If you find yourself involved in a custody battle, whether it’s in addition to a divorce or a standalone legal issue between yourself and a former partner, it’s important to understand the legal language and standard practices used in family courts that apply to custody-related issues. The better understanding you have of the issues, the better you’ll be able to prepare and present your side of the case.
In Texas, the Standard Possession Order (SPO) is an important part of the Texas Family Code that you’ll definitely need to know about. Take a look at some of the most important information about the Texas Family Code and the SPO.
Standard Possession Orders Under the Texas Family Code
A Texas Standard Possession Order, or SPO, does a couple of important things:
- It lays out the visitation schedule so that custodial and non-custodial parents both know when they should have time with their child.
- It covers the holiday schedule so that both parents get a substantial amount of time with the child, and so that they understand the temporary changes that might be made to their usual schedule during a holiday period.
As the name suggests, Standard Possession Orders are standardized, meaning that they’re all about the same, and are subject to modifications. Family court is able to make any modification to the SPO that they believe is in the child’s best interests. During custody settlement negotiations, parents can use the SPO as a starting point until a mutually agreeable solution is reached.
What Does a Standard Possession Order Look Like?
For children over the age of three, an SPO designates which parent has primary custody and which parent has visitation. Under the Texas Family Code, visitation is referred to as “possession and access.” Thus, it’s important to recognize these terms and what they mean when you see them.
A typical visitation schedule might state that the non-custodial parent can have the children from Friday evening to Sunday evening on alternating weekends, as well as one weeknight a week for several hours. The rest of the week, the children will be in possession of the custodial parent.
When children under the age of three are involved, the SPO will have to address certain various issues, for example:
- Smaller children may experience distress if they’re separated from their primary parent overnight.
- Visitation periods (for infants, two to four hours may suffice, overnight visits may not be feasible until 1 year of age or older, etc.)
- Parents’ availability and ability to child care.
- How split schedules and transfers of older siblings will be handled.
Once a child reaches the age of three, the typical SPO will take effect – if the child has older siblings, it’s likely that all will have the same visitation schedule at that point. In some cases, parents can negotiate to move a child to the SPO later or, in unusual cases, earlier.
Holiday Possession Arrangements
In a Texas Standard Possession Order, holidays are treated differently from ordinary days. For major holidays, like Thanksgiving and Christmas, parents are generally expected to switch off and to alternate years. For instance, if one year, a child is with their mother for Thanksgiving and their father for Christmas, the next year they’ll be with their father for Thanksgiving and their mother for Christmas.
When these holidays are accompanied by a school vacation, typically children will spend half of the vacation time with each parent. So even though a child might be scheduled to spend Christmas day with their mother, they would usually spend half of the winter break from school with their father.
Special holidays, like the child’s birthday, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, and various other religious and cultural holidays that the family may observe are also addressed. Typically, a child will be with their mother on Mother’s Day and their father on Father’s Day, even if that parent wouldn’t ordinarily have their child on that day.
Same-sex parents might choose to use the day that doesn’t apply as a second celebration of the applicable day – for example, when the child has two mothers, Father’s Day might be treated as a second Mother’s Day. That way each parent can have one of the parent holidays with their child.
Alternatively, two mothers might agree to simply split Mother’s Day, or to alternate years. On the child’s birthday, a parent who does not typically have access to their child on that day can be granted a window of visitation time so that they can spend time with the child on their birthday.
During summer vacations, the child will typically stay with the non-custodial parent for 30 days. The non-custodial parent can submit a notice in April designating which 30 days they want to have their child with them during the summer holidays. If the non-custodial parent doesn’t submit a notice, the default period for their visitation is the month of July.
Remember that even though Standard Possession Orders can be useful, under the Texas Family Code, parents are encouraged to negotiate and come up with their own parenting plan. Co-parenting after a divorce or breakup is difficult, however, it’s easier with a mutually agreeable schedule that meets the needs of the whole family as well as the child’s best interests.
If you need help navigating your child custody case or any other Texas Family Code related issue, a legal resource group like National Family Solutions may be the solution that you’re looking for.