Visitation – What is the Texas Standard Possession Order?

The Standard Possession Order (SPO) is a default visitation schedule defined by the Texas Family Code that is used in the vast majority of Texas divorce cases involving children. It is extremely detailed and lengthy and is one of the main reasons that divorce decrees in cases with children are usually 30 to 40 pages long. The Standard Possession Order statute is Texas Family Code Section 153.3101 through 153.317.

Every order has its own particular provisions, so please refer to the specifics of your own order for guidance if you have one. Also note that all of the terms are subject to alteration, either by negotiation or court order. This article is designed to give a brief overview of the statute and how its key provisions work when the standard language is used without tweaking. Here are some of the key provisions of the Standard Possession Order, as applied to parents who live within 100 miles of each other (the statute is somewhat different for those that live more than 100 miles apart).

Weekend Visitation

The non-primary parent has weekend periods of possession beginning on the first, third, and fifth Fridays of each month. Note that not every month has a fifth Friday, but for those that do it means that the non-primary parent will have possession for two consecutive weekends (a fifth Friday in a month will always be followed by a first Friday on the following month).

The beginning time of the weekend period can either by 6:00 p.m. or when school is dismissed. The ending time of the weekend period can either be 6:00 p.m. on Sunday or Monday morning when school resumes, depending on which election is made by the non-primary parent. If the period begins when school ends on Friday the non-primary parent is responsible for picking the child up from school and if the period ends on Monday morning the non-primary parent is responsible for delivering the child to school.

Thursday Visitation

The statute provides for the non-primary to have visitation every Thursday during the school year. The standard visitation is just a dinner period, from 6:00 p.m. on Thursday until 8:00 p.m. that same day. However, the non-primary parent can elect to extend that visitation to begin as early as school dismissal on Thursday and to end at school resumption on Friday morning. In effect, this gives the non-primary parent the option to have at least one overnight per week and avoids going the extended period of time between weekend visitation periods without having the child overnight.

Holiday Visitation

I recommend you check the language in your order if you have one for all specific provisions that apply to your situation, or the language of the statute if you do not, and this is especially true for holiday visitation. Holiday periods are probably modified more than any other area of the Standard Possession Order schedule because every family is different and has different holiday traditions. Also, please note that the holiday periods trump the weekend and Thursday visitation periods. In other words, if there is a conflict the holiday schedule applies, not the weekend or Thursday schedules.

Summer – Generally, the non-primary parent gets 30 days in the summer. There are a number of ways this period can be scheduled under the SPO, with certain restrictions. The 30 days can be exercised in either one or two periods of at least ten days each. The non-primary parent is required to notify the other parent in writing of the summer schedule by April 1. If no notice is given then the default period is July 1 through July 31. There are a number of restrictions and details that are too lengthy to discuss in this post so see your order for the specific requirements in your case.

Christmas – In alternating years each parent gets either the first half or the second half of the Christmas break.The Christmas break is defined as beginning at either 6:00 p.m. on the day school is dismissed for the break or at the time of school dismissal, depending on whether the extension election is made. The break ends either at 6:00 p.m. the day before school resumes or at the time school reconvenes. The exchange time (the break between the two halves) is noon on December 28th. The non-primary parent gets the first half of Christmas during even-numbered years and the second half during odd-numbered years.

Thanksgiving – In odd-numbered years the non-primary parent has possession during the Thanksgiving break. In even-numbered years Thanksgiving goes to the primary parent.

Spring Break – In even-numbered years the non-primary parent has possession during Spring Break. In odd-numbered years this period goes to the primary parent.

Mother’s & Father’s Day weekends – Moms get possession of the child during the Mother’s Day weekend and dads get possession of the child during the Father’s day weekend.

Child’s Birthday – For the parent that does not have regularly scheduled possession of the child on the child’s birthday, that parent gets possession from 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. on that day.

So that is a somewhat brief overview of the Texas Standard Possession Order language. Again, please refer to your order and the language of the actual statute (and get advice from a lawyer) if you have specific questions regarding your situation.

For those of you who live far away, a helpful tool in today’s world is having periodic communication with your children via skype or facetime.  Here is a post I wrote on that topic recently.

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Scott Morgan is Board Certified in Family Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. He has practiced family law since 1994 and is the founder of the Morgan Law Firm which is dedicated exclusively to representing divorce and family law clients in the Houston and Austin areas.

48 Responses to Visitation – What is the Texas Standard Possession Order?

  • Angelica says:

    I wish more states would consider what’s in the best interests for what’s long-term for a child. Limited visitations doesn’t lead to much positivity in my book. Just MY opinion, though.

  • Scott Morgan says:

    Thanks for the comment Angelica. My experience is that judges want both parents to be involved and the Standard Possession Order certainly gives the non-custodial parent significantly more access than possession orders did 20 to 25 years ago.

  • Josh B.B. says:

    I guess I’m glad to see that visitation rights are improving for everyone involved, but how often are you allowed to fight this? My wife and I have had struggles for years when it comes to getting custody of her child with her ex. I’d like to know more.

  • Scott Morgan says:

    Josh every case is different and a lot of parents spend their kids’ entire childhoods fighting and going back and forth at the courthouse. Sometimes this is necessary due to the circumstances but it is definitely not the best case scenario for your children.

  • jennifer says:

    I just received joint custody with my ex-husband and visitation with him is by Texas Standard Possession Order with 1 weekend/month election for the “over 100 miles” provisions. What does that mean for summer vacations and holidays? Is the maximum 1 weekend a month?

  • Kim says:

    I wonder if there’s flexibility with unusual holidays or other special occasions in the family too?

  • Scott Morgan says:

    Great question Kim. The Standard Possession Order visitation schedule itself is not flexible at all. In order to be enforceable the order has to be very specific and rigid. However, the standard language includes a clause that essentially says the parties can agree to adjust the schedule as they see fit. For example, let’s say a dad had visitation on a weekend when he had to go out of town for a business trip. The parties could agree to swap that weekend for another weekend. If they didn’t agree then dad would just miss his weekend.

  • Scott Morgan says:

    Jennifer, you should look at that same section of your Decree closely (the “over 100 miles” section). If drafted in the standard way it should give detail on the summer and other holiday visitation periods. For example, in the standard language if the visiting parent is over 100 miles away the summer visitation increases from the usual 30 days to 42 days. Many of the other holiday periods don’t change at all, though. Definitely look closely at your order and if you are not sure you should consult with a competent divorce attorney.

  • jennifer says:

    At this point, I only have the drafted copy before I get the final copy with all the small print. I was told by both my attorney and the mediator, the most he could receive, given my situation, would be one weekend a month. However, on the printed copy I have, it says “no extended summer for 2014″ which makes me assume that next summer could be different. I just don’t want any surprises, as I feel manipulated by lawyer words….

    Thanks so much for your guidance!

  • Jennifer says:

    I didn’t realize that distance credited to more, but I agree that it should. You’re less likely to see your kids on “off days.” Interesting fact. Thanks for pointing it out, Scott.

  • Dionne says:

    If you live over 100 miles apart, who is financially responsible for the picking up and returning of the child in Texas?

  • Scott Morgan says:

    Thanks for the question Dionne. The answer depends on the specific language in your Decree. It is normally adressed in the general provisions section of the possession and access language, usually by defining where the child is to be picked up from at the beginning of visitation (typically either the child’s school or the primary parent’s residence) and where the child is to be returned to at the end of a visitation period (the language on this term is where there is a lot of variation). So if you already have a final order then you can review this language to answer the question. If you do not have a final order you will want to make sure that this issue is addressed in a way you find acceptable during negotiations.

  • JJ says:

    I’m glad Dionne asked. I’m truly intrigued about who is most responsible for things for the back-and-forth with the kiddo. -JJ

  • Kris says:

    It say in my papers We have until a certain date to let custodial parent know if we will ne switching dates or splitting up summer vacation do these just have to be written by hand or do they need to be notarized? And if we send the note does she have the right to deny our change in visitations?

  • Scott Morgan says:

    Kris, unless your specific order says otherwise, it is not required that the notice be notarized. And as far as the summer visitation right to divide into two periods of at least ten days, as long as you follow the other rules laid out in the order (notice by deadline, etc.) the other parent has no right to refuse. As always though, it is a good idea to consult with a good family attorney about your situation and have them review the order and learn the specifics of your situation if you think there will be any kind of problem.

  • Jan says:

    Even though I didn’t give notice for the one weekend visition my lawyers say I’m still allowed one weekend through the 30 day summer visition. Is that true?

  • Scott Morgan says:

    Hi Jan, thank you for your question. Let me start off with my standard disclaimer – the answer to all of these kinds of questions is dependent on the specific language of your Texas order and often the general rules don’t apply because your order may contain language which deviates from the Standard Possession Order. Also, with any kind of important issue my strong advice is to get your order reviewed by a good family law attorney who can learn more about your specific situation and explain exactly what the options are based on YOUR order and YOUR circumstances. So, just to be clear, I am not disagreeing with your attorney because I don’t have enough information. However, the answer to your question as it applies to the statutory language of the Texas Standard Possession Order (ie, no modifications from standard) is that no, if you do not give written notice to the other party of the specific dates of your weekend possession during the other party’s extended summer possession by April 15th, then you do not have an enforceable right to that weekend. It is always possible to get the other party to agree, but if they won’t then in my opinion you do not have a possession right that a judge could enforce by contempt. I hope this helps.

  • Meg says:

    My question is about standard summer possession. My ex likes to break up his summer visitation into two 15-day segments. However, he always butts them up against two of his “normal” 1st, 3rd and 5th weekends, so his 15 days conveniently become 21 days. Can he do this? By him doing that, he basically takes three weeks out of June and July! Please help!

  • P Best says:

    I am moving out of state and my decree has the Standard Possession language. I have seen a decree that specifies Long distance access and visitation language. How do I get this language added to my decree? Is court necessary?

  • Scott Morgan says:

    P thank you for the question. Take another closer look at your decree. If done as the statute suggests, the Standard Possession Order will contain two separate schedules, one for when the parties live within 100 miles of each other and one for over 100 miles. If your order does not contain the over 100 mile language then you should consult with a good family law attorney in your location to discuss possibly modifying it.

  • Scott Morgan says:

    Hi Meg, yes the Standard Possession Order permits this. However, the Standard Possession Order also contains language that allows you to effectively cancel one of his weekends and also to take a weekend during his extended summer possession, assuming you give the required written notice. These provisions should be contained in a section probably entitled “Extended Summer Possession.” I hope this helps.

  • Cherish H. says:

    If your order is for more than 100 miles away, during the summer possession for the primary parent, when its after or before the 42 days, does the non-primary parent still get them on the weekends when school is out? My kids get out of school June 5th and the order states that the non-primary parent doesn’t get them until June 13th. It is under my impression that I still keep my kids until June 13th when they got with the non-primary parent?

  • Melissa says:

    Hi Scott- how is the school term defined in Texas? My attorney told me that my son’s father shouldn’t get the Thursday visitation if the last day of school is that Thursday, because the school term is over. He of course, disagrees. Is this defined anywhere officially?

  • Tiffany says:

    The kids have an early dismissal from school on Friday. I have possession at the time school is regularly dismissed on 1, 3, 5th Fridays. Do I get them at the early dismissal time or at the time school normally lets out at 3pm?

  • Charles Rich says:

    When do you think summer schedule starts? During school, normally, this would be my ex-wife’s weekend being a 1st weekend of the month. However, Friday is the last day of school and they have early release at 1pm. Shouldn’t summer possession schedule start? In other words, it seems like we should have possession from dismissal to 6pm on that Friday. Can the last day of school also be the first day of summer possession schedule?

  • Ruben says:

    Can you please explain this to me. My decree states that… “if a period of possession by FATHER in that year exceeds thirty days, MOTHER may have possession of the child under the terms of the decree for two weekends . …..

    And, “a period of 30 days” means 30 consecutive days. Which, i do not have him for 30 consecutive days. So she does not have the option to choose a weekend. We have already agreed on summer vacations. I have him the weekend that she now wants him.

    Am I reading and understanding this correctly? She does not have a right to have him onaweekend of her choosing?

  • Lynn says:

    Why can’t moms get 30 days in the summer. We can’t go on vacation because he gets visitation on Thursdays

  • CC says:

    My son is about to file for divorce. He was told his wife has a better chance at primary custody of their 3 & 4 yr. old sons because she has been the primary caregiver, working only part-time up until now, although she will begin working full-time after the divorce. I wonder, though, if it would work in my son’s favor for primary custody, that his sons’ paternal grandparents and aunt have been a constant, active presence in their lives since birth. (Unlike their father, their mother has no local family support.)

  • Scott Morgan says:

    Thanks for the question Lynn. I’m not sure what your Decree states but the standard SPO language is for Thursdays only during the school year. In that case it would not impact the Summer.

  • Scott Morgan says:

    Extended family support can definitely be advantage in a custody suit. But generally speaking the biggest factor is which parent has been the primary caregiver prior to the divorce.

  • Scott Morgan says:

    Ruben, your question really is too complicated to answer without a lot of additional facts and a review of the Decree. I recommend doing a consultation with a good family law attorney.

  • Scott Morgan says:

    Tiffany, it depends on the language in your Decree. Some orders give a specific pick up time, others state “at the time school is dismissed.”

  • Scott Morgan says:

    Melissa, there is no statewide calendar that dictates the schedule. It is actually based on the school calendar of whatever school the child attends.

  • Scott Morgan says:

    Cherish, I am not entirely sure I understand the specifics of your situation but generally, yes the non-primary parent does get weekends during the summer in addition to the extended summer visit.

  • wayne yeager says:

    Hello,

    I was awarded Standard Visitation last thursday, after years of trying. My ex and her husband were causing a scene so my lawyer walked me out and said we need to leave before it escalates. He said it was my wknd for kids but since it just ordered it probably wont be ready until this coming week.

    1. Now my ex has my oldest daughter, 15, texting me horrible stuff and telling me that they do not want to go back to court adn that I should agree just to let the kids come to my house when THEY (the kids), decide to. NO Way, will i ever do this because they kids never get to decide on their own, they are influenced by their mom and new step dad.
    Why would my daughter be trying so hard to get me to make this agreement when Standard visitation was already ordered? Is there anyway after we left my crazy ex convinved judge to come back in July for another hearing?

    2. I live in Texas and over 130 miles away, i know i can elect 1,3,5 weekends or one weknd of month. But since its summer already , I want to have them for awhile, how can i get the papers this week so I can see what it entails?

    basically im worried why my ex has my daugther texting me to agree to only have them when they want to come and why she says we have to go back to court when it was already settled Thursday. So sad to see a parent put a kid in the middle like this. its terrible. They love coming down here but my ex convinces them that its not a good thing and I do not want to make them do something they dont want to but I also know they do want to but are just brainwashed into saying these things to me. My kids love our time togehter where we meet and love coming to my house.

    Please help, my lawyer gone for few days and dont know what to do now.

  • My daughter is with her father for the summer. She is 17, and my ex husband is not even there. He is working 30 + days away in different states and will not be home until the job is over. Visitation order is between he and I only. She wants to come home, but he refuses and leaves her with a verbally abusive new wife, who my daughter is afraid of… In order to have visitation, aren’t you supposed to be there? I can not find any documents that say that. My daughter told her father that she would come back whenever he was there, but he refused. New wife told many things to my daughter, one was that the only reason she was still there, was because she had the power, that she had told my ex that if he allowed my daughter to go home she would be very, very mad and he would suffer the consequences….so therefore, my daughter has been the mouse being terrorized by this new woman this crazed cat.

  • Mike Hamilton says:

    Our decree gives my child’s mother 30 days of possession during the summer. I get one weekend during this period. Does that effectively give her 28 days?

  • Scott Morgan says:

    Mike, effectively the answer is yes. In other words, the visiting parent does not get back additional days in the event the custodial parent elects to use their weekend during the extended summer possession.

  • Scott Morgan says:

    Carol, regarding your question “In order to have visitation, aren’t you supposed to be there?” the legal answer is no, that is not required. I know that doesn’t make sense, especially given your circumstances, but that is the correct legal answer.

  • Scott Morgan says:

    Wayne, I am sorry to hear about your situation. Unfortunately, this one is too complicated for me to be of much assistance to you in this forum (blog post). I recommend that you schedule a meeting with your attorney as soon as possible to discuss all these issues and how they will be addresssed.

  • Aaron Johnson says:

    My ex and I have never gone by the standard visitations but due to excessive arguments I want to start. We discussed my 30 days beginning in July and she is completely against it. She is threatening to modify the visitations to where I won’t be able to see my son. Is it possible for her to keep him from me or would I keep my set visitations until a new order is signed?

  • Sarah says:

    Does this same standard possession apply to infants in situations where the parents are not married? I have primary custody of my 2 kids (9 & 11) from my previous marriage and am expecting a child but am not re-married and do not cohabitate with the father to be. I’m plan to talk to a lawyer regarding my situation but was curious what “standard” applies in my situation.

  • Maria says:

    So in our divorce decree, drawn up here in Texas, the extended summer visitation is just as you said Scott, (without written notice) July 1st through July 31st. What I am concerned about is him coming to stay some in town (he lives 600 miles away) and basically coming over to my house to pick up my girls whenever he feels like it during his “extended possession”. This would tie me down to his time. For example, if he wants them just on a Thursday and Friday during July, but wants them to stay at my house at night then pick them up whenever HE wants because it’s during his time. That can’t be agreeable to a judge I’d think right? Doesn’t EXTENDED SUMMER POSSESSION mean he have to possess them consecutively for a certain number of days – not just whenever you want to pick them up without letting me know?

  • wayne yeager says:

    I guess what I am asking now is this.

    If there is a hearing, and judge awards me standard possession and we and our lawyer leave is it legal for the other parties and their lawyer to speak with the judge and get another hearing setup? Myself and my lawyer did not find out til today after we submitted the standard possession order papers to them today. Why would a judge issue a standard possession order and then request another hearing in 3 weeks?

    thanks
    Wayne Yeager

  • Scott Morgan says:

    Aaron, the existing order is effective unless and until the court modifies the order.

  • Scott Morgan says:

    Hi Sarah, yes the same rules apply to biological dads who were not married to the mother. However, the facts of those cases are very different than the typical married scenario. For example, the child might be several years old but have no relationship with the father. In that case there would be an argument that visitation should stair-step up gradually, eventually leading to an SPO schedule.

  • Scott Morgan says:

    Wayne, I’m not sure why a judge would order temporary orders and then set the same issue to be heard again a few weeks later. Of course, I don’t know enough about your specific situation to advise you on what to do. I would encourage you to discuss this immediately with your lawyer.

  • Scott Morgan says:

    Maria, thank you for the question. No, under the facts you described, your ex would not have an enforceable right to require you to take care of the girls during his extended possession period.

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