apply for child support services through the OAG to establish an order. Unlike when you hire a private attorney to pursue a legal matter on your behalf, the assistant attorneys general represent the State of Texas, not the parents. The applicant cannot specify which legal actions are pursued by the OAG.

More information on how to start the child support process.

Without a court order in place, there is nothing that the state can do to get the other parent to let you see your child. A court order signed by a judge protects your parental rights by allowing you to use the legal system to enforce the order if you need to.

I already have a court order – when do I get to see my child?

Read your order. It describes the minimum amount of time your child will spend with each parent. Not all orders are alike. If you have your order and have questions, call the Access and Visitation hotline and for help to understand it. Hotline attorneys may ask you to read your order over the phone.

  • If you and the other parent agree on a new or different schedule, the court will not enforce that schedule – it’s up to you and the other parent to follow through on your agreement.
  • If you and the other parent cannot agree on a new schedule or if one of you decides that the new schedule isn’t working, both of you must follow the court-ordered schedule.

Even if the court orders the standard possession order (SPO), the parties can ALWAYS agree to a different parenting schedule if the need arises. The key word is agree. Getting along with the other parent can play a huge part in being flexible with your visits with your child. As soon as one party no longer agrees with the alternative schedule, both parties are required to start following the SPO exactly as it is written.

How do I know if I have an SPO?

Possession order is the court’s phrase for parenting time. Sometimes it is also called visitation. Parenting time/possession orders state when the child (ren) will be with each parent or guardian.

  • In most cases, both parents share parental rights and responsibilities (called joint managing conservatorship).
  • Usually, one parent has the right to determine where the child (ren) lives. (This parent is also called the custodial parent.)

Texas has a standard possession order (SPO) for most parents. This is a plan for parenting your child that describes the minimum amount of time your child will spend with each parent. The parenting plan splits time between the noncustodial parent and custodial parent while still allowing the child to have a stable schedule.

  • You and the other parent may decide to work out a different schedule than is in the order. That’s okay, as long as you both agree to the new schedule.
  • If you and the other parent agree on a new schedule, the court will not enforce that schedule – it’s up to you and the other parent to follow through on your agreement.
  • If you and the other parent cannot agree on a new schedule, if one of you decides that the new schedule isn’t working, both of you must follow the court-ordered schedule unless one of you files a motion to modify it with the court that issued the order.
  • If one parent stops following the court order, the other parent can enforce the order in court after attempting to resolve the issue outside of court.

If the parents live within 100 miles of each other, the noncustodial parent has parenting time with the child every 1st, 3rd, and 5th weekend, one weeknight per week during the school year, about half of all holidays, and for extended time during the summer. See an illustration in this PDF download of My Sticker Calendar.

The days in gold show the first, third, and fifth weekend of the month. Holidays and summer schedules override the gold days. Check your local school district’s calendar for specifics about vacations and holidays and use the calendar’s stickers to plan with your child.

Parenting Time – Less than 100 miles

Parenting time by your schedule, or by the standard possession order, if parents don’t agree:

      • Weekends start on 1st, 3rd and 5th Fridays
      • Friday at 6:00 p.m. – Sunday @ 6:00 p.m. (or your order may state from after school Friday until the child returns to school the following Monday—you must tell child support staff or the judge if you want this option)
      • Receiving parent picks up the child
      • Thursdays 6 p.m. – 8 p.m. during school year or your order may state it starts when the child’s school is regularly dismissed and ends when the child’s school resumes (Wednesdays if order signed before September 1, 2005)
      • Weekends may be back to back
      • Summer, holidays, and special days
      • Pick up and return to residence or, if agreed to, another place
      • Return items with child
Parenting Time – More than 100 miles

In a long‐distance parenting plan, think about the time children lose with their parents when traveling for a long time. Building parenting time into travel may be a possible solution. Travel time activities can be a chance for parents and children to transition and enhance their relationship. Whenever possible, the receiving parent should accompany the child that is traveling.

If parents live over 100 miles apart, there are options for weekend parenting time:

      • NCP can choose the first, third, or fifth weekend of the month throughout the year
      • The NCP gets to choose one weekend per month with at least two weeks’ advance
      • The election for one weekend per month must be made in writing to the CP within 90 days after the parties begin to live more than 100 miles apart.

If the parties live more than 100 miles from each other, NCPs can either exercise the weekend visits as set out above or they can elect to exercise one weekend per month of their choice to begin at 6:00 p.m. on that Friday and ending at 6:00 p.m. on the following Sunday. The NCP must give 14 days’ written or telephonic notice of the weekend they choose. Additionally, this election for one weekend per month must be made in writing to the parent with custody of the child within 90 days after the parties begin to live more than 100 miles apart.
Additionally, the child gets extended time with the NCP during the summer and every spring break.

Parenting tips:

  • Spending weekdays with your child is a time to do everyday activities, such as doing homework or cooking dinner. Have all ingredients on hand to give you and your child more time to enjoy each other (and less time in the grocery store).
  • If the noncustodial parent lives further than 100 miles from the child, weekday visitation may not be possible. If this is your situation, think of creative ways to make up for the time, such as talking to your child on the one night a week on the telephone, or video chatting with each other. Make sure the other parent agrees with this arrangement.
Weekends – Less than 100 miles

Friday is the first day of the weekend. If Friday falls on the first of the month, that is the first weekend of the month. If Friday falls on the last day of the month, then the following Saturday and Sunday, or the first and second days of the month, are considered part of the LAST weekend of the month. If your order is for the first, third and fifth weekends, this will be the fifth week. Click here to download the Office of the Attorney General’s My Sticker Calendar, which shows the dates the child spends with the noncustodial parent in gold.

Weekends – Over 100 miles

If the parents live over 100 miles apart, the noncustodial parent has the right to choose one weekend per month with at least two weeks’ advance written notice to the other parent OR can choose one of these: the first, third, or fifth weekend of the month throughout the year.

Weekday

If your order was signed before Sept. 1, 2005, weekly parenting time begins every Wednesday at 6 p.m. and ends at 8 p.m. If your order was signed Sept. 1, 2005, or later, weekly parenting time begins every Thursday at 6 p.m. and ends at 8 p.m.; OR your order may state it starts when the child’s school is regularly dismissed and ends at the time the child’s school resumes.

Holidays

The Thanksgiving holiday season alternates between odd and even years. The noncustodial parent has possession for this vacation period in odd-numbered years and the custodial parent has possession in even-numbered years.

The Christmas holiday season is divided into two parts. Part one is from the day school is dismissed until noon on December 26 (or December 28 if your order was signed after June 15, 2007). Part two is from noon on December 26 (or December 28 if your order was signed after June 15, 2007) until 6 p.m. on the day before school resumes after the Christmas vacation.

In odd-numbered years, the custodial parent will have the child for the first half of the holiday period and the noncustodial parent the second half of the holiday period. In even-numbered years, the noncustodial parent will have the child for the first half of the holiday period and the custodial parent will have the child for the second half of the holiday period.

Weekday and weekend time also may be extended by holidays that fall on Friday or Monday.

Check your local school district’s calendar for specifics about vacations and holidays and use the calendar’s stickers or other stickers to plan with your child.

Click here to order a paper copy of My Sticker Calendar, or download a PDF copy here: My Sticker Calendar.

Mother’s Day and Father’s Day

If the mother is not in possession of the child on Mother’s Day, she is entitled to pick up the child for a period of parenting time over Mother’s Day.

If the father is not in possession of the child on Father’s Day, he is entitled to pick up the child for a period of parenting time over Father’s Day.

Birthdays

The parent not in possession of the child on the child’s birthday is entitled to pick up the child for two hours between 6 p.m. and 8 p.m.

Summer – Under 100 miles

If the parents live within 100 miles of each other, the noncustodial parent is entitled to 30 days of parenting time during the summer months. If written notice is not given and the parents live under 100 miles apart, the NCP shall have possession from 6 p.m. July 1 through 6 p.m. July 31.

Summer – Over 100 miles

If the noncustodial parent lives more than 100 miles away from the child, he or she gets an extended summer possession of up to 42 days.

NCPs must give written notice to the CP by April 1 if they want to specify an extended period(s) of summer possession.

If the CP gives the NCP written notice by April 15 of each year, the CP shall have possession of the child on any one weekend beginning at 6 p.m. Friday and ending at 6 p.m. on the following Sunday during any one extended period of summer possession by the NCP.

If written notice is not given and the parents live more than 100 miles apart, the NCP shall have possession from 6 p.m. June 15 through 6 p.m. July 27.

Unless the parents agree to a different pick-up and drop-off point, the child is picked up at the parent’s residence.

If the CP gives the NCP written notice by April 15 of each year, the CP may designate 21 days that begin not earlier than the day after the child’s school is dismissed for the summer vacation and ending not later than 7 periods of at least 7 consecutive days each, beginning and ending at 6 p.m. on each applicable day. The NCP may not have possession of the child during this time if the period or periods do not interfere with the NCP’s period or periods of extended summer possession, or with Father’s Day, if the NCP is the father of the child.

Spring Break – Under 100 miles

Children spend spring break with the noncustodial parent in even-numbered years and with the custodial parent in odd-numbered years.

Spring Break – Over 100 miles

Children spend every spring break with the noncustodial parent.

To find out the dates of your child’s spring break, contact your child’s school district or visit the school’s website and search for the school’s calendar.

Geographic Restrictions

You may request, or the court may limit where the custodial parent can move with the child. This is called a “geographic restriction.” For example, if both parents live in Houston, the court may not allow the custodial parent to move with the child outside Harris County or any of the surrounding counties. This restriction helps ensure that both parents remain involved in the child’s life. Some judges favor geographic restrictions more than other judges.

How can I customize my plan when meeting with the OAG to establish my child support case?

Parents can ask for possession (parenting time) to start:

      • When the child’s school ends for the day on Friday, and end when school resumes (on Monday or, if Monday is a holiday, on Tuesday)
      • At a pick up or drop off location somewhere other than a parent’s house, such as a gas station or a fast food restaurant between the two parents’ houses. The location must be very specific so there is no misunderstanding about the pick up or drop off point.
      • At a different time and date because of the schedule of the child, the age of the child, the special needs of the child, the schedule of a conservator, or any other relevant factor.
      • The noncustodial parent can electThe noncustodial parent can elect to take possession of the child only one weekend per month. In this case, the noncustodial parent gets to pick the weekend he or she wants, as long as he or she gives the other parent at least 14 days’ written or telephonic notice. This is a special election. The NCP has 90 days AFTER he or she moves over 100 miles away from where the child lives to make the election. The noncustodial parent does not have to tell the court about the change; only the other parent or conservator. Written or email notification can be saved or printed as proof of notification. to take possession of the child only one weekend per month. In this case, the noncustodial parent gets to pick the weekend he or she wants, as long as he or she gives the other parent at least 14 days’ written or telephonic notice.
Tips for Parents who Live more than 100 miles away
  • Planning your weekends well in advance helps things go more smoothly. Get prior approval to take off work, if necessary, and coordinate in advance with the other parent about schedules and the children’s extracurricular activities.
  • Some parents meet midway and exchange the child at a pre-arranged location. Other parents split the commute—the receiving parent drives to pick up the child. Parents have to be clear about times and locations with a back-up plan in case of car trouble or heavy traffic.
  • In a long‐distance parenting plan, think about time children lose with both parents when traveling for a long time. Building parenting time into travel may be a possible solution. Travel time activities can be a chance for parents and children to transition and enhance their relationship. Whenever possible, the receiving parent should be the accompanying the child that is traveling.

Teen Parenting

I am a teen parent. Is anything different for me?

A teen parent, also known as a “minor parent,” refers to a person under 18 years of age, who requires an adult (preferably a parent or legal guardian) to represent him or her in the child support court process. An adult representative must come to court because a minor cannot legally sign a waiver of service or enter a general appearance before the court in lieu of being served in person. When a child support case is opened with the OAG, a child support worker will contact the minor parent. The child support worker will describe the child support process; explain why the minor parent must have his or her parent, legal guardian, or adult representative present during all legal proceedings; and verify who can serve as the minor’s adult representative. If the minor parent identifies someone other than his or her parent or legal guardian, the OAG must get an Authorization for Release of Information or payment form on file so that the representative can receive information on the minor’s case.

Additional Resources:


Visitation

Why don’t my children want to spend time with the other parent?

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.

What are my options if the parenting (visitation/possession) schedule in my order doesn’t work for me?

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.

Learn more about modifying (or changing) your visitation schedule, or go to TexasLawHelp.org.

If you need help reaching an agreement, read about mediation and mediation alternatives here.

Where should we meet to exchange the children?

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.

What if I don’t know where my child is living?

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 an attorney for more legal 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.

Office of the Attorney General – Application for State Parent Locator Service

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.

What happens if I must work on a weekend when I am supposed to have my children?

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.

I am planning to move. Will this change my visitation/court order?

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.

Does a protective order affect a visitation order?

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.

My parents would like to take my children for the weekend or during part of the summer during my extended summer visitation. Do I need the custodial parent’s permission?

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.

Why should my child spend long periods of time with the other parent?

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.

What’s the best way to prepare my child for an extended absence from me?

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.

The other parent or caregiver is not letting me see the child. What can I do?

If the court order lists you as possessory conservator/NCP and you believe the other parent or caregiver is violating your parenting time/visitation rights, read about enforcing visitation rights.

Read about Enforcement of Visitation here, or download the TexasLawHelp.org Visitation Kit.

How do I know if I have a Standard Possession Order (SPO)?

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.


Visitation for Grandparents

Can the court give me the right to visit my grandchild?

The easiest way to visit with your grandchild is to establish or maintain positive relations with the child’s parents. Only one parent has to give permission, as long as you are visiting the child during that parent’s period of possession.

Under some circumstances, grandparents can obtain a court order granting them the right to visit their grandchildren over the objection of parents.

Contact an attorney for more information.

I am concerned about the safety of my grandchild.

If you think the child is in serious and immediate danger by continuing to live with a parent (or parents), call 9-1-1 in the case of an emergency. Call Child Protective Services at 1 (800)-252-5400 if you believe the child is being abused or neglected.

You may also be able to get emergency relief in the form of a protective order and follow up with a suit to modify conservatorship.

It is possible for a grandparent or other non-parent to become a managing conservator. It can be very difficult, especially if you want to be the ONLY managing conservator. The Texas Family Code says that a parent or both parents should always be a managing conservator unless it is not in the child’s best interest (because it would significantly hurt the child’s physical health or emotional development). You must prove to the court that living with you is in the child’s best interest.

A court may be more likely to appoint you managing conservator if:

  • the parent has voluntarily given up the child to you or some other person or agency; or
  • both of the child’s parents are dead.

There may be other reasons as well. Contact an attorney for advice and assistance. An attorney can help you file a motion to modify the court order. Read more about motions to modify. Also, check with your local law library for the forms to file the motion to modify yourself or go to www.texaslawhelp.org. The process will be much easier if the parent agrees that you should become the managing conservator.

I am a grandparent being denied access to my grandchild. What can I do?

Sometimes, after parents separate, other family members miss seeing the child who has gone to live with only one parent. Grandparents have limited rights and non-relatives have even fewer. Maintaining a positive relationship with the parent of the child is one way to continue to see the child.

Before you contact the parents, think about how committed and how much time you can consistently spend with the child. Maintaining relationships when there has been conflict may not be easy, but it is possible. Communication tip: Be a good listener, be understanding, and stay focused on your goal, remaining involved with the child. Don’t argue. Don’t use adjectives. Stay positive, focus on what can happen.

Read about Enforcement of Visitation here, or download the TexasLawHelp.org Visitation Kit.


 

The child’s parent wants the child back, but I don’t think it is a good idea.

Depending on the level of threat to the child, refusing to return the child might be a valid option if you think the child is in imminent danger. If possible, speak with an attorney about your situation before taking any action. For general legal information, call the Access and Visitation hotline at 1 (866) 292-4636 between 1 p.m. and 7 p.m., Monday-Friday. Spanish-speaking attorneys are available.

Talk with the parent about your concerns, and try to work out a solution that allows the child to stay with you. If the parent has been away a long time, talk about making any transition as easy on the child as possible. You could offer to take the child to the new home for progressively longer visits to the new home for a gradual transition.

If talking to the parent doesn’t work and the danger to the child is immediate, call 9-1-1 (for an emergency) or CPS at 1 (800)-252-5400 (if you suspect the child is being abused or neglected).


Visitation for Non-Conservator Parents

When can I see my child?

There is no set rule regarding a non-conservator parent’s access and visitation rights. A non-conservator is a non-parent (friend or relative) whom the court has appointed conservator of a child. Check with your attorney, if you have one, for more information. If you do not have an attorney, click here to get help finding an attorney, or call the Access and Visitation hotline toll free at 1 (866) 292-4636, Monday through Friday between 1 p.m. and 7 p.m., to have an attorney review the order with you over the phone.

Can I still be required to pay child support?

I am a non-conservator parent. Can I still be required to pay child support? Yes. The Texas Family Code states that a court can order a parent not appointed as a managing or a possessory conservator to perform “other parental duties,” including paying child support.

Do I have access to medical records, school records, or other records of the child?

Unless the court has specifically limited your right to these records, you can access them without regard to whether the order gives you the right. This is also true of dental records, psychological records, and educational records.

Take a copy of the court order with you when you try to access records.

The other parent or caregiver is not letting me see the child. What can I do?

If the court order lists you as possessory conservator/NCP and you believe the other parent or caregiver is violating your parenting time/visitation rights, read about enforcing visitation rights.

Read about Enforcement of Visitation here, or download the TexasLawHelp.org Visitation Kit.


Visitation for Non-Parent Conservators

I am not a parent, but I am a possessory conservator. Are my rights and duties the same?

The Texas Family Code states that you have the following rights and duties unless the court order says otherwise:

  1. The duty of care, control, protection, and reasonable discipline of the child;
  2. The duty to provide the child with clothing, food, and shelter; and
  3. The right to consent to medical, dental, and surgical treatment during an emergency involving an immediate danger to the health and safety of the child.

You also have any other right that is specifically listed in the court order.

I am not the parent of the child, but I am a family member or a caregiver. What are my rights as a non-parent caregiver?

A caregiver is an adult who is present in the home and supervises and cares for a child.

There are different reasons a non-parent may want to learn more about getting a court order or changing a court order. Sometimes, a non-parent may take care of a child without a court order giving that person any parental rights or responsibilities. If the child was given to you by the custodial parent so you would care for the child, you may be able to ask a court to give you additional rights. If you are not a biological parent but you are doing everything for the child that the parent would normally do, you can also ask for additional rights.

If you do not want to go through the Attorney General’s Office and the parent or relative voluntarily gave the child to you, hire an attorney or contact your local law library. Additionally, call the Access and Visitation Hotline at 1 (866) 292-4636 for help in how to ask the court for additional rights. A court order says where the child is to live. Court orders that document agreements between parties help avoid conflicts that could arise in the future.

Read more about Modification of Visitation.

How can I be listed on the court order?

If you want to be named as a conservator in the court order, you must file a motion requesting the court add you as a party to the case.

Did a parent with right to name the child’s residence voluntarily give the child to you to care for?

You may ask the court for additional legal rights by filing a motion with the court that issued the original orders. You would be referred to as a “non-parent caregiver.”

You may also be able to apply for medical care or food assistance for the child.

Modification of Visitation
FAQs for Non-Parents

I’m the noncustodial parent or non-parent caregiver and the child has primarily lived with me. How do I get additional rights or become an additional party on the case?

When a caregiver contacts the OAG and indicates that the child(ren) on the case is no longer living with the original custodial parent and requests a modification, an application for services is sent to the person with physical possession of the child in order to create a new case. The court order does not change until the judge changes it.

If you do not go through the OAG’s office, parties typically file a motion for modification to change conservatorship or possession rights, instead of the Notice of Change of Status discussed below.

A Notice of Change of Status may be filed with the OAG when the:
• Custodial parent voluntarily relinquishes the primary care of the child, or
• Person with physical possession of the child has applied for or been referred to the OAG for child support services and the change of possession is permanent, and
• OAG has verified the change in physical possession.

The person with physical possession of the child does not need to have possession for six months prior to filing legal action. The OAG uses one of the following documents to verify the change in possession:
• Judicial finding of possession
• Child’s school or day care records
• Affidavit from the person in possession
• Uncontested affidavit of possession signed by the NCP, provided OAG staff attempt to confirm that CP’s relinquishment of possession was voluntary
• Possession affidavit completed by the CP
• Other appropriate documentation of possession, including records from the Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC)