By: Abigail Grieve
If you and your child’s other parent have determined that you will share custody, and the court agrees that this is in the child’s best interest, the first option is to create your own written agreed parenting plan, which the court will review and approve.1 Alternatively, “[i]f a written agreed parenting plan is not filed with the court,” a court that has appointed you and the child’s other parent as joint managing conservators (shared custody) will develop a possession schedule for you.2 The starting point for this is the Standard Possession Order (SPO).3
1. Operation of the Standard Possession Order
When parents are appointed as joint managing conservators, the court’s starting place for the possession schedule determination is the Standard Possession Order because it provides each parent with reasonably equal time with their child, and it is in the child’s best interest to have this schedule.4 But, there are exceptions. If the SPO is inappropriate or unworkable due to the work schedule or other special circumstances of one of the parents, the court shall create a possession schedule “as similar as possible” to the SPO.5 The court can also order a possession schedule that varies from the SPO through consideration of the “age, developmental status, circumstances, needs, and best interest of the child.”6
When the parties reside less than 100 miles apart, the SPO can be summarized as one parent having the child during the following time periods:
(1) on the first, third, and fifth weekend of each month, beginning at 6p.m. on Friday and ending at 6p.m. on Sunday;7
(2) on Thursdays of each week during the regular school year, beginning at 6p.m. and ending at 8p.m., unless the court determines that another two-hour period during the week is in the best interest of the child;8
(3) alternating holidays beginning at 6p.m. on the day the child is dismissed from school for the holiday vacation and ending at 6p.m. the day before school resumes after that vacation;9 and
(4) any thirty days over the summer if written notice is provided to the other parent by April 1, or if notice is not provided, then default summer days from 6p.m. on July 1 to 6p.m. on July 31.10
When parents reside over 100 miles apart, the SPO can be summarized as one parent having the child during the following time periods:
(1) on the first, third, and fifth weekend of each month, or they can elect to receive possession on one weekend of their choosing per month by providing written notice to the other parent fourteen days in advance;11
(2) Every year’s spring break vacation;12
(3) Any forty-two days over the summer (may be divided into two parts with each part being a minimum of seven days) if notice is given to the other parent by April 1, or if no notice is given, on the default days from 6p.m. on June 15 to 6p.m. on July 27.13
Other than these differences, parents who reside over 100 miles apart will have the same possession schedule as parents who live less than 100 miles apart.14
2. Operation of the Expanded Standard Possession Order
Once a SPO has been ordered, the parties can automatically elect to receive an Expanded Standard Possession Order (ESPO), unless the judge believes this would not be in the best interest of the child. The ESPO extends the time the child spends with the one parent to include Thursday overnight, as well as Friday right after school through Sunday overnight (this either means Thursday after school through Friday morning drop off or Thursday after school to Monday morning drop off depending on what weekend of the month it is).15
The above information is a broad overview of standard possession orders in Texas. As with any aspect of a family law case, possession order details will vary from case to case and from family to family. If you have any questions regarding you family’s circumstances or your family’s current possession order, please reach out and we would be happy to discuss your case with you.
1 Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 153.007(a).
2 Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 153.134.
3 Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 153.252.
5 Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 153.253.
6 Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 153.256.
7 Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 153.312(a)(1).
8 Id. at (2).
9 Id. at (b)(1).
10 Id. at (b)(2)(a).
11 Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 153.313.