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For many divorced or never-married parents with custody orders, dividing up the holidays can be a major source of conflict.  While each court order is different, and parents are allowed to make other arrangements if approved by the court, there is a standard approach that the state of Texas takes when handling Christmas custody arrangements after a split. In Texas, this standard is characterized with every other year for both major holidays (Christmas and Thanksgiving), as well as school vacations for custodial and noncustodial parents.

Determining parenting responsibilities, even legally, is a complicated process for any parent. Even with a custody order in place, there may still be some confusion around the holiday season.

How is Custody Determined?

Custody is a legal term used to describe the legal and physical relationship between a parent or guardian and a child. Custody covers the gamut from where a child will live to what school the child will attend to who has the right to make medical decisions for the child. There are two types of custody arrangements.

  • Legal. Legal custody addresses the important decisions that need to be made. It covers education, religious and ethical beliefs, discipline standards and medical care.
  • Physical. Physical custody determines who has possession and control of the child.

Many co-parents have joint legal and physical custody. This means that both parents have the right to make all the important decisions for children the couple share together. In other words, when it is time to make a decision concerning the child, the parents must work together to do what’s in the best interest of the child.

What is a Custodial and Noncustodial Parent?

Both parents are important to their children. However, for the purposes of determining a parenting schedule, the law defines parents by whether or not they have primary physical custody of the child. The definition of custodial and non-custodial are as follows:

Custodial Parent

The custodial parent is also called the managing conservator. While the courts may give parents 50/50 custody, they will often assign one of the parents with a larger timeshare as well as a primary residence. This parent is typically who the child resides with a majority of the time.

Non-custodial Parent

Also referred to as the possessory conservator, the rights of a non-custodial parent depend largely on the custody order the court puts in place. Typically, these parents will have access to the child on a defined schedule, such as every other weekend and one weeknight.

What is the Standard Holiday Visitation Schedule in Texas?

Because the holidays are a coveted time which can lead to disputes between co-parents, the Texas Family Code provides a standard schedule. This schedule is standard no matter how many miles the custodial and non-custodial parents live apart. In addition, this schedule overrules conflicting weekend or Thursday periods of possession.

For Christmas, Texas non-custodial parents:

  • Have possession of the child in even-numbered years beginning at 6 p.m. on the day the child is dismissed from school for Christmas vacation.
  • Return the child to the custodial parent at noon on December 28.

For Christmas, Texas custodial parents:

  • Have possession of the child in odd-numbered years beginning at 6 p.m. on the day child is dismissed from school for Christmas vacation.
  • Allow the non-custodial parents to take possession of the child at noon on December 28.

In Texas’ standard holiday visitation, the parent who does not have the child on Christmas will have the child on Thanksgiving.

What Counts as a Denial of Visitation?

Children do best when co-parents can work together in a flexible and cooperative way to develop a schedule. Each child is unique and it’s best if parents work together to meet the needs of their child. However, when that doesn’t occur parents may be at a loss of how to enforce visitation orders.

In order to get your visitation orders enforced by a court, you will need to show a pattern of denials. To prove a denial, you will need the following:

  • Visitation orders that clearly state a time, place and date to exchange the children.
  • Proof that you showed up at the exact court-ordered time and location of the exchange.
  • Proof that your ex acted in contempt. A text message showing the other parent’s denial isn’t enough. You must go to the location on the correct date and time ordered.
  • Record the names of anyone who witnessed the denial of visitation.

Keeping a visitation journal will help you determine if your ex has a pattern of visitation denials. In this journal, write down exactly what happened in the visitation journal. For example:

“I called my ex to tell them I was coming to pick up my child at 6 p.m. However, there was no response. When I arrived at 5:55 p.m., I waited for 20 minutes for my ex to show up then went inside the restaurant to buy a cheeseburger.”

If you purchase something while waiting on your ex for an exchange, make sure you save your receipt to prove you were in the neighborhood.

What Can I do if my Ex Denies my Visitation?

While friends and family may tell you to get the police involved, visitation denials are a civil matter. Police officers typically prefer not to get involved unless a dispute rises to a criminal matter.

“Depending on the department, police officers may read the court orders and try to assist in a resolution for the parties,” Carlson Law Firm attorney Cheryl Powell said. “However, they are unable to enforce the policy because it is a civil matter.”

To resolve the matter, Cheryl says that a parent has two options:

“A qualified family attorney can help a parent Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus,” she said. “If granted, the Writ of Habeas Corpus requires the person that has the child to appear in court with the child. In addition, the parent can ask for a Writ of Attachment directing the child’s delivery or return.”

Notably, if an ex withholds the child on more than one occasion, then the second option is for a parent to file a Motion for Enforcement.

“The length of time these matters take to resolve depends on the court’s schedule,” Cheryl said. “It’s important to remember that a parent who denies visitation can be held in contempt by the court and be fined and/or jailed.”

Christmas Custody: Tips to Co-Parent with Ease this Holiday Season

The holidays are a chaotic time even under the best circumstances. But when you are balancing the additional obstacle of co-parenting and holiday visitation schedules, the season for joy can become completely insufferable. Remember, to keep your children’s well-being as your top priority. You can keep your sanity and do what is best for your children by following these simple tips.

Try to be Flexible

Even with a written, court-ordered agreement, things come up. For example, more than 50 percent of U.S. families are remarried or recoupled. As a result, your ex may need to be in two places at once such as picking up children a few hours’ drive away at the same time they need to pick up the child you share together. If you both can agree to a pick-up time that works for both of you then do it. As long as there is no flat-out denial of time with your child, being flexible and cooperative can make your holiday stress-free.


Co-parenting is not easy. However, learning to communicate with your ex in an open and honest way can prevent misunderstandings. While texts can be helpful with documentation, they can also lead to misunderstandings. Even in casual conversation, the tone of a text may be lost or misinterpreted. However, the stakes of misreading a text between co-parents are extremely high. Picking up the phone to discuss holiday arrangements can save you from holiday visitation headaches and frustrations. Keep in mind, that it is OK to make some concessions and ask for concessions in return.

Keep your child’s best interest at the forefront

Many former couples get trapped in the mindset of what the other parent is doing or has done wrong. Thoughts like “she wants to control everything” or “he’s selfish” can muddy the waters on what’s truly in the best interest of your child. By recognizing that your children need both parents in their lives, you can make your holidays easier. Children need and want relationships with both of their parents and extended family. Put your child’s needs above your pride and support your child’s relationship with their other parent.

Contact a Qualified Family Law Attorney

Family matters can be extremely difficult to navigate during the holiday season. However, you do not have to stress over whether or not you will be able to see your child this holiday season. If you are in a situation that requires assistance with the court, contact our firm. The Carlson Law Firm offers free consultations with knowledgeable family law attorneys.

“With a qualified family law attorney, you can be confident that we will use our extensive legal knowledge and resources to pursue your ideal outcome for your case.”
-Cheryl Powell, Family Law Attorney

The Carlson Law Firm Can Make Your Holidays Smoother

Children thrive with a routine. And even if they do not get to spend every holiday with you, knowing what to expect each year can make the Christmas season a better experience for both parents and their children. If you are considering a divorce, understand that your transition into co-parenting doesn’t have to be a difficult one. Or, if you were never married to your child’s other parent, you don’t have to beg to see your child on Christmas or other holidays. Establishing a custody agreement will ensure both parents are getting equal treatment after a split year round.

Contact The Carlson Law Firm to discuss your options with a Board-Certified Family Law Attorney. Our compassionate and knowledgeable family law attorneys can answer your questions about custody arrangements during the holiday season.

The Carlson Law Firm

The Carlson Law Firm has been representing and protecting clients in Texas and across the nation since 1976. During this time, we have built a reputation for success and have received numerous awards. Our firm is committed to delivering exceptional service and representation but more importantly, we provide you with an experienced team that has your back, one-hundred percent.

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