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Creating a workable child visitation and possession order in Texas

If you are a parent and are going through either a divorce or child custody case, chance are that you have been thinking about what you would like your child’s life to look like after your case. At the end of the day you are doing this case primarily for them. That’s a noble goal and something that you do not take lightly. The fact is that you as a parent are in the strongest position of anyone that your child comes into contact with to determine their future course towards success.

Unfortunately much of your ability to parent and have direct say over your child’s life is impeded when you enter into a family law case. Your child’s other parent and possibly a judge will also have an opinion on issues related to your children. From the judge’s perspective he or she will need to determine what is in your child’s best interests before making any decision regarding possession, access, visitation and support. It is literally called the “Best interest” standard and gives judges a wide degree of latitude if the judge in your case is called upon to make decisions for your children if you and your child’s other parent are not able to.

That brings us to today’s blog post topic from the Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC. When we talk about issues related to children the one that comes up most frequently with clients of our office is how much time will the client be able to spend with their child after the divorce or child custody case. These folks understand that the days of them coming home form work and automatically being able to see and spend time with their child will be gone. So there is an added emphasis on negotiating for as much time as possible while still in their family law case.

For you and any other parent going through a family law issue in Texas, today’s blog is for you. We are going to walk through the different types of possession orders in Texas and will speak to various issues that may impact your case in this area. To start off with, let’s define what a possession order is and the role it will play in your case.

Possession Orders explained

When we refer to a visitation order what we are really talking about is what are the periods of time that both you and your child’s other parent will be in physical possession of your child. Possession orders can be established by a court either when you and your opposing party agree to the terms of a possession schedule or when a judge issues orders at the conclusion of a hearing or trial. A possession order can also be amended or changed in the future if the circumstances merit such a change.

There are basically two types of possession orders that you are likely to come into contact with in your divorce or child custody case: a standard possession order (SPO) or a modified possession order. Let’s get into each of those in greater detail.

Standard Possession Order (SPO)

It is presumed that a Standard Possession Order (SPO) is in the best interests of your child at the conclusion of your family law case for any child who is over the age of three. Contrary to what many people believe, a SPO does not tell parents when each can have possession of their child. Rather, a SPO notes that whenever possible it is best for parents to be able to work together to mutually agree on possession schedules for their child. This allows for the greatest amount of autonomy possible for you and your child’s other parent when it comes to your relationships with your child.

However, in the event that you and your child’s other parent cannot agree in all instances on how to divide up parenting time with your child, a SPO provides fall back orders that will determine when each of you are able to spend time with your child.

The big difference in a SPO as far as parenting is concerned is that one parent will be named as the person with the right to determine the primary residence of your child. This means that that parent will live with your child on a weekly basis. The other parent will have visitation rights that will follow a schedule that looks like this:

  • First, third and fifth weekends of each month. This typically means that the “weekend” begins at 6:00 p.m. on Friday and ends at 6:00 p.m. on Sunday
  • Thursday evening during the school year. I will tell clients this is a “pick up and go to Chic-fil-a” visitation period
  • Holidays that alternate depending on the year. Spring break and Thanksgiving alternate from year to year. Christmas is a little different because it is split up into two parts: the first half begins when your child is released from school and the second half begins typically two days after Christmas. The half that you are entitled to alternates on a yearly basis
  • The parent with visitation rights will have an extended period of visitation (usually thirty days) during the summer broken up by a weekend of the other parent’s choice. Specific dates are usually exchanged in writing between you and the other parent by April 1

The above visitation specifics exist when you and the other parent live within 100 miles of one another. If you and the other parent do not reside within 100 miles of one another then whichever parent has visitation rights would likely have only one weekend per month, no midweek visit and extended time in the summer of 42 rather than 30 days.

Modified Possession Order

A modified possession order takes some principles of a SPO into account then tailors the possession schedule to something that works out better for you and your family. Whereas the Texas Family Code lays out the schedule for the SPO, a modified possession order is come up with either by a judge or by you and your child’s other parent in mediation. It is much more likely that you and the other parent would come up with this on your own because judges are much more likely to order a SPO that to attempt to modify a visitation schedule.

There are various methods to implement a modified possession order. For older children, a “week on, week off” possession schedule works quite well. Older children are more able to function independently from both of their parents than are younger children. As a result, not seeing a parent for as long as a week will not be as much of a shock to their system. A week on, week off agreement allows you and the other parent extended time with your child and achieves a 50/50 split in time that many parents find very appealing.

The next concept in a modified possession order is basically where you and the other parent agree to alternate weekends and then to divide up your weeks in different ways “2/3/2” or similar arrangement hold that you will have two weekdays of possession of your child in one week and then will have three the next. This schedule does not work for all kids or parents. Some parents are not able to do the exchanges from a logistical prospective. Some children have needs or schedules that make going from house to house this frequently a costly and stressful endeavor.

More questions on visitation and possession? Head back to our blog tomorrow in order to read more

If you have more questions regarding possession and visitation that you would like to have addressed, please come back to our blog tomorrow as we continue to discuss this interesting and important topic. In the meantime, if you have any questions that you would like answered sooner, please do not hesitate to contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC. Our licensed family law attorneys offer free of charge consultations six days a week. We can answer your questions and address your concerns in a comfortable, pressure free environment.

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