Going through a divorce in Texas can be difficult and complicated, especially when there are children involved. Parents who are currently going through a divorce should learn more about child custody and visitation in Texas since the state uses language that is different from other states. In short, under Texas child visitation laws (Texas Family Code § 153.001 et seq.), child custody is known in terms of “conservatorship” while visitation or parenting time is known in terms of “possession and access.”

In Texas, public policy mandates that “children will have frequent and continuing contact with parents who have shown the ability to act in the best interest of the child,” and who can “provide a safe, stable, and nonviolent environment for the child.” The court may appoint one parent as the conservator (or the parent who makes important decisions about the child’s upbringing and is responsible for legal matters concerning the child) while both parents share in possession and access. Generally speaking, courts in Texas tend to use what is known as a “standard possession order” (SPO) when it comes to determining child custody. The SPO can vary depending upon some issues, however, such as the age of the child and how far apart from one another the parents currently live. We will tell you more about how the standard possession order works and about child visitation in Texas more generally.

What is a Standard Possession Order?

The standard possession order is simply a court order for possession and access that is standard, or streamlined—in child custody and visitation cases. The possession order is designed so that both parents can share equal possession of the child while also considering the needs of the child during the academic year.

The standard possession order is also designed to avoid confusion or miscommunication between parents about visitation and when each parent will have possession or access. Even if the parents are in agreement about child custody and visitation issues during the divorce, contentious matters can arise afterward. For example, one of the parents might argue that a term in a possession order is unclear and ultimately gives the other parent more time with the child. The standard possession order is supposed to allow families in Texas to avoid these arguments and to avoid any confusion over the specific terms of the order.

Understanding the Difference Between the Custodial and Noncustodial Parent

In other states, courts use terms like “custodial parent” and “noncustodial parent” to denote when a parent has legal custody (or the ability to make significant decisions about the child’s upbringing or to have the final say in major issues concerning the child’s life) and when a parent only has physical custody (or the rights to spend time with the child and to participate in the child’s upbringing, which is also known as visitation). As we have explained, in Texas, visitation is known as possession and access.

In order to understand how visitation rights in Texas work, it is also important to know how Texas law defines custodial and noncustodial parents. Generally speaking, the custodial parent usually will be described as the managing conservator, while the noncustodial parent (with visitation, even when visitation rights are shared equally) will be known as the possessory conservator.

How the Standard Possession Order Works When Parents Reside 100 Miles or Less Apart from One Another

For parents in Texas who want to know how the standard possession order will apply to their situation, the first question concerns how far apart the parents live from one another. When parents reside 100 miles or less the apart, the standard possession order says that the possessory conservator will have the right to the possession of the child based on the following:

● On weekends throughout the year starting at 6 p.m. on the first, third, and fifth Friday of each month and stopping at 6 p.m. on the following Sunday; and
● On Thursdays of each week during the regular school session starting at 6 p.m. and stopping at 8 p.m., unless the court determines that this is not within the best interests of the child.

The standard possession order for parents living 100 miles or closer to one another also contains provision for vacations. The possessory conservator, according to the statute, also will have visitation according to the following schedule:

● Spring vacation in even-numbered years, starting at 6 p.m. the day the child leaves school and stopping at 6 p.m. the day prior to school starting again after the spring vacation.

The managing conservator, or the custodial parent, has the child for spring vacation in odd-numbered years. The statute also allows the possessory conservator to have an extended period of time with the child during summer vacation—for up to 30 consecutive days—if that noncustodial parent gives the custodial parent written notice by April 1st. There are also provisions in the statute for either or both of the parents to provide one another with written notice in order to have extended periods of time with the child.

As you can see, the aim of the standard possession order in this kind of scenario is for parents to split holidays and weekends evenly, and to give parents a way to extend a vacation time with the child as long as proper written notice is provided.

Standard Possession Orders When Parents Reside More Than 100 Miles Apart

When parents live more than 100 miles apart, the court recognizes that the schedule set by the standard possession order described above may not work for the parents and the child. As such, parents can alternate weekends, or the possessory conservator may always have the child for a spring vacation and for longer periods during the summer.

Regardless of where the parents live, they split holidays equally, and the statute outlines the ways in which holiday possession is shared by the parents.

Contact a Texas Child Visitation Lawyer About Your Case

Texas courts can also make different accommodations when the child is especially young, but generally speaking, courts stick to the terms in the standard possession order described above. When parents can agree to all terms themselves, the court permits them to enter into an agreed parenting plan.

If you have questions about how child visitation is handled in Texas, or if you have concerns about a possession order, you should speak with a Texas child visitation attorney about your situation. An experienced advocate at our firm can take a look at your case and help you to seek a modification if necessary. Contact the Law Office of Ben Carrasco PLLC for more information about how we can assist you.