by Larry Chamberlin
“But it’s MY weekend!” Some of the most frequent issues that arise with my clients are due to the seeming complexities of the visitation schedule - the Standard Possession Order or SPO. Most often the problems arise when people get off schedule or do not adhere to the deadline dates as stated in the order. All goes well until someone gets angry, declares they are “going by the order” and the other person is denied a visitation. Although in most cases both parents are Joint Managing Conservators, for the purposes of this blog, I will call the person who has visitation under the SPO the “Possessory Conservator” and the other parent the “Managing Conservator.” Please note that I am discussing the SPO as set out in the Texas Family Code (TFC §§153.301 through 153.317). Additionally, I’m discussing provisions for parties who live within 100 miles of each other; the rules are different for people living more than 100 miles apart. Also, your Order may have unique language that changes the SPO. Your own Order must be adhered to even when it does not conform to the Texas Family Code form language.
“What’s a week-end?” Myth busting: the Standard Possession Order (SPO) does NOT provide for visitation every other weekend. Rather, it takes into account that four times a year there will be an extra weekend in a month. Thus, the possession order provides for two weekend visitations in most months and three weekends in a few others. Always count the Fridays: visitation starts on the first (1st), third (3rd) and fifth (5th) Fridays of each month and ends the following Sunday.* This means that when the Possessory Conservator has visitation on the fifth weekend (beginning the fifth Friday) of one month, the same parent has visitation the very next week, because it is the first weekend of the following month.
Weekends are weak. However, even though weekend visitation is the basic period of possession, it is overridden by holidays and summer. If the holiday takes place on one parent’s normal weekend, but in that year the child goes with the other parent, the normal weekend visitation does not occur. For example, in November 2020 school let out on the 20th for Thanksgiving, which was the third Friday of the month and did not resume until the 30th, which was the Monday following the fourth Friday of November. Under the SPO the Possessory Conservator would have the child the entire period described in even years and the Managing Conservator would have the child in odd years. A Possessory Conservator has no Thanksgiving visitation under the SPO in odd years, such as 2021, and would NOT get the child the third weekend, as that weekend is overridden by the Thanksgiving holiday. In 2020 the Managing Conservator did not get the child on the fourth weekend for the same reason.
Summer Vacation plans. Another issue arises when one or the other parent do not make their Summer elections timely. The Possessory Conservator must properly notify the Managing Conservator by 1 April of each year if he or she wants to take summer visitation outside of July. Without that timely notice, Summer Visitation takes place from 6:00 pm July 1 through 6:00 pm July 31.
But the Managing Conservator has deadlines as well! He or she must give proper notice to the Possessory Conservator for two events. The Managing Conservator must give notice by 15 April each year to take the child for one designated weekend during the Possessory Conservator’s summer possession. Without notice by 15 April, the Possessory Conservator is not obligated to give the Managing Conservator any such visitation.
Further, the Managing Conservator must give notice by 15 April each year to KEEP the child for one designated weekend on which the Possessory Conservator would normally have the child (a “blocked weekend”). This deadline has a savings, though, since if notice by 15 April is missed, the Managing Conservator can still block a weekend with 14 days advance proper notice. NOTE that this weekend cannot interfere with the Possessory Conservator’s extended summer visitation. Also, if the Possessory Conservator is the dad the blocked weekend cannot be on Father’s Day Weekend.
* “What’s a Week-End, II?” If the Possessory Party elects, weekends are extended. In that case, the weekend begins at the time school releases on the 1st, 3rd and 5th Fridays and ends at the time school resumes on the following Mondays. During the summer, these extended periods do not occur. Further, if a weekend is preceded by or followed by holidays on either Friday or Monday, the weekend is also extended accordingly.