Texas Child Custody: What is a Standard Possession Order?
Whether it arises during divorce or as its own stand-alone proceeding, child custody is one of the most important matters in family law. Important because custody and visitation arrangements deal with real families and substantial changes in their lives while taking into account the numerous factors involved for making sure any arrangements are appropriate for and in the best interests of the children. While custody issues are an inevitability for many divorcing and unmarried parents, they can be effectively handled with the assistance of experienced attorneys like those at Coker, Robb & Cannon, Family Lawyers.
When it comes to child custody matters, our family lawyers at Coker, Robb & Cannon, Family Lawyers prioritize the well-being and best interests of children and work zealously to align their well-being with our clients’ unique goals. In many cases, this requires thorough preparation and planning, as well as productive out-of-court negotiations driven by communication and compromise. In Texas, family courts encourage parents to reach parenting plan agreements on their own, and our team does all we can to facilitate these resolutions. However, there are some cases where parents who cannot work their child custody or visitation concerns require court intervention to reach a resolution.
Why a Standard Possession Order is Used in Child Custody Cases
When courts issue decisions regarding child custody, meaning they designate where a child will primarily live (with a custodial or primary parent), they may also need to address matters of visitation, which is referred to as possession and access to the child under Texas law. Often, the court will refer to the Standard Possession Order (SPO) when doing so.
Because the Standard Possession Order can seem like a complex or foreign topic for many parents, our legal team wants to provide some important information to help you understand how they are used in Texas family law cases.
The Standard Possession Order refers to a statute under the Texas Family Code that is used generally as a guide for determining and dividing parenting time. The purpose behind the SPO is that it protects the best interests of children when making practical determinations about the non-custodial parent’s possession and access to their children, as well as what weekdays, weekends, and holidays both parents (custodial and non-custodial) can have with their children. Frequently, the SPO may be used as a launching point for negotiations, and then altered to account for individual circumstances, but generally takes one of two forms when it is used for school-age children and younger children.
School-Age Children – The Standard Possession Order for children older than the age of 3 both parents’ possession and access to their children. While the custodial parent will have children for the bulk of a week, non-custodial parents awarded an SPO will usually have their child at predetermined times, such as:
- From 6:00 pm on alternating Fridays of the month, ending at 6:00 pm the following Sunday.
- Thursday visitation from 6:00 pm to 8:00 pm during the school year.
The Standard Possession Order also addresses possession and access during the summer and certain holidays, which are special times of year that would warrant a departure from normal arrangements. The SPO for summer and holidays typically work as follows:
- Holidays – For major holidays, like Thanksgiving and Christmas, one parent will have possession and access to the children during Thanksgiving, while the other parent would get Christmas. This is then switched, vice-versa, the following year. For example, a parent who has Thanksgiving one year while the other parent has Christmas, would switch to having Christmas the next year. When major holidays also coincide with holiday vacations from school, such as Christmas or winter break, the Standard Possession Order breaks the vacation into two halves so that neither parent goes the full vacation without substantial time with the children.
- Special Holidays – Special holidays are also taken into account in the Standard Possession Orders. That means possession orders will give holidays like Father’s Day Weekend to the father and the weekend of Mother’s Day to the mother. It is important to note that other cultural or religious holidays important to the family can be addressed.
- Summer Vacation – Unless there are additional terms or written notices, possession orders typically provide non-custodial parents with the option to designate up to 30-days as their time for possession and access during their child’s summer break from school. However, non-custodial parents must submit notices for summer vacation designations on either April 1st and April 15th, depending on the year, otherwise the SPO will generally give the month of July to the non-custodial parent.
- Birthdays – The Standard Possession Order ensures that each parent is able to spend time with the child during their birthday by providing parents who do not have possession and access to their children on the child’s birthday have the right to visitation for two hours between 6:00 pm and 8:00 pm.
Young Children – In cases involving younger children, primarily infants and those without older siblings of school-age, Texas family courts often take several factors into consideration when determining a standard possession order. These factors include, among others:
- How possession of school age children is transferred, if applicable
- Each parent’s availability to care for children during time when they would otherwise have rights to visitation
- Each parent’s emotional, mental, and physical health, as well as their ability to care for children
- Any distress children might experience when separated from a parent for longer periods of time
SPOs and Long-Distances Between Parents
Standard Possession Orders are often modified by Texas family courts when parents live long distances apart, typically 100 miles or more. In these situations, a Standard Possession Order may call for the following:
- Rather than possession and access on alternating weekends, a non-custodial parent may have possession of children for one weekend of the month, and that parent must provide at least 14 days’ notice designating the weekend they plan to spend with their children.
- Non-custodial parents may be granted longer periods of time during summer, typically 42 days rather than 30 used in most cases. They may also be granted longer periods of time during other vacations or breaks from school
Coker, Robb & Cannon, Family Lawyers: Helping Parents Reach Custody & Visitation Arrangements
Standard possession orders are imposed by the court when parents cannot reach custody and visitation agreements on their own, which means that while the SPO can be modified in certain circumstances, they are generally more restrictive and less personalized than any agreement that would be devised between the parents themselves. As such, if a standard possession order is not feasible or right for you and your children, reaching an agreement with the other parent may be your best option for securing parenting plans that fit your needs.
At Coker, Robb & Cannon, Family Lawyers, our attorneys work with parents during divorce cases and other stand-alone family law cases to help them protect their parental rights and possession and access to their children. If you would like more information about your options, standard possession orders, or ways to devise your own parenting plan for approval by the court, our legal team is readily available to help. Call (940) 293-2313 or contact us online to get started.