Texas Standard Possession Order | Custody Agreements in Texas

Texas Standard Possession Order and Standard Visitation Calendar 2018 – 2019

The Texas Family Code provides for setting up possession schedules and includes a provision for the Standard Possession Order (SPO), designating who gets the kids and on what weekends. Courts look to what is in the best interest of the child to determine whether a standard possession order is appropriate and, if so, will generally grant the SPO. The Standard Possession calendars included in this article provide a quick reference to understand the Standard Possession Order.

 

Standard Possession Calendar

In Texas, you may hear attorneys and judges use the words “possession” and “conservatorship,” when discussing your child-custody concerns. Here, child custody is called conservatorship and the periods of time you have your child is called possession (or alternatively, visitation). Texas law presumes you and your spouse will be “joint managing conservators.” This simply means that you will share your parental rights and obligations, but that there is a possessory parent and non-possessory parent. Interestingly, or perhaps confusingly, the non-possessory parent is the custodial parent. Meaning, this parent has the exclusive right to designate where the child lives.

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.

2019 Standard Possession Calendar

What should you know about Standard Possession Orders?

Generally, these orders prohibit either parent from moving out of a specific area. Standard Possession Orders must indicate whether or not there is a geographic restriction on where you can live. If there is a geographic restriction, more likely than not you will be able to live in the county your child primarily resides in and contiguous counties. Orders also generally restrict the child’s travel and require parents to provide written notice to the other parent, regarding the itinerary, travel dates, and related details.

The basic Standard Possession Order takes into account how many miles you live away from your ex-spouse. There are two main distinctions. First, there is a standard plan for parents who live within 100 miles of one another. Second, there is a plan for parents who live more than 100 miles from one another.

For the parents who live within 100 miles of one another, the noncustodial parent has possession on the following:

  • The first, third, and fifth weekend of every month.
  • Thursday evenings every week, often from 6 P.M. to 8 P.M.
  • Alternating holidays. For example, if the mother is the non-possessory conservator, she would get the children on Thanksgiving on even-numbered years (like 2018), and the dad would get the children on even-numbered years (like 2019).
  • A longer period of time in the summer (generally 30 days).
  • Spring break alternates just like the holidays.

For the parents who live more than 100 miles of one another, the noncustodial has the children:

  • Either the first, third, and fifth weekend, or in some cases, just one weekend per month.
  • On the same holidays as the 100 miles or less plan.
  • Spring break.
  • For longer periods in the summer (42 days)

Notice: here, there is no mid-week visitation.

Can the court modify the Standard Possession Order?

Absolutely! The court can modify the standard order based on the best interests of the child. One example of when a court would modify the Standard Possession Order is when the child is very young. Texas has provisions in the family code that are often referred to as “tender years” provisions, which apply to a child under three years old. The court will often order shorter visits for very young children. The periods of possession will become longer until the Standard Possession Order is appropriate.

Are there special rules for birthdays?

Yes. Generally, the parent that does not have possession of the child on their birthday that year can spend time with the child for a few hours.

What should I know about the holidays?

Holidays can be tricky, but generally alternate between the odd and even-ending years. Using Thanksgiving as an example, the possessory parent gets possession in odd numbered years and the non-possessory parent has possession in even-numbered years.

Christmas, as another example, is broken down into two parts. Part one starts when your child’s school break starts (from dismissal time) and runs until noon on December 28th, if your order was signed after June 15, 2007. Prior to that, the period ran until December 26th. The second part of the break starts on December 28th (or the 26th, if applicable) and runs until 6 o’clock P.M. the day before school starts back up after winter break.

Depending on whether it is an even or odd year, your half of the break will alternate. In even numbered years, the non-possessory conservator has the child for the second half of break and the possessory conservator has the child for the first half. On odd years, this schedules switches.

For Mother’s and Father’s Day, the respective parent whose holiday it is may pick the child up for a period of time during the day, even on weekends where they would not normally see the child.

What should you take away from the holiday schedule?

  • Thanksgiving alternates between odd and even years.
  • Winter break is divided into 2 parts, and possession alternates based on whether its an odd or even year.
  • Note: weekends may be extended as a result of a holiday, if it falls on a Friday or Monday.

Do I ever have to give notice to the other parent if I want to “exercise” possession?

Yes. One example is when parents live over 100 miles apart. In such instances, the possessory conservator must give the non-possessory conservator notice by April 1st if he or she desires to designate one weekend of possession. Look to your order for the specifics on notice.

Can you customize your possession order?

Yes, of course! You can agree to a different set of terms, so long as the agreement is in the child’s best interest.

How many weekends can the possessory conservator specify they want the child?

Only one weekend a month, so long as 14 days written, or telephone notice is given to the non-possessory conservator ahead of the weekend.

Do parents designate a pick-up and drop-off location for the child?

They can! In cases where you live far apart, many parents designate a halfway meeting point (a restaurant, gas station, etc.). The main point of the designation in advance is that there is no misunderstanding as to where the pick-up/drop-off is to take place. Otherwise, the location will likely be a parent’s residence.

Are there tips for parents that live far apart?

Yes! Here are some suggestions to make the process easier.

  • Plan ahead. Get approval to leave work early, if need be, communicate with your ex-spouse, and think of what you need to coordinate in advance.
  • Think about whether you want to split the drive time in half, alternate on who drops-off/picks-up, or figure out another option that works for you.
  • Think about ways to make the traveling with your child a fun activity that helps you bond.

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.

Texas Standard Possession Order: Not the 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.

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