Spring Break is a great 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 then 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 then 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 him or her 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 that you have been involved with was a divorce or a Suit Affecting the Parent-Child Relationship (SAPCR), your case had child custody components to it. 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 do learn) 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 the desktop of your computer will work quite well. The reason that I want the order to be readily accessible is that sometimes the other parent of your child may attempt to play fast and loose with the orders in order to do something in their favor. If this is the case then you will need to be able to hold that parent accountable for their actions.
The other reason is that you absolutely 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 as well as a great deal of knowledge that you can use to prevent the other parent from overstepping their bounds. Sounds like a win-win situation, if you ask me.
What happens if you and your spouse cannot agree on a custody order
A majority of courts in southeast Texas require that you and your spouse attend mediation prior to 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 with you the outstanding issues of your case. Mediation is a fixture in family law cases both at the temporary orders stage and in the final orders stage.
Spring Break, from my experience, is not one of the issues that are typically argued about with the sort of fervor that Thanksgiving or Christmas is. There just isn't an 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 the course of any given year.
If you are not able to 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. This means 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 that is 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 primary conservator of the child 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 will 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 Spring Break period according to the year. One of 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 possession 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 normally 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 normal 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 are in possession of 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 normal possession schedule.
If you are thinking that 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 would recommend that you agree to include language in the decree that allows you to drop your children off at school as normal on the following Monday. Or, if you aren’t able to do that prior to the conclusion of your divorce, you can simply 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 be able 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 that you signed and review them prior to planning a trip or any kind of 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 in the event that 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 as well as emergency contact information just to be safe.
Next, review the language that requires you to provide a specific amount of notice to your spouse as far as any other information about your trip. You don’t want to return from a nice, 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 in order to make sure you are in his or her 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 because their ex-spouse consistently fails to take advantage of the time allotted to him or her 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 uneven schedule, for instance) or it could be due to negligence or apathy. If your ex-spouse is missing his or her 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 don't mean that you can violate the court orders and withhold possession from him prior to 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 that was 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 being able to represent the people who live in our community. It is a privilege to be able to sit down with people and to explain how the legal system can impact their lives in a positive manner. We hope that you will join us tomorrow when we will be back to discuss more interesting topics in Texas family law.