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What is a Standard Possession Order?

Are you thinking about filing a child custody case but don’t know where to begin? This is a completely understandable position to be in. There are many moving pieces to a child custody case. On top of that, these cases are stressful- especially when you are inexperienced in them. All in all, if you didn’t have some questions about what you are about to get involved with then there would probably be reason for concern. Having questions is normal. Where can you go for trustworthy information and additional help?

In today’s blog post from the Law Office of Bryan Fagan, we are going to examine what a Standard Possession Order is. This will be what your child custody order revolves around. When you see your children is the key to unlocking your child custody orders. The problem is that so few parents learn about this all-important set of orders before their case begins. By understanding the Standard Possession Order you can provide yourself and your child with a tremendous advantage. Stick around and spend some time with us today as we walk through the tried-and-true Standard Possession Order. 

The Basics of a Standard Possession Order 

The Standard Possession Order creates a schedule for your child to be able to spend time with both you and your co-parent. These custody orders relate to visitation, access, and possession- terms that you will need to familiarize yourself with as you begin a family law case. The hallmark of the Standard Possession Order is that it will allow the parent with visitation rights to have possession of the kids on the first, third, and fifth weekends of each month beginning at 6:00 pm on Friday and ending at 6:00 pm on Sunday.

Alternating holidays are another key feature of the Standard Possession Order. This means that you will alternate Thanksgiving with your co-parent depending upon whether it is an odd or even-numbered year. Christmas works the same way but because this is a longer holiday you will either have possession of your child beginning when school lets out until December 28th, or from December 28th through 6:00 on the Sunday before the Spring Semester begins. In any event, this schedule is one that you will be following for the foreseeable future. 

A key feature of the Standard Possession Order as far as vacation time is concerned is that if you have visitation rights with your child then you will have a month of extended possession time in the summer. Your co-parent will be able to select one weekend to have visitation with the kids during that stay but otherwise, you will be able to have some extended time with your child. This means that you will need to arrange for childcare when you are at work. In other words- plan as best you can to avoid issues regarding your child being at home with you.

Where your child will be exchanged between parents

There are some aspects of visitation and possession of a child that seem odd or unnatural- especially at first. One of those situations involves the drop-off and pick-up of your child to facilitate these periods of possession. The Standard Possession Order will specify where these drop-off and pick-up locations will be as well as the times for each. In many cases, the parent with visitation rights will be responsible for dropping off and picking up your child on each weekend or other period of possession. This will usually take place at the home of the primary conservator. However, you and your co-parent can select any location you would like for drop off and pick up. It does not have to be one person’s home. 

The Standard Possession Order does not have to be implemented by a court. Rather, if you go to a child custody trial then the judge will not set a Standard Possession Order for your family unless he or she believes it to be in the best interests of your child. On another note, if you and your co-parent can agree to informal modifications after the child custody case ends then you can follow that schedule, as well. However, if any disagreements arise then the possession orders from your family law case are what you will need to follow. 

Child Support and the Standard Possession Order

You may have become familiar with the Standard Possession Order because of the Office of the Attorney General working with you on child support issues. The Office of the Attorney General is the governmental body responsible for handling issues related to child support in Texas. With that said, their office would need to follow the Texas Family Code and its presumptions in favor of a Standard Possession Order if they are helping you set up custody and visitation orders, as well. 

What the Texas Family Code says as far as visitation and possession are concerned is that a Standard Possession Order is in the best interests of your child. This can be countered by your or your co-parent if you can show that either one of you has had little contact with your child over the years, there are family violence issues in the home, or if your child is under the age of three. Let’s examine these three situations in greater detail before we proceed any further. 

Three circumstances where the Standard Possession Order is not in your child’s best interests

Having a judge decide regarding the best interests of your child is not an easy position to find yourself in. You are the child’s parent and would know better than a judge what is in your child’s best interests. However, the legal system we must go through places that responsibility in the hands of a judge when you and your co-parent cannot agree on the relevant issues as far as best interests, possession, visitation, and access are all concerned. 

As we just finished mentioning, the Texas Family Code places a presumption in favor of a Standard Possession Order. This assumes a great deal about your family that a legal code book could never know. For that reason, the attorneys at the Law Office of Bryan Fagan are always quick to remind clients that the facts and circumstances of their lives will be incredibly important when it comes to determining the child custody orders for your case. You cannot base your expectations in a family law case on what you have seen other people experience.

First, if your co-parent or you have had little to no contact with your child leading up to the family case then it is unlikely that a family court judge would approve a Standard Possession Order. The reason is that a parent with no contact with a child needs time to develop a relationship and a level of trust with him or her- especially coming out of a family law case. A Standard Possession Order places a great deal of pressure on a parent to be able to ensure that the child is adjusting to life well after a case ends. 

Next, a huge concern for courts is whether there has been a history of family violence in your home. If you or your co-parent have convictions or deferred adjudication regarding a crime involving family violence (especially within the past two years) then there is a significant chance that a Standard Possession Order would be issued in your case. The physical safety of your children matters to a court and a SPO places the child in a dangerous position if a parent has extended time with him or her. 

Finally, if your child is under three years old then that alone may give a judge reason enough to not order a Standard Possession Order in your case. There are requirements for care that exist for a  young child like this which do not exist for older children. This is especially true if your child is still breastfeeding, for example. Take into consideration the individual needs of your family to determine if a Standard Possession Order is still in the best interests of your child if he or she is under the age of three. 

Whatever you do, if you are going through the Office of the Attorney General to set up court orders for custody and possession then you need to read those orders before signing. We cannot emphasize this enough. Signing a document before you have read it is not smart. Signing a document before you understand it is not smart. Focus on having a strong understanding of your court orders before you offer to sign anything. Even if your co-parent or a person from the court is pressuring you to sign, you should not feel like you need to do anything at that moment that you are not comfortable with.

The attorneys with the Law Office of Bryan Fagan are ready and willing to help you in this type of scenario. Did you know that we offer flexible attorney-client relationships where we can review court orders with you to help you better understand them? It’s true. This type of arrangement works well for you if you do not want to pay an attorney to represent you in a full child custody case but just want a lawyer’s expertise when it comes to reviewing your court orders before you sign. 

Possession and access- what is the difference?

When you have your child you can physically be with your child in person and can determine where your child will be over a certain period. Possession means having a court order period where you can physically possess your child. That could be for overnight periods or simply for a Thursday night meal during the school year. Your possession schedule will be mapped out as included in your court orders. 

Access to your children means being able to call them, text them, or reach out to them in any other way using technology. Many court orders these days have special provisions on how you and your co-parent can even have designated periods of access during the times when your co-parent has the kids. Note that attending school performances, sports games and things of this nature also count as access to your child. 

Are you able to see your child even if you do not have a court order yet?

It can be a tough situation when you want to be able to see your child, but your co-parent is not allowing you to do so. Sometimes this happens because you have not been paying child support to their liking. Other times he or she simply wants to cut you out of the lives of your children. This is a situation where you can file your child custody case or try to do so through the Office of the Attorney General. 

What you are trying to do is set up court orders that allow you specific times to be able to see your child during the year. Going off a schedule set up by your co-parent does not make sense on a long-term basis. For one, you can’t be able to map out your schedule if you cannot count on your co-parent to keep their word when it comes to the possession schedule. Another issue is that it is hard for your child to be able to form a bond with you when he or she is questioning whether you will be able to pick them up for the weekend. 

Keep in mind that if you are going to go through the Office of the Attorney General for child support or any other type of order you are not being represented by the OAG. The OAG represents the state of Texas in a child support case. Some parents in your position believe that they are being represented by the OAG in a situation like this or that the OAG is at least there to help them. This is not the case. 

What to do after you have your court-ordered periods of possession?

The first thing you should do after the court orders have been signed is to re-read them. It is a good idea to read those orders multiple times before signing them, but you should do so again after you have signed them. Doing so puts you in a position where you will have no questions about what your responsibilities are when it comes to the possession and access of your children. What the court orders tell you is the minimum amount of time that you can expect to spend with your child moving forward. 

Your court orders may be significantly different than another parent’s. Remember how we talked about how court orders can differ from family to family sometimes to a significant degree? This is true when it comes to all aspects of the order- possession, visitation, access, and child support.

You and your co-parent are free to agree to your variations on the court orders at any time after your family law case comes to an end. These informal orders are not enforceable- meaning that either of you can change your mind at any moment and you will need to go back to following the court orders. The altered possession schedule that you and your co-parent follow is not court-ordered so you need to be careful about what you agree to. Do not put yourself in a position where you are overly reliant on informal court orders especially if your co-parent has violated your trust in the past.

What if you live more than 100 miles from your child?

If you live more than 100 miles from your child, then you need to think about the amount of time that you are losing with your child due to travel. Time in the car with your child is better than no time at all with him or her, but depending upon the distance between your home and that of your co-parent you may be spending a great deal of time travelling each week.

For this reason, a standard possession order usually does not work well with parents who live more than 100 miles from their children’s primary residence. Weekend visitation in situations like this involves a lot more planning. The first, third, and fifth weekend of the month visitation schedule under an SPO would prove difficult to maintain. Therefore, parents who have visitation rights and live more than 100 miles from their children will need to notify their co-parent of a weekend or two during the month that they will choose to see their child. 

Questions about the material contained in this blog post? 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. Our licensed family law attorneys offer free-of-charge consultations six days a week in person, over the phone, and via video. These consultations are a great way for you to learn more about the world of Texas family law as well as how your family’s circumstances may be impacted by the filing of a divorce or child custody case. 

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