What is a Standard Possession Order in Texas anyway?

What is a Standard Possession Order (SPO) for child visitation in Texas?

Standard Possession Orders in Texas Family Law

What is a Standard Possession Order (SPO) for child visitation in Texas?

At the Law Offices of Jayson Nag in Fort Worth, Texas, our divorce and child custody attorneys want to make sure that our clients have the knowledge they need to effectively work through the challenges of a divorce involving a child or a child custody dispute. A common question received from potential and existing clients when handling a child custody case is "what is a standard possession order (SPO) for child visitation and what is its significance?"

In Texas, a divorce involving children will require that the divorce decree contain several items in order to ensure that all disputes regarding visitation have been properly settled and agreed to by both parties. In the event that the parents are unable to reach an agreement on child visitation scheduling in mediation, the Texas legislature has created a standard possession order, or SPO, that is commonly included in the divorce decree. An SPO, at its most basic level, is a default schedule set forth by the Texas legislature in the Texas Family Code that determines the minimum amount of time each parent will be allowed to spend with the child. The schedule is created so as to provide what the Texas legislature considers to be a fair visitation schedule for both the custodial and noncustodial parent. Specifically, an SPO will tell you where all exchanges of the child will take place, where the child will spend holidays, and will also contain a special set of rules for parents living more than one-hundred (100) miles apart. For example, basic terms of an SPO agreement are that the noncustodial parent has possession of the child:

  • every Thursday night
  • on the first, third and fifth weekends of each month
  • on alternate holidays and at least one month during the summer

It is worth noting that the Texas Family Code presumes the SPO is a minimum amount of parenting time, and unless you implement your own terms into the SPO agreement, visitation and possession of your child could be much less than what you desire.

Can I add my own terms for possession into the SPO to increase the amount of time I get with my child?

Even if you and the other parent cannot reach an agreement on a visitation schedule in mediation, you may still have a chance to get your desired terms added to the SPO. This is done through judicial enforcement at trial, which means that a judge will hear arguments from both parents regarding what each parent considers to be the best visitation schedule, and after hearing all arguments made and evidence presented, the judge will make a final determination on which terms will be added and which terms will be struck.  Judges have been known to strike terms that the judge feels are not in the best interest of the child, but in all likelihood, the judge will not typically intervene if both parents agree to the SPO as it stands in the Family Code. Additionally, when special circumstances exist that require specific provisions to be added, such as a child with a severe disability, a judge will take factor these circumstances into his final decision. Certain other factors are also commonly included in the judge’s final determination of the visitation schedule, including, but not limited to: the criminal record of each parent, the age of the child, the annual income of each parent, and the relationship history between the parents.  Thus, it is important to consult with our attorney and make clear the amount of visitation and possession time you wish to have with your child so that they can make the necessary revisions to the scheduling agreement.

What are my other options if I do not want to use the standard possession order set forth in the Texas Family Code?

Assuming you wish to have more (or even less) possession rights than what is provided for in the SPO, or you believe that the other parent should have more or less possession rights, you should do your very best to reach a non-standard visitation schedule agreement with the other parent. This can be achieved through mediation or informal settlement with our Fort Worth Divorce and Child Custody attorney, Jayson Nag. Non-standard visitation agreements allow for you to draw up your own agreement and determine your own possession rights so long as the other parent agrees and the schedule is in the child’s best interest. These non-standard scheduling schemes can vary significantly and allow for an even 50/50 custodial split or a more one-sided approach such as majority of possession with one parent while the other parent will have significantly limited visitation rights to the child. It is important to keep in mind that if there is not a non-standard visitation scheduling agreement reached between the parents, a judge will likely implement the SPO set forth in the Texas Family Code unless there is evidence presented to the Court that the SPO would not be in the child’s best interest. Therefore, parents of the child are often encouraged to reach any type of non-standard scheduling scheme allowing for significantly more time of possession with your child. The Courts also appreciate such agreements because they encourage a healthy co-parenting relationship that is an important characteristic to raising a child in a strong environment.

Is there a chance a non-standard scheduling agreement will be rejected by the Judge?

The short answer is yes. However, judges are very hesitant to reject non-standard scheduling as they prefer to encourage the parents to work together to find a schedule that will work best for each of the parents to create a healthy co-parenting relationship with the child. It is worth noting that judges have been known to reject a non-standard schedule either when the schedule was determined not to be in the best interest of the child or where the language of possession order did not clearly explain the schedule. Therefore, you should be sure to carefully outline, in detail, the scheduling of visitation and possession in order to avoid a judge striking down your non-standard schedule for ambiguity.

For more details about SPO’s, or for a free consultation regarding your child custody or divorce case, contact the attorneys at The Law Offices of Jayson Nag located in Fort Worth, Texas at 817.900.2823.

***To view the Texas Standard Possession Calendar for 2017, click HERE.