Spring Break is an excellent time of the year. It is that perfect mid-point between the short, cold days of Winter and the extended days of fun-in-the-sun that we are fortunate enough to experience in the Summer. If you have school-aged children, you have been able to experience the fun associated with planning a trip or simply having the kids around the house to play games and engage in some family time.
However, if you have recently gone through a family law case, you may have some questions about how visitation works during this holiday. Who gets your child this year? What about next year? Are you supposed to take your child back to school once the holiday is over, or should you return them to their other parent's house the Sunday before school resumes? Today's blog post from the Law Office of Bryan Fagan will seek to answer that question in today's blog post.
Custody orders affect both divorced parents and those who were never married.
Whether the family law case you have been involved with was a divorce or a Suit Affecting the Parent-Child Relationship (SAPCR), your case had child custody components. You need to know what your specific order states will happen when it comes to visitation during the holidays. No matter how much you learn from this blog post (and hopefully, it is a lot of information that you understand), you still need to know what your order says.
With that being said, I always recommend that parents have a copy of their Final Orders in a desk drawer or someplace accessible. In today's day and age, a PDF version kept on your computer's desktop will work quite well. I want the order to be readily accessible because sometimes your child's other parent may attempt to play fast and loose with the charges to do something in their favor. If this is the case, you will need to hold that parent accountable for their actions.
The other reason is that you need to learn the order. It is not enough to have your lawyer, or your lawyer's paralegal read you the order before you sign it, never to be referred to again. If you can know the order, you will have a peaceful mind and a great deal of knowledge that you can use to prevent the other parent from overstepping their bounds. It sounds like a win-win situation.
What happens if you and your spouse cannot agree on a custody order
Most courts in southeast Texas require that you and your spouse attend mediation before ever seeing the inside of a courtroom. Mediation is a process whereby you and your spouse will select a third-party family law attorney to intervene and attempt to resolve your case's outstanding issues with you. Mediation is a fixture in family law cases both at the temporary orders stage and in the final order stage.
Spring Break, from my experience, is not one of the issues that are typically argued about with the sort of enthusiasm that Thanksgiving or Christmas is. There isn't as much emotional attachment to Spring Break. If anything, it is likely that you and your ex-spouse will be able to work out visitation arrangements on the fly during any given year.
If you cannot agree on Spring Break Visitation, then the court will choose to implement the holiday possession schedule for a Standard Possession Order as laid out in the Texas Family Code. The SPO, as it is referred to, is a guide that will establish a visitation arrangement that you and your spouse will follow once your divorce has been finalized. It is a guide, but it will also become a part of your final orders and is enforceable by law. If you violate the terms of the possession order, you could wind up back in court face to face with a judge.
Know what kind of possession schedule you have
The Texas Family Code lays out a possession schedule known as a Standard Possession Order. Most people in Texas who have gone through a family law case have either a Standard Possession Order or a modified version of the Standard Possession Order included in their custody orders. The parent who is not the child's primary conservator will have first, third and fifth weekends with their child as well as alternating holidays.
Your weekend possession periods will begin at 6:00 p.m. on Friday and cease at 6:00 p.m. on Monday. You are responsible for transporting your children to and from your home in time to meet these deadlines. In some instances, you may be able to negotiate for what is known as an Expanded Standard Possession Order. This arrangement allows you to pick your child up from school on Friday and drop the child back off at school on Monday morning. While this may not seem like all that much extra time, consider that you are getting an extra night together two or three times every single month.
What happens with Spring Break?
Now that we have covered the basics of custody and possession orders in Texas let's get into the meat and potatoes of today's blog post- Spring Break visitation.
The key to understanding Spring Break visitation is that you and your child's other parent will be alternating the Spring Break period according to the year. You will have even-numbered years, and the other will have odd-numbered years. That period of possession will begin at 6 p.m. on the day that your child is dismissed from school for Spring Break. Likewise, your period of residence will end at 6 p.m. on the day before your child is set to resume school after the conclusion of the Spring Break holiday.
It does not matter if Spring Break is comprised of a weekend where you would typically have your child as a result of the possession order. For example, if Spring Break begins with a weekend where you would ordinarily have your child, but because Spring Break falls on that weekend in a particular year, you would not be able to exercise possession. I have had more than one client call me with this question, so I figure it is best to lay this out for you all right now.
An example to illustrate the above guidelines for Spring Break
Suppose that your child's school district has Spring Break begin on March 18th, while school resuming as expected on March 25th. If you find yourself in this particular situation and you have an odd year (2019) possession during the holiday, you will:
-have Spring Break begin at 6 p.m. on Friday, March 15th
-continue with Spring Break throughout the following week when the kids are off from school
-Spring Break will end at 6 p.m. on March 24th, the Sunday preceding the start of the school week
This is pretty straightforward once you learn the ins and outs of the rules associated with the Possession Order. Keep in mind that if you are the possessory conservator, i.e., the parent who does not live with your child during the school week, you will have a slight change to your possession schedule if you have your child for Spring Break. That change is that your Spring Break possession ends at 6:00 p.m. on Sunday- not at the beginning of the school day on Monday. The reason for this is that the Spring Break holiday trumps your regular possession schedule.
If you think this seems like a silly formality that the Divorce Decree forces you to uphold, I would probably agree with you. To avoid any miscommunication or annoyances like that, I recommend you decide to include language in the decree that allows you to drop your children off at school as usual on the following Monday. Or, if you aren't able to do that before the conclusion of your divorce, you can ask your ex-spouse if that is ok to do. Reading the order and knowing what your schedule will look like is the best way to anticipate this.
Take a look at your Possession Order as you approach the major holidays.
If you are approaching a major holiday, like Spring Break, it is wise to take out the orders you signed and review them before planning a trip or any travel. First of all, it is possible that you could have been ordered to provide a certain amount of advanced notice to your ex-spouse if you intend to travel with your child. If you are traveling with your child via plane, it is a good idea to give your ex-spouse information on the flight, your destination, and emergency contact information to be safe.
Next, review the language that requires you to provide a specific amount of notice to your spouse and any other information about your trip. You don't want to return from a friendly, week-long vacation only to find that your ex-spouse is upset because you violated some aspect of your court orders. Notifying your ex-spouse of your intention to go on a trip can be one of the more proactive steps you can take to make sure you are in their good graces moving forward.
What if your ex-spouse never takes advantage of their time with the kids?
I have had clients ask me in the past if their ex-spouse consistently fails to take advantage of the time allotted to them if that means that Spring Break holiday visitation (or any other holiday, for that matter) will be forfeited as a result. The reason for missing the possession periods could be legitimate (working on an irregular schedule, for instance), or it could be due to negligence or apathy. If your ex-spouse misses their scheduled weekends with the kids throughout the year, does that give you an excuse to keep the kids for Spring Break?
The short answer to this question is, no, you cannot restrict your ex-spouse from seeing the children even if their track record of taking possession at the ordered times is not necessarily the best. If you take issue with your ex-spouse missing this time with your children, you can always file an enforcement lawsuit on your behalf. This way, you can address those possession violations directly with the judge. Otherwise, you do not have the power to withhold visitation with your child as you see fit.
Just because your ex-spouse isn't able (or willing) to take possession of your child at all the times that he is supposed to doesn't mean that you can violate the court orders and withhold possession from him before Spring Break. You can have those wrongs addressed through the legal system.
Questions about Spring Break visitation? Contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan
If you have any questions about the material contained in today's blog post, please do not hesitate to contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan. We offer free of charge consultations six days a week with one of our licensed family law attorneys. A consultation is a great place to learn more about your law, the case, and the services that our office can provide you and your family with.
From Baytown to Bay City and up to Conroe, our attorneys and staff take a great deal of pride in representing the people who live in our community. It is a privilege to sit down with people and explain how the legal system can positively impact their lives. We hope you will join us tomorrow when we are back to discuss more interesting topics in Texas family law.