“Possession and Access.” What’s That?
Some terms in the Family Code sound awkward to many people. “Possession” equals visitation. “Access” equals contact between visitation periods—for example, by phone, text or email. For simplicity, we’ll mostly use the single term “visitation” as a convenient label for possession and access issues.
Texas Policy on Visitation
The State’s policy is to encourage frequent contact between children and parents in order to help develop a close and healthy relationship. In support, the Texas Family Code includes a Standard Possession Order (SPO) that is presumed to be in the best interests of the children because it facilitates the minimum reasonable visitation. As you would hope, the Family Code permits parents to agree to more frequent or longer periods of visitation. But, when parents can’t agree, the SPO defines the minimum rights and obligations of each parent.
Two Schemes Based on Distance Between Households
The Family Code actually lays out two different SPO schemes. The first applies to parents who live 100 miles or less from each other. The second applies to parents who live more than 100 miles from each other. For simplicity, we’ll focus on the first SPO—the one that applies to parents who live 100 miles or less from each other. A qualified attorney can discuss the details of either SPO as it may apply to your situation.
Children Less Than Three Years of Age
The Family Code states that a SPO does not apply to a child less than three years of age. Instead, the Code directs the court to tailor an order that’s appropriate to the needs and circumstances of the child. The Code lists factors for the court to consider, including:
- Caregiving each parent provided to the child before and during the current lawsuit;
- The effect on the child that may result from separation from either parent;
- The availability and willingness of each parent to care for the child;
- The location and proximity of the parents’ residences after divorce;
- The child’s need for continuity his or her daily routine; and,
- Other factors.
To avoid a costly return to court, the Family Code directs that a second visitation order be included. The second order takes effect when the child turns three years old. The order generally is the SPO.
Standard Possession Order—Parents Less Than 100 Miles Apart
Basic Visitation Rights
Without delving into every nuance, the non-custodial parent has visitation throughout the year at the following times:
- First, third and fifth weekend of each month, starting at 6 p.m. on Friday and ending at 6 p.m. on Sunday.
- Thursdays of each week during the school year from 6 p.m. until 8 p.m.—unless the court finds this extra period not to be in the best interest of the children.
- In even numbered years, the non-custodial parent has visitation starting at 6 p.m. on the day the children are dismissed from school for Thanksgiving and ending at 6 p.m. on Sunday.
Winter School Holiday
- In odd numbered years, the non-custodial parent has visitation starting at 6 p.m. on the day school is dismissed and ending at 6 p.m. on December 28th.
- In even numbered years, the non-custodial parent has visitation starting at 6 p.m. on December 28th and ending at 6 p.m. the day before school resumes.
- In odd numbered years, the non-custodial parent has visitation starting at 6 p.m. on the day that school is dismissed and ending at 6 p.m. on the day before school resumes.
- Mom always gets the children over Mother’s Day weekend. If Mom is the non-custodial parent, she’ll have visitation starting at 6 p.m. on Friday and ending at 6 p.m. on Sunday over Mother’s Day weekend. This special provision is effective every year.
- Dad always gets the children over Father’s Day weekend. If Dad is the non-custodial parent, he’ll have visitation starting at 6 p.m. on Friday and ending at 6 p.m. on Sunday over Father’s Day weekend. This special provision is effective every year.
- The parent who is not already entitled to possession or visitation on the child’s birthday has visitation starting at 6 p.m. and ending at 8 p.m. on that special day.
Summer School Vacation
- Every year, the non-custodial parent is entitled to an extended visitation period of 30 days.
- The extended visitation period can begin no earlier than 6 p.m. on the day school is dismissed.
- The extended visitation period must end no later than seven days before school resumes.
- The 30 days extended visitation can be split into two periods—but no period can be less than seven days.
- The non-custodial parent can choose when the 30 days will occur (whether in a single period or split periods)—but only if they provide written notice to the other parent no later than April 1st. Otherwise, extended summer visitation shall occur starting at 6 p.m. on July 1st and ending at 6 p.m. on July 31st.
Staying In Touch Between Visits
As needed, a court can tailor its order to ensure that the non-custodial parent is permitted reasonable access to the children between visits (e.g. telephone, text and email). Generally, a court order for access isn’t needed because most parents cooperate on these matters. But, a court can intervene if cooperation is absent or later breaks down. Bring this issue to your attorney’s attention if you anticipate problems staying in touch with your children between visits.
In closing, it’s important to remember that Texas public policy encourages parents to agree to any visitation schedule that suits their needs and the children’s needs. Visitation by agreement always is a good thing because it’s a sign that the parents are communicating and cooperating. However, in the absence of agreement, recall that the SPO defines each parent’s rights and obligations.
Contact Our San Antonio Visitation Rights Lawyer Today
If you need a visitation rights attorney, contact Jim Cramp today. He is here for all you legal family needs.