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Visitation / Possession

This page is intended as a very general overview of issues related to possession schedules in Texas suits affecting the parent-child relationship. The statements and information provided on this website are for informational purposes only. This site is not intended to provide legal advice to the reader and NO attorney-client relationship shall be deemed to arise from the receipt of this page. An attorney-client relationship only arises after the attorney and client have signed a written attorney-client agreement, after the attorney has evaluated the background facts provided and has accepted the representation of the client's legal action.

The starting point for discussing a parent's right to visitation, or possession of children in Texas is the Standard Possession Order. The Standard Possession Order is contained in Chapter 154 of the Family Code. The Family Code tells judges to presume that the terms of the Standard Possession Order provide reasonable minimum possession times for each parent and are in the best interest of the children.

One of the terms of the Standard Possession Order is that the parents can have possession of the children at any time that is mutually agreeable between them. But, if the parents can't agree on times for possession, the Standard Possession Order contains a fall-back schedule for them to follow. The terms of that fall-back schedule depend in part on the judge's ruling on custody.

In most cases, the court will grant one parent or the other the “exclusive right to designate primary residence” of the child. This is what's often referred to, informally, as “primary custody.” This relates to the issue of possession because the Family Code tells the judge that, whichever parent does NOT have the “exclusive right to designate primary residence”, should usually have possession of the child according to the Standard Possession Order.

Most people misunderstand the Standard Possession Order and, as a result, lose sleep when they're dealing with a contested-custody case. They often think that, if the other parent wins “primary custody”, they will almost never see their kids and be reduced to distant observers of their kids' lives. Fortunately, this isn't the case. The Standard Possession Order provides the “non-primary” parent with more time with their kids than most people realize.

As a starting point, the Standard Possession Order gives the non-primary parent the first, third and fifth weekend of every month. By default, those weekends are only from Friday at 6:00 p.m. to Sunday at 6:00 p.m. But the Family Code allows the non-primary parent to elect for those weekends to be extended—to start earlier (when school lets out on Friday) and/or end later (Monday morning when school resumes). The Family Code does allow the judge to disallow these elections by the non-primary parent if he or she determines they would not be in a child's best interest, but it is pretty unusual for this to happen.

The Standard Possession Order also gives the non-primary parent possession on every Thursday during the school year from 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. But, like the weekends, the Family Code allows the non-primary parent to elect to start this possession period earlier (when school lets out) and end it later (when school starts again Friday morning).

So, if the non-primary parent makes all these elections, it means he or she can have possession of the children on the first, third and fifth weekends of each month during the school year from Thursday when school lets out through the start of school the following Monday. And, in the second and fourth weeks of each month during the school year, it gives him or her possession from the time school lets out on Thursday through the start of school on Friday.

During the summer vacation, the weekends revert back to the standard Friday at 6:00 p.m. through Sunday at 6:00 p.m. schedule, and the Thursday visits end. But, this is offset by the fact that the non-primary parent gets an extended possession period of 30 straight days, typically July 1-31.

Last, the Standard Possession Order splits holidays generally equally between the parents. The Family Code even allows the non-primary parent some options to elect and extend their holiday possession periods.

Assuming the non-primary parent makes all the elections he or she can to maximize their time with the kids, he or she will end up having the kids for approximately 42% of the nights each year. The point to take away from all this is not that the judge's ruling on custody doesn't matter. But, rather, that whatever ruling the judge makes on custody, both parents will continue to have regular significant involvement with their children.

If you have questions about your possession schedule, or about what can be done to modify it, please contact our office to schedule a free consultation.

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