Texas Standard Possession Order | Custody Agreements in Texas

What is a Texas Standard Possession Order?

Whether you are contemplating a divorce or are in the initial phases of family court proceedings, if you are a parent, your greatest concern is likely: “When will I get to see my children?” In Texas, what is commonly referred to as a “custody agreement” is, in fact, called a possession order.  Built into the Texas Family Code is a “Standard Possession Order” (SPO).

The Texas Standard Possession Order operates as a default schedule for parents, dictating in detail when each parent has possession of the child.

Texas Standard Possession Order

In Texas, for parents who reside 100 miles or less apart, the Standard Possession Order gives the possessory conservator (the non-custodial parent) possession of the child on the 1st, 3rd, and 5th weekends throughout the year beginning at 6 p.m. on Friday and ending at 6 p.m. the following Sunday, as well as Thursdays of each week during the school year beginning at 6 p.m. and ending at 8 p.m.

Advantage of Texas Standard Possession Order

The Texas Standard Possession Order has its advantages by allowing uninterrupted time with each parent, less back and forth between parents, and overall consistency in the child’s schedule.

How are holidays and vacations divided under the Texas Standard Possession Order?

Holidays and vacation periods are precious times for all parents. With the Standard Possession Order, the court attempts to equally divide the holidays and vacation periods between parents. The code provides individual guidelines, which supersede the above possessory schedule, depending on the holiday or vacation period, as follows:

Texas Standard Possession through the Holidays

(TFC Sec. 153.314)

Christmas

The possessory conservator has possession of the child in even-numbered years (2018, 2020, 2022, etc…) beginning at 6 p.m. the day the child is dismissed from school for Christmas break and ending at noon on December 28, at which time the managing conservator takes over possession until 6 p.m. the day before school resumes after that vacation period. The schedule flips for odd years (2019, 2021, 2023, etc..), allowing the managing conservator possession through noon on December 28, and the possessory conservator possession from noon on December 28 until 6 p.m. the day before the end of the Christmas break.

Thanksgiving

Similar to Christmas, Thanksgiving schedules are based on the year. In odd-numbered years, the possessory conservator has possession of the child beginning at 6 p.m. on the day the child is dismissed from school for Thanksgiving break until 6 p.m. the following Sunday.  In even-numbered years, the managing conservator has possession for the same period.  A benefit to this arrangement is that each parent has possession of the child on either Thanksgiving or Christmas in any given year.

Child’s Birthday

Whichever parent does not have present possession (determined by which day/weekend the birthday falls on) is given possession of the child beginning at 6 p.m. and ending at 8 p.m. on the child’s birthday. For example, if a child’s birthday falls on a Monday during the school year, the possessory conservator (who has 1st, 3rd, and 5th weekends and every Thursday for a couple of hours) would have access to the child from 6pm-8pm on his birthday that year.

Father’s Day

The father has possession of the child beginning at 6 p.m. on the Friday preceding Father’s Day and ending on Father’s Day at 6 p.m.

Mother’s Day

The mother has possession of the child beginning at 6 pm on the Friday preceding Mother’s Day and ending on Mother’s Day at 6 p.m.

Texas Standard Possession over Vacations:

(TFC 153.312(b))

Spring Break

Similar to some of the holidays listed above, the possessory conservator shall have possession in even-numbered years beginning at 6 p.m. on the day the child is dismissed from school for the school’s spring break and ending at 6 p.m. on the day before school resumes after that vacation. The managing conservator has the same period of possession in odd-numbered years. For example, let’s say your child’s Spring Break is Friday, March 16, 2018 through Sunday, March 25, 2018. If you are the possessory parent, you would have possession of your child beginning at 6 p.m. on March 16, 2018 until 6pm on Sunday, March 25.

Summer Vacation

At first glance, the language in the SPO’s summer possession schedule can be quite daunting. However, once you break it down into parts, it is easy to follow. The most important aspect of determining summer possession comes down to notice deadlines. Overall, the possessory conservator gets an additional 30 days to their standard 1st, 3rd, and 5th If the possessory conservator wants a specific set of 30 days, they must follow the rules set forth in the code. This includes providing written notice of the specified dates to the other parent in writing by April 1st each year. If they do not provide this written notice, their 30 day period is automatically scheduled for July 1 to July 31. Because a month is a long period of time for one parent to go without seeing their child, the managing conservator is allowed an optional weekend during the possessory parent’s 30 days, if they notify the possessory parent in writing by April 15.

All things considered, the SPO is aimed at providing a default arrangement for parents who are unable to reach an agreed schedule. This is made clear in each and every SPO ordered by the court in the language “in the absence of mutual agreement, {the parties} shall have possession of the child under the specified terms set out in the standard possession order.” If you can mutually agree to a possession schedule, you do not have to follow the terms provided in the SPO. The key here is “mutual agreement” —  so long as there is a mutual agreement, parents can determine a schedule that meets their needs.  If there is ever a change resulting in the agreement no longer being “mutual,” the terms of the SPO are to be followed.

Is the Texas Standard Possession Order my only option?

Creative Possession Schedules

Although the Texas Standard Possession Order is the most commonly used possession schedule, it is not the only option for parents. In Texas, the number one consideration for conservatorship and possession is “the best interest of the child.” There is no clear definition for “best interest of the child.” It’s a determination that is left solely to the judge, often guided by a number of factors. Because the court’s focus on the best interest of the child is paramount, an SPO may not be appropriate in every case.  Recently, there has been an increase in the popularity of less common schedules, such as the “5-5-2-2” which operates as 50/50 possession. With this schedule, the child spends five days with the first parent followed by five days with the second parent, then two days with the first parent followed by two days with the second parent. This rotation continues for the entirety of the year. The advantages of this creative possession schedule is that it allows equal time with each parent, a consistent schedule, the child is able to see each parent each week, and because of the equal time allotment for each parent, the likelihood of fighting over possession rights decreases.  If you are looking for a 50/50 schedule, but the 5-5-2-2 does not meet your needs, there are other variations you can consider.  These include alternating weeks, a 2-2-3, or a 3-4-4-3, all of which are modeled to provide equal possession between parents.

Agreed Parenting Plans

Another option for parents looking to make possession schedules as painless as possible is building an Agreed Parenting Plan.  An agreed parenting plan is built by the parents to meet the needs of their child. This plan is especially attractive to some couples, as it takes the third party (judge, mediator, attorneys), out of the equation to a great extent.  It allows the parents of the child, the two people who know the child the best, to come to an agreement on what rights, duties, and possession schedule is best for that particular child. To be enforced by the court, an agreed parenting plan must 1) be in the best interest of the child and 2) be detailed. If for any reason the agreed parenting plan does not meet these two standards, the judge will likely allow the parties to go back and revise and modify the plan. If you find that your divorce proceedings are moving amicably, this may be the best option for you and your family.

It is important to note that with some possession orders there are specific guidelines for parents living more than 100 miles apart, rules regulating the picking up and returning of the child from one parent to another, and the like. The best way to navigate this system is to contact an attorney who will listen to your needs and walk you through the process step by step.

If you are ready to hire an attorney to guide you through this difficult time, call us at 817-900-3220 or email us at [email protected]

 

 

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