Most parents who are at the initial stages of a child custody dispute spend a considerable amount of time trying to understand how Texas courts will order the amount of time that the children will spend with each parent. Keep in mind, judges almost always support a schedule that is agreed-upon by the parents, so it is to everybody’s benefit that the parents each take a position in support of ensuring the other parent has an appropriate amount of time with the children. However, when parents are not able to come to an agreement, the courts look to Texas statutes to determine the scheduling of the children with each parent.
In Texas, it is presumed to be in the best interest of the child that one parent is designated as a primary parent while the other parent is placed on a standard possession order. Because of this codified presumption, judges are likely to order a schedule consistent with a standard possession order.
As a general summary, for parents who live within 100 miles from each other, the parent who is given a standard possession order, that is the non-primary parent, or who the law calls the possessory parent, will have possession of their children on the first, third and fifth weekends of the month, beginning on Friday at 6 PM and ending on Sunday at 6 PM. To determine which weekend is the first, third or fifth, we always look to whether the Friday of that weekend is the first, third or fifth Friday of the month. For example, if a Friday falls on the last day of the month, that weekend will be considered the fifth weekend even though Saturday and Sunday are the first and second days of the next month and the following weekend will be considered a first weekend, therefore creating two weekends in a row for the possessory parent. This fifth weekend typically appears every few months.
Included in a standard possession order are periods of possession from 6 PM to 8 PM on every Thursday evening throughout the school year. These are commonly referred to as Dinner Dates.
The standard possession order also divides up spring break, Thanksgiving and the winter holidays. Spring break and Thanksgiving alternate each year, with the mother having spring break and the father having Thanksgiving on odd years. That arrangement flips on even years where the father has spring break and the mother has Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving and spring break each began when school is released for the holiday and ends at 6 PM on the Sunday before school resumes. These dates supersede a regular first, third, or fifth weekend and if a parent would normally have possession of the children the weekend that holiday ends, they would keep possession of the children until when they would normally return the children.
Winter break also alternates, with the mother having the first period of time followed by the father having the second period of time on odd years. Conversely, on even years, the father has the first period of time followed by the mother who has the second period of time. The first period of time for winter break begins when school lets out for winter break. The second period of time begins on December 28th at noon and ends at 6 PM on Sunday, the day before school resumes.
Also included for the possessory conservator in the standard position order are teacher workdays when those workdays are Fridays or Mondays that butt up against that parent’s first, third and fifth weekend, which are, practically speaking, holidays for children. If the workday is on a Monday of the possessory parent’s normal weekend, possession will extend until 6pm on Monday. If the workday is on a Friday of the possessory parent’s normal weekend, possession will extend back to Thursday at 6pm and through Friday and the weekend.
Summer possession is more complicated to explain than the other holidays. Basically stated, depending on what the possessory parent chooses each year, that parent will get summer time with their children for approximately 30 consecutive days. However, the primary parent can elect to interrupt that 30 day possession with one weekend for their possession. Also, the primary parent can elect to remove one weekend of possession from the possessory parent later in the summer, effectively allowing them to have approximately 30 uninterrupted days for summer time with the children. The possessory parent can also choose to break-up their 30-day period, so long as each block of time is made up of at least 7 consecutive days. For example, if the Summer were divided into two blocks of time and the first block were added immediately after a normal weekend of possession, keeping in mind that the second block of time supersedes the regular 3rd weekend time, which now doesn’t count, the possessory parent can add two days to their summer possession. There are a lot of different arrangements of time for summer possession, depending on what each parent elects but, generally speaking, each parent will get a few weeks of uninterrupted vacation time in the summer.
Thankfully, for involved parents who are not designated the primary parent but who nevertheless want to exercise more possession of their children than allowed by the standard possession order, in 1997 the 70th Texas Legislature amended the Texas child custody laws to allow a possessory parent, that is the non-primary parent, to elect an expanded schedule, or as we call it, an extended standard possession order.
An extended standard possession order increases the possessory parent’s time from two-hour Thursday evenings throughout the school year to picking up the children after school and returning them back to school Friday morning, effectively turning a two-hour Thursday dinner-date with the children into a weekly overnight. The expanded standard possession order also provides that the possessory parent can keep the children until Monday morning, returning them to school, on their first, third and fifth weekends of the month. These additions effectively increase that parent’s time for overnights to four consecutive days on the first, third and fifth weekends of the month and ensures that there is at least one overnight on Thursday per week during the school year.
As a final note, the standard possession order regime does not provide a specific schedule for children under three years of age. Rather, judges are given broad discretion to order a schedule that is in the best interest of the child, given the party’s specific set of circumstances. The statutes do encourage judges to create a schedule that graduates towards a standard possession order by the time the child is three, at which time it is presumed that a standard possession order is in the child’s best interest.
As you can see, the standard possession order regime is complicated and variable, based on a parent’s election to extend the order and choices on how to spend their summer vacation time. The schedule is anchored around the children’s school schedule and does not automatically apply to children under the age of three. The benefits of having the schedule codified is that it clearly lays out who has possession of the children and when. This is helpful for parents who cannot find a resolution to their disagreement regarding the children’s schedule.
Again, courts will usually support a different schedule if the parents can come together and work towards agreeing on that schedule. Although sometimes difficult, it is oftentimes best for families to find a way to work together and agree to their own arrangement for parenting time with the kids.