Standard Possession Orders in Texas
Custody of children involves both the “legal custody” and “physical custody” of the children. In Texas, we refer to custody as “conservatorship” and to parents as “conservators.” One parent is usually designated the conservator with the primary right to determine the child’s residence (Parent A). The other conservator will be the parent who will exercise their visitation rights to have “physical custody” of the child (Parent B). Within the “physical custody” aspect of a Texas conservatorship, the legislature has codified (as recent as September 1, 2021) a standard visitation schedule that the courts already presume is in the best interest of a child aged three years old or older. This law describes the times and specific terms to which a parent or conservator (sometimes a nonparent) has the right to have time with the children. Although there are nuances for younger children and parties may rebut this presumption, we will explain what this standard possession schedule looks like.
The first thing a standard possession order says is that the parents may have possession of the child at any time — as long as they agree. We explain this idea to clients as, “if you decide to exchange the children by the minute, hour, or day, then you are more than welcome to do that.” Obviously, this is theoretical, as it’s not exactly feasible or logical to exchange children between parents for visitation by the minute.
However, if parents cannot agree to a possession schedule amongst themselves, the rest of the standard possession order will dictate those terms.
For cases filed after September 1, 2021 (see Travis County fill-in-the-blank orders with pre/post 9/1/21 specifics):
- Expanded possession (50 miles or less): Generally, for parents or conservators who live within 50 miles of each other, Parent B will have the right to spend time with their child on the first, third, and fifth weekend of every month. They’re able to pick up the child from their school when it dismisses for the day on Friday and return them on Monday morning when school resumes. Moreover, Parent B can have every Thursday, starting when the child leaves school and ending when the child returns to school on Friday. Typically, during major holidays throughout the year, the parent's alternate visitation rates depending on whether it is an odd or even year. This possession schedule is nice because it allows parents to have more time with their children at an amount that is almost exactly 50/50 between the parents. Plus — for parents who may not have the best relationship with each other — this allows for exchanges to happen at school, so the parents do not have to meet anywhere together and “deal” with the other parent.
- Standard possession (50-100 miles): These provisions are very similar to the expanded possession; however, possession begins at 6:00 p.m. on Fridays and ends at 6:00 p.m. on Sundays. Parent A will still pick up the children from school on the first, third, and fifth weekends of the month, and then will meet up with Parent B at 6:00 p.m. and pick up the children on Sundays. On Thursdays, Parent B will have time with the children from 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. Other than these changes, the holidays are still alternated depending on the year.
- Long-distance possession (Over 100 miles): Depending on the distance between parents and the facts of the case, the court may determine that weekend possession should reflect the same as standard possession or reduce Parent B’s visitation to one weekend per month. This also eliminates the mid-week or Thursday visitations. Holidays are the same as above; however, Parent B may have visitation with the child for a longer period of time during the summer months.
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