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.

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

  • Kelsey says:

    My husband is the primary custodian of his son. The mother rarely shows up on her weekends to get him. She is allowed every 1st, 3rd, and 5th weekend from 6pm Friday to 6pm Sunday. If she does show up, it is usually late Friday night or sometime during the day on Saturday. She does not let us know until she is already on her way .Half of the time, she does not bother getting him or tells us to take him to her moms. If the mother does not contact my husband to come get their son, and we have plans to go out of town on that Friday or Saturday of her weekend, do we have to stick around the house waiting to see if she will come get him or are we allowed to continue on with our weekend plans?

  • Jennie says:

    Hello,
    I am the custodial parent. My X-Husband did not notify me he would be using his summer visitation. He has never used the summer visitation since we were divorced 5 years ago. At 8:15pm on July first he informed me that he was not bringing them home from his visitaion which ended at 8pm. Why does the decree not account for this? It seems every time I turn around he has found some loop hole.

  • Tonnya Lopez says:

    I am in a Joint Custody aggrement with my Ex Husband. They mainly live with me. He has them for their summer vacation the 30 days. My birthday is July 10 and all i want is to pick them up for dinner and take them back. I asked my ex and he said No. Is there anything that states i can have them for my birthday for a few hours?

  • Kristin Hays says:

    My son’s father and I have an SPO. My question is, at what age does the Spring and Summer possession take effect? The way it is worded, makes it sound like it starts when they actually start school like in Kindergarten. Is this correct? My son is only 4 and he goes to home childcare while I’m at work.

  • Lisa Moore says:

    My ex is required to have supervised visitation due to repeated drug use. Because of the supervised stipulation he told me he could not keep our kids during the month of July. However, now he says he wants them for a week because his mom took off on vacation. Do I have to give up possession of my children or can I refuse since he previously told me he couldn’t keep them in July?

  • rigo says:

    great article, and great questions, but i have a question of my own:

    what is the protocol for the weekend visits in regards to who drops off and picks up the child? if the father is scheduled to see the child at 6 p.m. on friday to 6 p.m. on sunday, is he supposed to pick her up? is the mother supposed to drop her off or pick her back up on sunday? our divorce ended years ago, and we have never had any issues regarding our daughter’s visitation rights, but recently it has taken an ugly turn, that this is something that we argue about. who is “supposed” to pick her up and drop her off. as trivial and ridiculous as this question may be, your feedback would be greatly appreciated.

    thank you,
    rigo

  • Stefanie Pekarek says:

    Hello, can you tell me in the months of May & August does ‘school term’ refer to only the schoolcalandar? Does the NAP still get 1st 3rd & 5th if school ends on Friday the 30th of May? And if school starts Aug 26th does ncp get 1 3 5 weekends because it’s a school term beginning in August?

  • matt says:

    Recently I went to court 247th for Harris County and was told by the judge that I needed to seek an attorney. She stated that the language in the suit to modify the parent child agreement was “wacky”, specifically the section pertaining to the possession and visitation. I am trying to work with the mother and we are attempting to change the old order-a standard custody agreement-into a 50/50 agreement. I am not sure how to write this out. I went to the Harris county law library and I obtained the correct documents for the order. It stated to put whatever schedule you and the parent agree to, as long as it is in the correct legal jargon. I chose a well know parenting schedule and I am not sure what else to do.

  • Bob Burlander says:

    Hello Scott, Our grand children are with their Non- Custodial father for their summer vacation. He is now refusing to give up the children to their mother (our daughter) and is well over 43 days now. We and our daughter do not have the money and go back to the courts when there is already the original decree that he is abiding by. what can we do….???? this is urgent, he will not let the kids see us or talk to us. We are the rock for these children and they are extremely upset that he will not let them return to Mom. HELP< HELP< HELP. Thanks

  • Karen says:

    My husband starts standard visitation when his son turns 3 on December 20th, 2014. He goes to daycare, not school. According to the local school schedule school is dismissed for break on December 19th, 2014. The decree states that he gets his son from the day school is dismissed until Dec. 28th at noon. The mother is trying to tell us that because he is still 2 on the day school is dismissed my husband doesn’t get his holiday visitation until next year. The way we are reading it we should have him starting on his birthday until Dec. 28th. She is aware that we are leaving the state for the holiday and is trying hard to keep him with her. This will be the first year my husband is allowed to have him on Christmas day. Prior to the standard visitation order starting at age 3 they had other arrangements. At age 3 everything is standard and no changes were made. Are we correct in going by his birthday and not by the day school is dismissed for break?

  • kristi says:

    My husband and I just moved out of state 6 months ago. His ex wife was ordered one hour once a month supervised visitation in 2011 and has been this way to this day. She is petitioning the court in Texas for standard possession. But since we have moved she is refusing to call or Skype and we’ve offered her airfare every month since moving at our cost. Her previous behavior is not remedied that warranted the supervision in the first place. Can she get the standard visitation back that easy? Were fighting to keep visitation supervised and limited.

  • Steph T. says:

    I have the SOP and I am the custodial parent, my daughters father says that there are some days that he is “allowed” to get her straight from school before a holiday, but from what I see is that most of the times say starting at 6pm, but then it says he can elect to have her right after school under the part that says general terms and conditions.I’m confused so does this mean he gets to make the choice to get her straight from school or wait until 6pm? Or does he have to go through the court to get it approved or give written notice? I’m just wondering because we have a pretty set pickup schedule and he has never picked her up from school before.

  • Jessica Nelson says:

    Question.
    Child lives with father. Mother lives over 100 miles away. She is allowed her one weekend visits each month, her choice. However, there is a clause that states, ” it is ordered that (parent a) nor (parent b) shall disrupt school activites, extra- curricular activite

  • Jessica Nelson says:

    Question.
    Child lives with father. Mother lives over 100 miles away. She is allowed her one weekend visits each month, her choice. However, there is a clause that states, ” it is ordered that (parent a) nor (parent b) shall disrupt school activities, extra- curricular activities, family events, or other outings of the child in any way, including but not limited to periods of possession, scheduling activities, or other events during the other parent’s possession period.”
    What exactly does this mean?
    If father has plans with the child during a weekend, before mother gave notice (but father told her and the plans) is she allowed to take that weekend, because it’s her choice? What if child has extra curricular activities planned?
    Thanks

  • Kendall says:

    If other terms of visitation are agreed by the custodial parent, like allowing them to go on vacation with non custodial parent on days that custodial parent should have them, can they take it back & demand you bring the child home early? If threatened to call the police because you cant bring them home early, but have told them they are more than welcome to come get them can you get in trouble?

  • Lee says:

    Our orders state that the non-custodial parent has her weekend possessions 1st,3rd and 5th weekends beginning at 6pm and ending at 6pm. She is wanting to start picking up the child at school earlier. Does she have to submit that formally or can she request to do that even though our papers state 6pm? Also, we live just under 100 miles away. On her Thursday visits she is expecting us to drive 45 miles to meet halfway and turn over the child for 2 hours and then drive back.

  • Wayne Yeager says:

    Scott,

    I have posted a few times, I was awarded the standard visitation officially back in July. I had kids for a weekend and then for 3 weeks for the summer. I had told my kids that I will work with them if they have games, school activites, etc. My wife had moved the kids about a year ago from a 30 min drive for me to a 2.5 hour drive for me. I negotiated this so I meet them in a specific city, more than halfway but not having to drive the full 2.5 hours helps. Here is the problem, My ex and I have been divorced 7 years and its still all about sticking it to me. She knows I am working with the kids to keep them happy. i had discussed with them a couple weeks ago that this coming weekend was their first high school football game of the year. My ex is refusing to be reasonable, again, she will make me meet her in the town at same time, get the kids, TAKE them all the way back to the city THEY live in, and to the football game and either get a hotel room or be driving til 2 am to get back to my house. Well, I have offered to meet her after the game, because her and her new husband go to the game (its 3 min from their house), I have offered to meet them early sat morning instead of at 6pm today. But she wont budge, she says court order says 6pm so if kids have their sports I have to take them, and come back. Meaning, I will be getting my kids at 6pm on fridays, coming back 2.5 hours to my house or getting a hotel, taking them to their sports on saturday (another 2.5 hours), bringing them back to my house (another 2.5 hours) and taking them back home sunday (2.5 hours). Plus I will be going to the other kids sports sometimes during the week. Now I dont mind going to sports and watching them, I love to. but on some occasions, I think she should at least help and I can pickup the 2 other kids, while the one who has cross country that weekend stays and does her sports. The KIDS are fine with this and think its great, but I do not know what to do. I do know she was upset they awarded me standard visitation (which times and dates can be changed and mutually agreed upon), so she is just trying to stick it to me. What steps do I need to take to present this to a judge to show I have made every reasonable offer to have kids with me, let them play their sports, pay their child support, and my ex still refuses to budge. They would honeslty be better off with me, as I would not play these stupid games. I am 44 years old and so tired of this and not sure if its worth going back to court or not. But 15 hours of driving for a weekend is just absurd and if you ask me, its not good for the kids and not safe either. Please give me your advice, I know its a long post.

  • Cin says:

    My decree says if a period of possession by J ends on or is immediately followed by a student holiday or a teacher in service day that falls on a Monday during regular school term, as determined by the school in which the child is enrolled, or a federal, state, or local holiday that falls on a Monday during summer months that weekend period of possession shall end on that Monday at 6pm. (Do I get to keep my kids and take them to school or do I have to give them to their mom at 6 on Monday? )He takes them to school on Monday when there is school.But it doesn’t say a time for the monday holiday only says during summer months at 6pm. What you see is what it said in the decree. I believe he takes them to school on Tuesday because Monday is like a Sunday, but the decree doesn’t have a time just says during summer months at 6pm. Want to make sure.She is saying she gets them at 6 pm and that’s during summer months. She planning on coming over at 6pm. The kids want to stay and I didn’t see a time.so I want to make sure before this all goes down on monday. Don’t want to break the decree.

  • Dameon says:

    For about over a year my ex has followed and not followed our court ordered document (standard) I have several police reports where i have not had my child. She currently said I will not have my daughter on Thursdays anymore and 10pm on Fri when its my weekends. She started school again at nights and that’s her excuse. Would that be considered by court a significant cause to modify my standard visitation (which she threatens to do). Why can’t I pick my child up from where she is at while my ex is at school? Will court see my issue?

  • marie says:

    I am trying to understand summer visitation. My fiance gets his daughter every Wednesday from 6-8pm occasionally child will overnight and 1st, 3rd, and 5th weekends..the whole month of July. In the summer should he have her all 30 days plus 1st, 3rd ,and 5th weekends in June and August? Seems like he always has the kid and he listens to whatever ex wife says.

  • Jose Ortiz says:

    How does one (non-custodial) parent, elect to pick up their child at the dismissal from school instead of 6pm on the weekends or thursdays that they are able to see the child?

  • Jannelle says:

    We have the standard court order papers im a bit confused on summer visits. Am I allowed to keep my son any weekend in June & any weekend in July that I want as long as I give the ncp a written letter ahead of time?

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