What is “Standard” Visitation Anyway?
Texas divorce lawyers frequently refer to the “SPO” which is short for the Texas Standard Possession Order. This statute defines a default visitation schedule that is presumed to be in the child’s best interest. While this presumption is rebuttable under certain circumstances, my guess is that the Standard Possession Order (or some slightly modified version of it) is the visitation schedule in 90% or more of the divorce cases in Texas.
The statutory schedule is very long and detailed. You can view the actual statute here. In this article I will highlight some of the more key provisions of the SPO schedule. Obviously, every case is different and I will be writing in very broad terms about a statute that is very often tweaked in the actual orders. So the very first step in analyzing any individual situation is to actually read the specific language of your own order. Then have a qualified family law attorney read the specific language of your order and analyze your situation.
One other issue before I delve into the specifics of the SPO. The SPO has two big sections, one of which applies to visitation when the parents live within 100 miles of each other and another section that addresses an altered schedule that applies only if/when the parents live more than 100 miles from each other. In this article I will address only the under 100 mile provisions because this is a much more common scenario.
The weekend periods of possession of the non-primary parent begin on the first, third, and fifth Fridays of each month. People are often confused by this language and assume it means “every other” weekend. Actually it means first, third, and fifth Fridays. Some months have a fifth Friday and most do not. When there is a fifth Friday the result is that the non-primary parent will have two consecutive weekends because every fifth Friday is followed by a first Friday the following month.
There are two possibilities for the start time of the weekend visitation under the statute. It can either be 6:00 p.m. or whatever time the child’s school is dismissed. The statute also allows for two possibilities for the end time of the weekend period of possession. It can either be 6:00 p.m. on Sunday or Monday morning at the time the child’s school resumes. If the non-primary parent has a beginning time of school dismissal or an ending time of school resumption, then that parent is be responsible for picking up or delivering the child to/from school.
Under the SPO the non-primary parent has possession every Thursday during the school year. The standard schedule is basically Thursday dinner, from 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. However, the non-primary parent can make an election to extend Thursday making it from school dismissal on Thursday until school resumption the following morning. If elected, this results in the non-primary parent’s weekends being longer (begins Thursday after school and ends either Sunday night or Monday morning). One important note: people often forget that this provision is during the school year only. It does not apply during the summer break.
It is important to review your order carefully so that you are familiar with the specific terms. It is doubly important that you familiarize yourself with the specific details of your holiday possession period language. Probably the majority of all visitation issues that I see post-divorce involve a misunderstanding or misinterpretation (or just a poorly worded Decree) of the holiday periods language.
One important point that is sometimes not understood: holiday provisions trump weekend and Thursday schedules. If there is a specific order for holiday visitation it takes precedence over what might seem to be a conflicting weekend or Thursday possession period.
Summer – Under the SPO the non-primary parent has 30 days summer visitation. The SPO provides that it can be taken as one 30 day period or it can be broken up into a maximum of two periods of at least ten days each. In order to pick the schedule the non-primary parent must notify the other parent in writing of the schedule by April 1st of that year. The default period for the summer (if the non-primary parent does not give notice) is July 1st through July 31st. The SPO includes a number of details and limitations that are far too numerous and detailed to address in this post so make sure you review your order and consult with your attorney about any specific questions you may have.
Christmas – The SPO provides that each parent gets the child for either the first or second half of the child’s Christmas break. Whether you get the first or second half is alternated yearly. The break is defined as starting at 6:00 on the day of school dismissal (or time of dismissal, depending on the language of your order) and ending at either 6:00 p.m. on the day before school resumes or at school resumption, again depending on the language of your order. Under the current version of the SPO the break between the first and second half is at noon on December 28th. Under an older version of the statute the break was on December 26th. During even-numbered years the non-primary parent gets the first half of the Christmas vacation and the second half during odd-numbered years.
Thanksgiving – The non-primary parent gets possession of the child in odd-numbered years for the entirety of the Thanksgiving break. In even-numbered years this period goes to the other parent.
Spring Break – The non-primary parent gets possession of the child in even-numbered years for the entire Spring Break holiday. In odd-numbered years this period goes to the other parent.
Mother’s & Father’s Day weekends – During the Mother’s Day weekend moms get possession of the child for the entire weekend and during the Father’s day weekend dads get the entire weekend.
Child’s Birthday – On the child’s birthday the parent that does not have regularly scheduled possession gets possession from 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.
Hopefully this brief overview gives you a little better understanding of what is meant in Texas by “standard” visitation. Make sure that you get advice from a good divorce lawyer if you have any important issues or concerns about your specific possession order.
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