Texas Child Possession and Access Schedules
A possession and access schedule lays out how a separated family will divide parenting time. It's one element in a parenting plan.
Judges will approve any possession schedule parents agree on, as long as it's in the best interest of the child.
If parents cannot agree on a suitable schedule, judges usually award the standard possession order (details below). In it, one parent sees the child on Thursday evenings and the first, third, and fifth weekend of each month.
Custody X Change is software that creates possession and access schedules, calendars, and parenting plans.
If you do not like the standard possession order, you should try to agree on a different schedule with the other parent or demonstrate to the judge why an alternative would suit your children better.
Parents can decide together to stray from any court-ordered schedule. Otherwise, they must follow their court order.
Possession and access terminology
Texas uses the terms "possession" and "access" instead of "physical custody" and "visitation," respsectively.
A parent has possession of a child when the child is under his or her care. Access is a broader term that can refer to any communication a parent has with a child, as well as presence at the child's activities.
Typically, one parent (the custodial parent) has the majority of possession time, though it may be a only a slight majority. The custodial parent can be a joint or sole managing conservator.
The other parent is the noncustodial parent. He or she may be a joint managing conservator or a possessory conservator.
Very occassionally, parents split possession time evenly, making neither one "custodial" (details below under "50/50 possession").
Don't be confused by the language in the Texas standard possession order (SPO). It uses the word "managing conservator" to mean "custodial conservator" and "possessory" to mean "noncustodial." Some judges prefer you use the SPO terminology if you write your own possession order.
Making your own possession and access schedule
You can make a customized possession and access schedule to propose to the other parent, to present to your judge, or to submit to the court when you settle.
Start by looking at common custody schedules for ideas.
One frequently-used option is the 4-3 schedule, where the child spends four days a week with one parent and three days with the other.
The 2-2-5-5 schedule is also used by many families. The child spends two days with each parent, then five days with each parent. Then the cycle repeats.
Keep in mind that you’ll need provisions for times when the regular schedule doesn't make sense. You may need provisions for:
- Summer break
- Holidays (school holidays and any additional religious holidays)
- Special occasions (like the child’s birthday)
- Different caretakers
You can use the Custody X Change app to create a master calendar that combines your plans for special situations (like the ones above) with your regular schedule so you can make sense of everything in one glance.
Judges will approve any possession schedule parents agree on that is in the best interest of the child. They may look more scrupulously at agreements reached without involvement from neutral professionals (such as mediators, arbitrators or collaborative law teams).
Consider these guidelines for the best chance of getting your schedule approved by a judge:
- Reflect on your child's unique needs before you select a schedule.
- Allow your child to have frequent contact with both parents (as long as that's in the child's best interest).
- Keep siblings together (if that's in their best interest).
- Think about both parents' work schedules, as well as the distance between their homes.
- Consider a schedule that changes as the child grows. A schedule that works for a 2 year old may not work for a school-age child.
- Write your schedule in language that is specific, yet applicable to any year.
When you're ready to put a schedule down on paper, the Custody X Change app can walk you through the process step-by-step. While you add days and times to a color-coded calendar, the software translates your selections into the legal language required by the court.
You have the option to attach your color-coded calendar to demonstrate your possession schedule graphically. However, the written version will be what the court enforces if your proposal becomes a court order.
If you and the other parent agree, you will submit your possession schedule to the court for approval, along with your other closing forms, when you go to court to settle.
Standard possession and access order
When parents can't agree on a schedule and their child is at least 3 years old, a judge will usually award the Texas standard possession order (SPO) — unless one of the parents convinces him or her it isn't in the child's best interest.
Parents can also opt to use the standard order, rather than a customized schedule, in a settlement.
The standard possession order gives what the state considers a reasonable amount of possession time to each parent.
In it, the child lives primarily with one parent. For continuity, we refer to that parent below as the "custodial" parent, and the other as the "noncustodial" parent. The official SPO text instead uses the terms "managing conservator" and "possessory conservator," respectively.
Parents 100 miles apart or less
The standard possession order stipulates the following when parents live 100 miles apart or less.
The noncustodial parent has possession of the child:
- Every 1st, 3rd, and 5th weekend from 6 p.m. Friday to 6 p.m. Sunday
- Every Thursday during the school year from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.
If the child has a school holiday the Friday before a weekend visit, the visit starts on Thursday at 6 p.m.
If the child has a school holiday the Monday after a weekend visit, the visit is extended until Monday at 6 p.m.
This chart shows which parent gets possession of the child on special occasions, under the standard order:
The standard possession order gives the noncustodial parent 30 days with the child during summer.
The summer stay goes from July 1 to 31, unless the noncustodial parent notifies the other parent prior to April 1 that he or she prefers different days.
The custodial parent gets one weekend with the child during this time.
Parents who live more than 100 miles apart
When parents live more than 100 miles apart, the standard possession order changes in the following ways:
- The noncustodial conservator can choose to have one weekend of possession per month instead of visits on the 1st, 3rd, and 5th weekends (if notice is given 14 days in advance).
- The noncustodial conservator has the child during spring break every year.
- The noncustodial conservator has the child for 42 days of summer break (June 15 to July 27, unless different dates are scheduled by April 1).
Other possession orders
While the standard possession order is designed to work for most cases, judges recognize that it doesn’t fit every family perfectly. Family court judges have discretion to award a different possession order when necessary.
Below are four ways a judge might depart from the standard possession order.
Extended standard possession order
Any noncustodial parent can ask the judge to extended the standard possession order, giving that parent two extra overnights with the child each week during the school year. The request is nearly always granted.
The extended order is like the standard order, except that:
- The weekend stay starts when the child gets out of school Friday and ends when the child starts school Monday.
- The midweek stay starts when the child gets out of school Thursday and ends when the child starts school Friday.
- Holiday possession starts when school lets out.
Very occasionally, a judge will rule that a child should spend roughly equal time with both parents, rather than living primarily with a "custodial" conservator. In this case, the judge will require both parents to live within a smaller geographic area than usual, such as a school district.
Most often, parents to agree to this arrangement on their own, but judges are increasingly awarding equal possession time of their own volition (mostly when a family has already shown success splitting parenting time evenly).
Historically, Texas courts viewed 50/50 awards as more beneficial for parents than for children, who are the ones who have to move back and forth in what can be an awkward schedule. Today, the likelihood of receiving an award for 50/50 possession is still low, but depends heavily on your court, judge and circumstances.
Children under 3
For kids under 3 years old, judges often award a possession and access schedule designed specifically for young children. These schedules may switch to the standard possession order when the child turns 3, or they can slowly morph as the child grows.
In deciding a schedule, the judge will consider the following:
- Each parent's caretaking history
- How the child handles separation from either parent
- Each parent's availability and willingness to care for the child
- The child's physical, medical, behavioral and developmental needs
- Each parent's physical, medical, emotional, economic and social conditions
- Other people who live with the parents
- The presence of siblings during periods of possession
- The child's need to develop healthy attachments to both parents
- The child's need for routine
- The proximity of the parents' homes
- The parents' ability to share in the responsibilities, rights and duties of parenting
No possession or access
While rare, a parent can be entirely denied possession and access if necessary for a child's physical or emotional health. This only occurs in extraordinary circumstances, such as when the parent has an untreated mental illness or a history of abusing the child. In many cases, the orders are temporary and can change once the parent gets help for the problematic behavior.
More often, the judge will set rules to protect the child during time with the parent. For example, the judge may require that possession be supervised or take place during the day.
A parent can request electronic communication with their child, in addition to periods of possession. Electronic communication includes tools like email, voice calling, video calling, text messaging and instant messaging.
The court will consider whether electronic communication is in the best interest of the child and whether the necessary equipment is reasonably available to everyone involved.
The court may specify times (such as 6 to 8 p.m.) or frequencies (such as once a day) for electronic communication, or allow it at reasonable times for a reasonable duration. The other parent must give the child the same level of privacy during electronic communication as during other types of access.
Electronic communication is not a substitute for physical possession.
The easiest way to make a schedule
If you're like most parents, writing a possession and access schedule will feel daunting. How do you write something that meets legal requirements and doesn't leave any loose ends?
The written description is what the court will enforce if your schedule becomes a court order. Take advantage of Custody X Change to make it as clear and thorough as can be.
Custody X Change is software that creates possession and access schedules, calendars, and parenting plans.