How to Change a Texas Court Order for Child Access

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Texas Family Courts are responsible for determining child access rules and requirements.
Texas Family Courts are responsible for determining child access rules and requirements.

It’s common knowledge that going through a divorce is both emotionally draining and logistically complex. To go through the process is to make a series of difficult compromises, or to leave your fate in the hands of a judge whose interests may not be aligned with yours.

While the financial complexity of divorce is widely known, many will tell you that the hardest part of the process is determining the custodial and timeshare arrangement with their children. In particular, child access time is often a major source of contention.

At Sabelhaus + Lynch, our experienced family law attorneys have observed that child access negotiations can get very heated. We’ve seen individuals jockey for more care and possession time with their children and deprioritize what’s in the child’s best interest. We’ve even seen some disgruntled spouses attempt to use their children as bargaining chips in custody order negotiations.

While only one parent can be recognized as the custodial parent for purposes of a child’s primary residence, hiring an experienced Tarrant County family law attorney to handle child access negotiations on your behalf will help ensure that your interests and rights are represented in the final agreement.

Difference Between Child Access and Conservatorship

In Texas, the legal term for custody is “conservatorship.” Instead of being referred to as a custodian, the parent with court-ordered custody of a child is called a “conservator.” In Texas, there are 3 types of conservatorships:

  • Joint Managing Conservatorship: Both parties share decision making about most issues.
  • Sole Managing Conservatorship: One party has the exclusive right to make most decisions about the child.
  • Possessory Conservatorship: The party that is not the Sole Managing Conservator.

While conservatorship determines the child’s primary residence, it doesn’t specify how much time the child spends with each parent. This important framework is determined separately in a child possession schedule.

In most cases, both parties try to reach an agreement on this important issue through mediation. If they’re unable to strike a deal, they can petition the court to make the schedule on their behalf.

It’s worth noting while children must be 18 to determine which parent they live with, Texas does allow children who are at least 12 years old to have a say in terms of where they live and who they spend time with.

Difference Between Child Custody and Child Visitation

In divorces, child custody and child visitation must both be determined. While child custody and child visitation both relate to the parent-child relationship, there are significant differences between them from a legal standpoint.

Child custody, known in Texas as conservatorship, refers primarily to which parent the child lives with. The child custody arrangement also defines how much say each parent has when it comes to major decisions, such as the child’s education and healthcare treatments.

Child visitation refers to how much time each parent spends with the child. This will be determined separately by a child care and possession schedule agreed to by the parties, or if necessary, by the judge who oversees the proceedings.

What Is a Child Visitation Schedule?

A child visitation schedule outlines how much time each parent is able to spend with their child. Establishing this schedule is especially important for the noncustodial parent, or the parent with whom the child does not primarily live.

Given the high cost and unpredictable nature of the courtroom, it’s always better if the parties can reach an agreement outside the courtroom. But when that’s not possible you can ask the court to determine the possession and access schedule via court order.

Either way, it’s essential to hire a Tarrant County child access lawyer who can help you navigate your case. We have your best interest at heart and will make sure your parental rights are protected and respected.

Standard Possession Order

Instead of customizing an access schedule that suits the specific needs of each parent, the court typically issues a standard possession order (SPO). This is a templated framework that gives each party what the state of Texas deems is a reasonable amount of possession and access time.

Under a standard possession order — which may vary based on the child’s age and the parents’ proximity to each other — the noncustodial parent will see their child on the following days. The rest of the time, the child will be with the custodial parent.

Parents separated by less than 100 miles 

  • Thursday evenings during the school year (from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.)
  • The noncustodial parent can choose to have one weekend of possession per month instead of standard weekend visits (if notice is given 14 days in advance).
  • 1st weekend of the month (from 6 p.m. Friday to 6 p.m. Sunday)
  • Spring break every year
  • 3rd weekend of the month (from 6 p.m. Friday to 6 p.m. Sunday)
  • June 15 to July 27 every summer (different days can be scheduled by April 1)
  • 5th weekend of the month (from 6 p.m. Friday to 6 p.m. Sunday)

If the child is younger than 3 years old, the judge may award a more carefully structured access schedule, which more acutely considers the child’s best interests. To that end, here are a few factors a judge in Texas may consider:

  • Whether the parent has a history of caring for small children
  • The child’s separation anxiety from one parent
  • The child’s physical health
  • The child’s behavioral, medical, and developmental needs
  • The child’s emotional development
  • The distance between the spouses
  • Others who live with the parents, including siblings
  • And more

Modifying a Child Access Order

In Texas, the law recognizes that circumstances change over time and the rigidity of court orders can create complications for the average Texas family. For this reason, court orders are not written in stone.

Either parent can file a motion to modify an existing order for child visitation, as well as child custody and other divorce-related issues, at any time. The court may consider a suit to modify the parent child arrangement if both parents agree to the change, or if the petitioning parent has experienced a material and substantial change in circumstances.

Depending on whether both parents agree to the changes to the existing order, the modification process can either be simple or complex. The complexity of your case can also be eased by hiring an experienced family law attorney like Sabelhaus + Lynch.

If Both Parties Agree

If each party agrees to the modification order, the process is typically quick and painless. All your Near Southside child access lawyer will need to do is submit to the court a proposed order highlighting the changes. The judge will then review the modification case and likely approve it.

What Happens If Both Parties Do Not Agree

If the parties do NOT agree to the proposed modification, gaining approval becomes more challenging. The burden will be for the petitioning party to prove there has been a “material and substantial change in circumstances” in their life that warrants them spending more time with their child. Qualifying life changes may include:

  • Employment situation changes
  • Your ability to financially support the child changes
  • Changes to your health and wellness

Another path is to argue that your child’s emotional or physical well-being is in danger, either due to abuse or neglect, and that your child would be safer spending more time with you.

No matter the circumstances of your modification request, it’s critically important to have an experienced Tarrant County family lawyer who can guide you through the process. Our Texas law firm has a wealth of experience helping individuals modify their current order, and we can do the same for you in your case.

Even if you have a great argument for getting your court order modified, you should never take the results you want for granted. Judges take all modification petitions very seriously, especially when the outcome may not be in the child’s best interest.

Obtaining legal help from an experienced Near Southside family law attorney will give you the best opportunity to achieve the outcome you desire.

How Can I Change My Child Access Court Order

Under Texas law, you can adjust an existing order by filing a petition to modify in the court that granted the divorce, unless the child has moved. Sabelhaus + Lynch has helped countless clients research and amend their existing agreements. Our process looks like this:

  1. Case Review and Research

    We review your change in circumstances and research whether your request has merit

  2. Legal Pleading

    If it does, we send a petition to the court

  3. Courtroom Argument

    We argue our case before the court

  4. Court Decision Published

    The court determines whether changes to the current order is warranted

Can Visitation Be Ordered If One Parent Poses a Threat

If one parent has a history of misconduct, such as physical or emotional abuse, the judge may still allow him or her to visit with the child under supervision. This will typically be the case if the judge believes it’s necessary for the child’s safety and well-being. It can also be something that the custodial parent requests with reason.

Child Access Rights for Unmarried Fathers

All biological fathers have the right to seek child access, even if they were not married to the child’s mother at the time of birth. If the mother is not allowing the father to spend time with the child, the father can petition for visitation rights.

In Texas, courts rule in the best interest of the child. In many cases, what’s best for the child is to spend time with both mother and father. Even still, securing child visitation rights is not guaranteed. When reviewing your case, the judge will consider many factors, including your criminal background and any history you have with the child.

Child Custody Modifications

Getting a child custody modification is similar to the process of modifying an existing child access order. It ultimately comes down to whether there has been a “material and substantial change in circumstances” that warrant an alteration to the current order. You will need to file a petition with the court to initiate the process.

Given the magnitude of the change, custody orders may prove difficult to modify, but the Fort Worth family lawyers at S + L are here to provide legal advice and give you the best chance to win your modification case.

How Child Access Impact Child Support

Many wonder if modifying the child possession schedule may impact their child support requirements. The short answer is: no. Increasing or decreasing the amount of time you spend with your child will not affect the amount you owe (or receive) in child support.

Either parent can separately petition for changes to the child support order if changes to the payer’s financial situation warrant a modification.

Other Court Order Modifications

Whether it’s related to child custody, child support, or spousal maintenance, the court may update any order if the change in circumstances rises to the standard of material and substantial. To reasonably ask the court for a change, your modification order must meet at least one of the following criteria.

Type of court order

What you’ll need to prove

Child support
  • There has been a significant and permanent change to income or living expenses.
  • The child in question requires new and extraordinary medical support, and the custodial parent requires additional income.
Spousal maintenance
  • There has been a significant and permanent change to income or living expenses.
  • The spouse in question requires new and extraordinary medical support.
Visitation schedule
  • Your new circumstances (improved living arrangement, improved emotional well-being, etc.) would warrant you spending more time with your child.
  • Your child’s emotional or physical well-being is in danger, and he or she would be safer spending more time with you.
Asset division
  • You can prove the original arrangement was influenced by fraudulent information (failure by an ex-spouse to disclose assets) or mistakes in the proceedings.

Contact Our Top Fort Worth Family Attorneys

The award-winning lawyers at Sabelhaus + Lynch, PLLC, are pleased to offer some of the most affordable and effective legal advice and services in Fort Worth and Arlington. Unlike other family law attorneys, we are up-front about our pricing, so you know exactly what you’ll pay in your modification case. And we ALWAYS have your best interest at heart.

Our top Texas law firm is ready to help you modify your court order so you can spend more time with your child. If you need help or would like legal assistance, we are here for you.

Contact our family law practice today to schedule a no-cost consultation with a top-rated attorney in Fort Worth.