Most custody orders include a standard possession order (SPO) that sets the schedule for each parent’s time with the child. Custody orders refer to parenting time as access and possession, which is the same as visitation. Terms of the basic SPO allow the noncustodial parent to have possession of the child a couple of hours every Thursday night; on the first, third and fifth weekends of each month; on alternating holidays, and at least one month in the summer. The SPO tells the parents where the exchanges of the child will take place, where the child will spend the holidays, and has special rules for parents who live more than 100 miles apart. The court does not have to follow the SPO if a child is under three years old or if the SPO is not in the best interest of the child. NOTE: Parents with an SPO can agree to any schedule that works for both of them. If they can’t agree, then they must follow the SPO.
If you go through the OAG, child support staff must follow the Texas Family Code presumptions of the SPO. The Texas Family Code presumes the SPO is the minimum amount of parenting time (possession) unless evidence is presented to the court showing why it is not in the child’s best interest, such as:
- little or no prior contact with the child
- family violence concerns
- the child is under 3 and the noncustodial parent did not have frequent, ongoing contact with the child prior to establishing the court orders
OAG prepared possession orders can be adapted to meet common scenarios. If your case has special concerns, such as a child under the age of 3 or prior family violence, ask child support staff if they can adapt an order to meet your family’s needs. Read the court order BEFORE you leave the office. If there are mistakes, tell the child support officer or an assistant attorney general before you go and ask for a copy reflecting the agreements reached with the child support staff.
As long as you and the other parent agree, you can customize a schedule or an informal parenting plan. The informal parenting plan is not enforceable in court; it will give a roadmap for you and the other parent so everyone knows what to expect.
The court order is the required schedule when you and the other parent don’t agree. The courts encourage parents to cooperate and be flexible. If both you and the other parent agree, you can set up any parenting plan/visitation schedule that you want. Children’s schedules change from pre-school to elementary school, and high school. Children benefit when parents create plans that suit their family’s needs. For help in setting up a schedule, go to Children Under the Age of Three.
If you would like to see how the SPO schedule works, download My Sticker Calendar.
What is the difference between possession and access?
Possession of your child means you can see the child in person and decide where the child goes. It is your time with your child.
Access means that you can interact with your child by phone, text messages or by Face Time or Skype or other social media. You also can attend your child’s extracurricular activities and have access to school, medical, and dental records.
Not sure if you have a child support order?
Have you appeared with the other parent at the Attorney General’s Office to negotiate an order or at court? Are you required to pay child support? A support order may be called a Decree of Divorce, a Paternity Decree, or an Order in Suit Affecting the Parent-Child Relationship. Regardless of its name, the order will always include the parent’s names, the name of the child, and the rights and responsibilities of each parent.
Sample Court Orders
- Order in suit affecting the parent-child relationship
- Final decree of divorce
- Child support review order
- Possession and access order
I don’t have a court order – how can I see my child?
If the parent is not allowing access and there is no support order, you may file a child support case with the OAG to establish a child support order that addresses parenting time/visitation or file a case with a district court. Either parent, custodial or noncustodial, can apply for child support services through the OAG to establish an order. Unlike when you hire a private attorney to pursue a legal matter on your behalf, the assistant attorneys general represent the State of Texas, not the parents. The applicant cannot specify which legal actions are pursued by the OAG.
Without a court order in place, there is nothing that the state can do to get the other parent to let you see your child. A court order signed by a judge protects your parental rights by allowing you to use the legal system to enforce the order if you need to.
I already have a court order – when do I get to see my child?
Read your order. It describes the minimum amount of time your child will spend with each parent. Not all orders are alike. If you have your order and have questions, call the Access and Visitation hotline and for help to understand it. Hotline attorneys may ask you to read your order over the phone.
- If you and the other parent agree on a new or different schedule, the court will not enforce that schedule – it’s up to you and the other parent to follow through on your agreement.
- If you and the other parent cannot agree on a new schedule or if one of you decides that the new schedule isn’t working, both of you must follow the court-ordered schedule.
Even if the court orders the standard possession order (SPO), the parties can ALWAYS agree to a different parenting schedule if the need arises. The key word is agree. Getting along with the other parent can play a huge part in being flexible with your visits with your child. As soon as one party no longer agrees with the alternative schedule, both parties are required to start following the SPO exactly as it is written.
How do I know if I have an SPO?
Look at your order underneath the heading “Possession and Access Order.” If the noncustodial parent is given the 1st, 3rd, and 5th weekends (beginning on Friday and ending on Sunday), a weeknight visit once a week during the school term, a period of extended summer visitation, and shared holidays, then you probably have an SPO.
Possession order is the court’s phrase for parenting time. Sometimes it is also called visitation. Parenting time/possession orders state when the child (ren) will be with each parent or guardian.
- In most cases, both parents share parental rights and responsibilities (called joint managing conservatorship).
- Usually, one parent has the right to determine where the child (ren) lives. (This parent is also called the custodial parent.)
Texas has a standard possession order (SPO) for most parents. This is a plan for parenting your child that describes the minimum amount of time your child will spend with each parent. The parenting plan splits time between the noncustodial parent and custodial parent while still allowing the child to have a stable schedule.
- You and the other parent may decide to work out a different schedule than is in the order. That’s okay, as long as you both agree to the new schedule.
- If you and the other parent agree on a new schedule, the court will not enforce that schedule – it’s up to you and the other parent to follow through on your agreement.
- If you and the other parent cannot agree on a new schedule, if one of you decides that the new schedule isn’t working, both of you must follow the court-ordered schedule unless one of you files a motion to modify it with the court that issued the order.
- If one parent stops following the court order, the other parent can enforce the order in court after attempting to resolve the issue outside of court.
If the parents live within 100 miles of each other, the noncustodial parent has parenting time with the child every 1st, 3rd, and 5th weekend, one weeknight per week during the school year, about half of all holidays, and for extended time during the summer. View the ‘My Sticker Calendar’ to see an illustration. The days in gold show the first, third, and fifth weekend of the month. Holidays and summer schedules override the gold days. Check your local school district’s calendar for specifics about vacations and holidays and use the calendar’s stickers to plan with your child.
Less Than 100 miles
Parenting time by your schedule, or by the standard possession order, if parents don’t agree:
- Weekends start on 1st, 3rd and 5th Fridays
- Friday at 6:00 p.m. – Sunday @ 6:00 p.m. (or your order may state from after school Friday until the child returns to school the following Monday—you must tell child support staff or the judge if you want this option)
- Receiving parent picks up the child
- Thursdays 6 p.m. – 8 p.m. during school year or your order may state it starts when the child’s school is regularly dismissed and ends when the child’s school resumes (Wednesdays if order signed before September 1, 2005)
- Weekends may be back to back
- Summer, holidays, and special days
- Pick up and return to residence or, if agreed to, another place
- Return items with child
More than 100 miles
In a long‐distance parenting plan, think about the time children lose with their parents when traveling for a long time. Building parenting time into travel may be a possible solution. Travel time activities can be a chance for parents and children to transition and enhance their relationship. Whenever possible, the receiving parent should accompany the child that is traveling.
If parents live over 100 miles apart, there are options for weekend parenting time:
- NCP can choose the first, third, or fifth weekend of the month throughout the year
- The NCP gets to choose one weekend per month with at least two weeks’ advance
- The election for one weekend per month must be made in writing to the CP within 90 days after the parties begin to live more than 100 miles apart.
If the parties live more than 100 miles from each other, NCPs can either exercise the weekend visits as set out above or they can elect to exercise one weekend per month of their choice to begin at 6:00 p.m. on that Friday and ending at 6:00 p.m. on the following Sunday. The NCP must give 14 days’ written or telephonic notice of the weekend they choose. Additionally, this election for one weekend per month must be made in writing to the parent with custody of the child within 90 days after the parties begin to live more than 100 miles apart.
Additionally, the child gets extended time with the NCP during the summer and every spring break.
- Spending weekdays with your child is a time to do everyday activities, such as doing homework or cooking dinner. Have all ingredients on hand to give you and your child more time to enjoy each other (and less time in the grocery store).
- If the noncustodial parent lives further than 100 miles from the child, weekday visitation may not be possible. If this is your situation, think of creative ways to make up for the time, such as talking to your child on the one night a week on the telephone, or video chatting with each other. Make sure the other parent agrees with this arrangement.
Friday is the first day of the weekend. If Friday falls on the first of the month, that is the first weekend of the month. If Friday falls on the last day of the month, then the following Saturday and Sunday, or the first and second days of the month, are considered part of the LAST weekend of the month. If your order is for the first, third and fifth weekends, this will be the fifth week. Click here to see the Office of the Attorney General’s My Sticker Calendar, which shows the dates the child spends with the noncustodial parent in gold.
If the parents live over 100 miles apart, the noncustodial parent has the right to choose one weekend per month with at least two weeks’ advance written notice to the other parent OR can choose one of these: the first, third, or fifth weekend of the month throughout the year.
If your order was signed before Sept. 1, 2005, weekly parenting time begins every Wednesday at 6 p.m. and ends at 8 p.m. If your order was signed Sept. 1, 2005, or later, weekly parenting time begins every Thursday at 6 p.m. and ends at 8 p.m.; OR your order may state it starts when the child’s school is regularly dismissed and ends at the time the child’s school resumes.
The Thanksgiving holiday season alternates between odd and even years. The noncustodial parent has possession for this vacation period in odd-numbered years and the custodial parent has possession in even-numbered years.
The Christmas holiday season is divided into two parts. Part one is from the day school is dismissed until noon on December 26 (or December 28 if your order was signed after June 15, 2007). Part two is from noon on December 26 (or December 28 if your order was signed after June 15, 2007) until 6 p.m. on the day before school resumes after the Christmas vacation.
In odd-numbered years, the custodial parent will have the child for the first half of the holiday period and the noncustodial parent the second half of the holiday period. In even-numbered years, the noncustodial parent will have the child for the first half of the holiday period and the custodial parent will have the child for the second half of the holiday period.
Weekday and weekend time also may be extended by holidays that fall on Friday or Monday.
Check your local school district’s calendar for specifics about vacations and holidays and use the calendar’s stickers or other stickers to plan with your child.
Mother’s Day and Father’s Day
If the mother is not in possession of the child on Mother’s Day, she is entitled to pick up the child for a period of parenting time over Mother’s Day.
If the father is not in possession of the child on Father’s Day, he is entitled to pick up the child for a period of parenting time over Father’s Day.
The parent not in possession of the child on the child’s birthday is entitled to pick up the child for two hours between 6 p.m. and 8 p.m.
If the parents live within 100 miles of each other, the noncustodial parent is entitled to 30 days of parenting time during the summer months.
If the parents live over 100 miles apart, the noncustodial parent is entitled to 42 days of parenting time during the summer months. The custodial parent will have some parenting time rights during these periods. NCPs have to give written notice to the CP by April 1 and CPs have to give written notice to the NCPs by April 15 if wishing to designate one weekend of possession. If written notice is not given,
Under 100 miles
Children spend spring break with the noncustodial parent in even-numbered years and with the custodial parent in odd-numbered years.
Over 100 miles
Children spend every spring break with the noncustodial parent.
To find out the dates of your child’s spring break, contact your child’s school district or visit the school’s website and search for the school’s calendar.
You may request, or the court may limit where the custodial parent can move with the child. This is called a “geographic restriction.” For example, if both parents live in Houston, the court may not allow the custodial parent to move with the child outside Harris County or any of the surrounding counties. This restriction helps ensure that both parents remain involved in the child’s life. Some judges favor geographic restrictions more than other judges.
Make your schedule work for your family
Ways to customize your plan when meeting with the OAG to establish your child support case. Parents can ask for possession (parenting time) to start:
- When the child’s school ends for the day on Friday, and end when school resumes (on Monday or, if Monday is a holiday, on Tuesday)
- The noncustodial parent can elect to take possession of the child only one weekend per month. In this case, the noncustodial parent gets to pick the weekend he or she wants, as long as he or she gives the other parent at least 14 days’ written or telephonic notice.
- At a different time and date because of the schedule of the child, the age of the child, the special needs of the child, the schedule of a conservator, or any other relevant factor.
- At a pick up or drop off location somewhere other than a parent’s house, such as a gas station or a fast food restaurant between the two parents’ houses. The location must be very specific so there is no misunderstanding about the pick up or drop off point.
How do I elect this option? This is a special election. The NCP has 90 days AFTER he or she moves over 100 miles away from where the child lives to make the election. The noncustodial parent does not have to tell the court about the change; only the other parent or conservator. Written or email notification can be saved or printed as proof of notification.
Tips for Parents Who Live More Than 100 Miles Away
- Planning your weekends well in advance helps things go more smoothly. Get prior approval to take off work, if necessary, and coordinate in advance with the other parent about schedules and the children’s extracurricular activities.
- Some parents meet midway and exchange the child at a pre-arranged location. Other parents split the commute—the receiving parent drives to pick up the child. Parents have to be clear about times and locations with a back-up plan in case of car trouble or heavy traffic.
- In a long‐distance parenting plan, think about time children lose with both parents when traveling for a long time. Building parenting time into travel may be a possible solution. Travel time activities can be a chance for parents and children to transition and enhance their relationship. Whenever possible, the receiving parent should be the accompanying the child that is traveling.
Summer over 100 miles
If the noncustodial parent lives more than 100 miles away from the child, he or she gets an extended summer possession of up to 42 days.
NCPs must give written notice to the CP by April 1 if they want to specify an extended period(s) of summer possession.
If the CP gives the NCP written notice by April 15 of each year, the CP shall have possession of the child on any one weekend beginning at 6 p.m. Friday and ending at 6 p.m. on the following Sunday during any one extended period of summer possession by the NCP.
If written notice is not given and the parents live more than 100 miles apart, the NCP shall have possession from 6 p.m. June 15 through 6 p.m. July 27.
Unless the parents agree to a different pick-up and drop-off point, the child is picked up at the parent’s residence.
If the CP gives the NCP written notice by April 15 of each year, the CP may designate 21 days that begin not earlier than the day after the child’s school is dismissed for the summer vacation and ending not later than 7 periods of at least 7 consecutive days each, beginning and ending at 6 p.m. on each applicable day. The NCP may not have possession of the child during this time if the period or periods do not interfere with the NCP’s period or periods of extended summer possession, or with Father’s Day, if the NCP is the father of the child.