Visitation – What is the Texas Standard Possession Order?

by Scott Morgan on October 11, 2012

The Standard Possession Order (SPO) is a default visitation schedule defined by the Texas Family Code that is used in the vast majority of Texas divorce cases involving children. It is extremely detailed and lengthy and is one of the main reasons that divorce decrees in cases with children are usually 30 to 40 pages long. The Standard Possession Order statute is Texas Family Code Section 153.3101 through 153.317.

Every order has its own particular provisions, so please refer to the specifics of your own order for guidance if you have one. Also note that all of the terms are subject to alteration, either by negotiation or court order. This article is designed to give a brief overview of the statute and how its key provisions work when the standard language is used without tweaking. Here are some of the key provisions of the Standard Possession Order, as applied to parents who live within 100 miles of each other (the statute is somewhat different for those that live more than 100 miles apart).

Weekend Visitation

The non-primary parent has weekend periods of possession beginning on the first, third, and fifth Fridays of each month. Note that not every month has a fifth Friday, but for those that do it means that the non-primary parent will have possession for two consecutive weekends (a fifth Friday in a month will always be followed by a first Friday on the following month).

The beginning time of the weekend period can either by 6:00 p.m. or when school is dismissed. The ending time of the weekend period can either be 6:00 p.m. on Sunday or Monday morning when school resumes, depending on which election is made by the non-primary parent. If the period begins when school ends on Friday the non-primary parent is responsible for picking the child up from school and if the period ends on Monday morning the non-primary parent is responsible for delivering the child to school.

Thursday Visitation

The statute provides for the non-primary to have visitation every Thursday during the school year. The standard visitation is just a dinner period, from 6:00 p.m. on Thursday until 8:00 p.m. that same day. However, the non-primary parent can elect to extend that visitation to begin as early as school dismissal on Thursday and to end at school resumption on Friday morning. In effect, this gives the non-primary parent the option to have at least one overnight per week and avoids going the extended period of time between weekend visitation periods without having the child overnight.

Holiday Visitation

I recommend you check the language in your order if you have one for all specific provisions that apply to your situation, or the language of the statute if you do not, and this is especially true for holiday visitation. Holiday periods are probably modified more than any other area of the Standard Possession Order schedule because every family is different and has different holiday traditions. Also, please note that the holiday periods trump the weekend and Thursday visitation periods. In other words, if there is a conflict the holiday schedule applies, not the weekend or Thursday schedules.

Summer – Generally, the non-primary parent gets 30 days in the summer. There are a number of ways this period can be scheduled under the SPO, with certain restrictions. The 30 days can be exercised in either one or two periods of at least ten days each. The non-primary parent is required to notify the other parent in writing of the summer schedule by April 1. If no notice is given then the default period is July 1 through July 31. There are a number of restrictions and details that are too lengthy to discuss in this post so see your order for the specific requirements in your case.

Christmas – In alternating years each parent gets either the first half or the second half of the Christmas break.The Christmas break is defined as beginning at either 6:00 p.m. on the day school is dismissed for the break or at the time of school dismissal, depending on whether the extension election is made. The break ends either at 6:00 p.m. the day before school resumes or at the time school reconvenes. The exchange time (the break between the two halves) is noon on December 28th. The non-primary parent gets the first half of Christmas during even-numbered years and the second half during odd-numbered years.

Thanksgiving – In odd-numbered years the non-primary parent has possession during the Thanksgiving break. In even-numbered years Thanksgiving goes to the primary parent.

Spring Break – In even-numbered years the non-primary parent has possession during Spring Break. In odd-numbered years this period goes to the primary parent.

Mother’s & Father’s Day weekends – Moms get possession of the child during the Mother’s Day weekend and dads get possession of the child during the Father’s day weekend.

Child’s Birthday – For the parent that does not have regularly scheduled possession of the child on the child’s birthday, that parent gets possession from 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. on that day.

So that is a somewhat brief overview of the Texas Standard Possession Order language. Again, please refer to your order and the language of the actual statute (and get advice from a lawyer) if you have specific questions regarding your situation.

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Scott Morgan is Board Certified in Family Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. He is has practiced family law since 1994 and is the founder of the Morgan Law Firm which is dedicated exclusively to representing divorce and family law clients in the Houston and Austin areas.

{ 44 comments… read them below or add one }

P Lockette October 31, 2012 at 5:43 am

I know this may sound stupid, but do pets qualify under this provision as well? We split and got a dog in the process. I’m the one who found him and took care of him most the time, but he really likes the dog too… it’s just not fair. To me, this is MY CHILD.

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Scott November 1, 2012 at 1:04 pm

Hi P, this is actually a fairly common issue in divorces with pets but no children. As crass as it may sound, under Texas law the pet is considered property to be divided. However, it is not unusual to have an agreement with a visitation schedule for the pet and terms on who is responsible for what expense.

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Peter V November 1, 2012 at 5:10 am

My ex is making the time with kids harder, as she’s trying to push extracurriculars and a number of other things onto them, purposely taking time away from me. Is there a good way I can step in and take charge of the situation? i just can’t stand that I don’t get to see my kiddos grow up. They’re mine too!

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Scott November 1, 2012 at 12:56 pm

Peter you should talk to a divorce lawyer about the specifics of what your wife is doing and have them review the terms of your Decree. The basic rule is that the visitation schedule controls and the other parent doesn’t get to infringe on your time by scheduling extracurriculars that conflict with it. However, you should consider the overall situation as well, for example a kid who plays soccer is often going to have practices and games that conflict with both parents access schedules. Every situation is different which is why I think you need to consult with a lawyer for specific advice on your situation.

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J. Denise November 30, 2012 at 8:25 pm

Does this same visitation schedule apply for a child that is under 1yr of age whose non-primary parent lives over 100 miles away?

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Scott December 10, 2012 at 2:39 pm

Ultimately the visitation schedule that applies is the one detailed in your Decree. The Standard Possession Order is just a statutory guideline. It is used very often, but the judges have discretion to deviate from it.

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JP January 21, 2013 at 10:47 pm

Please help clear up some confusion: Regarding the Christmas holiday, based on our (50/50) Order this year I had my son the 2nd half (Dec 28th -> 6 PM the eve before school began). His school did not resume until TUESDAY, so the ‘holiday’ period officially ended right when my normal period of possession on Monday evening began (i.e. 6 pm). Was his mother supposed to get him that evening regardless, even though the holiday period officially was over, or was I correct to keep him since the normal schedule was officially back in effect?

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Scott Morgan February 5, 2013 at 1:53 pm

JP, since you describe your visitation order as “50/50″ it is definitely not a standard possession order schedule and it has been customized for your case. In order for a lawyer to give you good advice on exactly what is required by the visitation language of your Decree the lawyer would need to carefully review that language. Based on the confusion you are having I would recommend having the Decree reviewed by your original lawyer or some other good divorce lawyer.

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SandiL February 1, 2013 at 1:57 am

I am a divorced mom with 2 children and my bf is a divorced dad with 1 child. We have spend a lot of time with each others kids and we love each other alot. However, coming from broken marriages we are both very hesitant to jump to that at this time. We have discussed moving in together but he believes he has a morality clause in his divorce decree. He, of course, does not have a copy of the decree with him and his ex refuses to give him a copy. That being said, they used the standard forms for divorce and custody of their son. His ex has primary possession and he gets standard visitations. My question is…Is the morality clause a STANDARD clause in Texas divorce?

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Scott Morgan February 5, 2013 at 1:56 pm

Sandi, a “morality clause” (also called a no overnight opposite sex visitor clause) is a very common clause in Texas divorces, but I would not call it standard. It is not specifically referenced in the Standard Possession Order statutory language or anywhere else in the Family Code that I am aware of. However, it is very common, frequently agreed to, and generally judges will enforce these provisions as they will other issues that are in a court order.

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Ben February 6, 2013 at 5:08 am

I love my child Cyrus , he is so beautiful. I am the father. I know she hold him for nine month but that is not mean she is better than me to provide him the things he needs. I believe he can have better life with me than his mother. I know the judge usually give the baby to his mother in Texas. He is 7 months old and i love him so much that i can not bring it to the words. She did not let me see my child at all at this past month and 6 more days we are going to court is there any chance that i can get full custody from her. I know we both good for him but i believe i can better for him than her.

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Ben February 6, 2013 at 5:12 am

Or atleast get more visitation with him more than that wat yall call idk teh standard visitation. I want to see him equal as her. I am 20 and she is 18. is there any way i can get to be equal with her to see my child?

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Scott Morgan February 26, 2013 at 9:43 pm

Ben every situation is different but the best advice I can give is to get a good experienced family law attorney to represent you to ensure that you get as much possession time and involvement in your child’s life as you can. Good luck!

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Ann Lewis February 27, 2013 at 4:36 am

Mr. Morgan,

My Spouse and I are doing an uncontested divorce. I filed the petition. Can I (or we) write our own visitation agreement instead of using the Standard Visitation. Thank you for any help you can offer. I sincerely appreciate it.

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Scott Morgan February 27, 2013 at 3:58 pm

Hi Ann – there is nothing in the Family Code that prohibits you and your husband from agreeing to a different visitation schedule. The Code makes the SPO presumptively in the children’s best interest but as long as you can convince a judge that a different schedule is in the best interest of the children then it is possible to be as creative as you like. That being said I would discourage you from trying to reinvent the wheel. Visitation schedules are surprising complicated and difficult to write (typically about 10 pages of the Decree) so if you want something different because the SPO doesn’t fit the particular circumstances you should consult with a good divorce attorney. When someone comes to me with this issue I usually find the best solution is to tweak the SPO and make minor changes to it rather than start from scratch. I hope this helps.

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Ben March 13, 2013 at 12:06 am

I am needing help on what is actually considered a HOLIDAY. When my daughter is being returned to me I understand that if it follows a holiday that I am suppose to get her at a different pick up place. My decree states the following, During School Term: At HEB store in ??????, Texas. When that Child is Not in School and During Holidays: At ??? Sheriff’s Department. What dates does a common divorce decree mean as holidays? I was understanding Christmas, Thanksgiving, Child’s Birthday, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day and Srping Break. Please help me with this matter.
Thanks, Ben

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Kris April 12, 2013 at 2:05 am

I am recently divorced and am very confused on the summer possession schedule. My ex-husband did not let me know by 4/1 the dates he would like them for 30 days. Therefore he gets them 7/1 – 7/31. I know I get one weekend during that time, but he said he doesn’t have to tell me where he’s taking them and if I want to see them, I will just have to fly to wherever they are. Even if that’s the case, does he not have to tell me his plans before 4/15 so I can make arrangements?? Thanks for any info you can provide.

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Kim May 1, 2013 at 2:19 am

I have full custody of my child and my ex gets him on the 1st 3rd and 5th weekend. It is my turn to have her for Christmas break. Christmas breaks starts 12/20/13, which is also her birthday. Since it is my Christmas break, do i have to let her see him on her birthday?

Basically, does Christman supercede her birthday and his right? It is only a big deal because we are going on vacation and he wants me to stay in town so he gets his 2 hours on her birthday.

Please help…

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Scott Morgan May 7, 2013 at 4:17 pm

Hi Kim, I have actually never seen this come up as an issue before. Frankly, I don’t believe that the statutory Standard Possession Order language gives an answer to this question. It does make clear that holiday periods (birthdays are included in this section) do have priority over weekends, but I know of no statutory provision or case law that gives an answer to your question. Hopefully you have a situation where you can informally work something out with your ex to reach a mutually agreeable result. Sometimes offering an extra day or an agreement that you will be accomodating for him in the future will work.

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karen beaubien May 3, 2013 at 3:35 am

Can a non primary parent take the children out of the county on his weekend visits with his children?

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Scott Morgan May 7, 2013 at 4:13 pm

Hi Karen, as always it depends on the specific language of your order. But unless there is a provision in your order prohibiting it (this is very rare) the parties are allowed to take the children out of the county and even the state during there periods of possession.

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Mary Lou May 10, 2013 at 12:37 am

My grandson is 12 years old and recently decided he wanted to live with his father after his father promising things an not have to worry about chores an rules. Well its been over a month that they went to court my daughter will have to pay child support but not until Oct. only because the father’s was payment had increase but the father never paid, so she got like some kind of credit .Well the fathers lawyer still has not given my daughter any court ordered for visitations an she really has a hard time seeing him plus my grandson has a new phone an is not allowed to give his mother the number so basically he is keeping him from his own mother an family. My question is, since Mother’s Day is coming how can she go about seeing him for the weekend, please help us.

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Scott Morgan May 26, 2013 at 8:15 pm

Mary Lou, contested custody cases are extremely difficult. I strongly encourage your daughter to get a good family law attorney that practices in the county where the case is pending.

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Joe May 16, 2013 at 2:42 pm

Under the Texas Standard possession order, if the non- custodial joint conservator exercises the Expanded visitation schedule, yet the child is not of school age but is 3 years of age, does the pick up and drop off times mirror the school schedule of the where the primary conservator resides?

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Scott Morgan May 26, 2013 at 8:18 pm

Joe that is a good question. In some cases with preschool age children the order specifies pick up and drop times for when school is not in session or until the child begins school. If not specifically addressed in the order, then TFC Section 153.3101 controls which says “In a standard possession order, “school” means the primary or secondary school in which the child is enrolled or, if the child is not enrolled in a primary or secondary school, the public school district in which the child primarily resides.”

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Faith May 21, 2013 at 4:22 pm

Non-Custodial did not give April 1st notice for Extended Summer so he defaulted to July 1st-31st. When does the custodial parent have to give notice of a weekend visit in July for her to get it? Also, the paragraph in the decree that talks about Extended Summer possession and requiring fourteen days notice on or after April 16th…what does this apply to? I don’t understand that paragraph at all. Does this apply only if the Non-custodial is extending his summer possessio past the 30 days?

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Scott Morgan May 26, 2013 at 8:28 pm

Faith here is the statute (TFC 153.312(b)(2)(4)) that you were referring to: “If the managing conservator gives the possessory conservator written notice by April 15 of each year or gives the possessory conservator 14 days’ written notice on or after April 16 of each year, the managing conservator may designate one weekend … during which an otherwise scheduled weekend period of possession by the possessory conservator will not take place …” I edited it for brevity, but you can review the full statute (link is in the article) to see the full text. The shorter plain-English version meaning is that you can cancel one of dad’s weekend visitation periods during the Summer (certain limitations apply, see full statute for details). The main purpose of this is to allow the primary parent to take an extended out of town vacation with the kids.

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Rae June 4, 2013 at 7:43 pm

If I have my daughter for summer possession for 30 days and her mom does not give me written notice fourteen days before or after April 15th is she still allowed a weekend during my possession?

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Briana June 6, 2013 at 7:24 pm

So, my EX has been getting our son on thursdays after school, per our court order. Today was the last day of school, early release at 1pm. I was told my EX was not allowed to pick our son up today because the regular school year has ended. However, his attorney says otherwise and has already tried contacting my attorney and is waiting on her to respond. School is regulalrly dimissed at 4pm. I dont understand what my EX’s attorney is complaining about. School is over, no more thursdays, get over it! RIGHT…?

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Mary June 9, 2013 at 9:41 pm

In your answer to Faith I was a bit.confused about 1 thing. So does that mean that the custodial parent can give the non custodial parent 14 days notice on the day that the non custodial takes over for summer vacation? If so then that means that planning any vacation would be hard because technically the custodial parent can inform the non custodial anytime as long as they give 14 days notice. Is this correct?

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Sandra C June 10, 2013 at 9:52 pm

Hello,

My Ex & I have joint Custody. We follow the Standard Order of possession; however, It states that I have the right to designate the primary residence for my two younger kids. But, it also states within the County that we currently live in. I have been given an opportunity for a great job in another County within the same state. Is it possible to modify the Standard Order based on the best interest of our kids. My ex-husband does not pay child support for his children. I have always supported them. Because he doesn’t help me financially with them, I needed to find a better paying job to be able to support them.

Please help….

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Jessica June 17, 2013 at 2:28 am

My ex and I had an agreement that we would do visitation s where he gets them every other weekend and two days during the week if its not his weekend…but lately we have been fighting so we decided to go with the original standard divorce decree..which he only gets them every other weekend…..but the question I have is who has to do the dropping off and picking up of the kids…him or me.

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Andrea June 19, 2013 at 2:11 pm

During the summer break does the 1st, 3rd, and 5th Fridays of the month visitation for the non-primary parent still apply or is it just the 30 days?

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derekd June 30, 2013 at 11:48 pm

I have primary custody of my son here in Texas an on July 1 my ex is trying to take my son to California on vacation without my consent as I don’t agree he has very bad eggisma an she doesn’t take care of his skin do I have to let him go?

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Brandi July 27, 2013 at 9:44 pm

My ex chose to start his summer possession on June 27 2013 and he is refusing to give her back today on July 27 2013 when his possession is up. What can I do about this as we both agreed he could pick her up early for summer possession and he is now refusing to give her back to me. I’m in TX. Thank you.

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terra August 18, 2013 at 9:54 pm

It is my weekend can I take my child out of town without notifying the custodial parent?

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Miranda August 27, 2013 at 7:39 pm

I live over 100 miles away from the non custodial parent of my daughter and he gets her every 1st 3rd and 5th weeked, and I have to go pick her up. is this normal? it affects her school because it is a 3-4 hour drive home and i do not get her until 6pm sundays. so it is super late when we get home and thats if we dont run into traffic which always happens so it turns into more like a 5 hour drive. What advise can you give me if any?

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Kari September 16, 2013 at 1:37 pm

Our friend has a TX SPO for over 100 miles agreement. They chose through a MSA that they would do one weekend a month with time beginning 6pm Friday and ending 6pm Sunday. However it’s a 6 hour drive to dads house and then 6 hours back to moms. Currently the mom is required to drive the child to the dad and then back to her home on Sunday. For the last several years she leaves after the child gets out of school drops him off to dad around 9pm friday and then picks the child up Sunday at noon so that she has the child back home by 6pm. As the child has school the next morning.

When dad occasionally does the traveling she lets him pick the child up after school but he still has to have the child back by 6pm Sunday night.

Two years into this being a normal schedule, dad is now demanding more time with the child. Saying he wants the child to leave at 6pm from his house because that’s when his time technically ends. This puts the mom getting home at midnight. And child has school the next morning. He also still wants mom to leave as soon as the child gets done with school on Friday which is 3 hours earlier than the stated 6pm. He has threatened to take her back to court. She has told him she doesn’t want to go back to court but she is maintaining her position of its not in the best interest of the said child to get home at midnight on Sundays.

Mom has asked if he would meet her half way each month so he could have more time with the child as that would allow him to have the child at 6pm on fridays and up till 3pm on sundays, he refuses.

Thoughts?

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annette November 11, 2013 at 3:53 pm

So what if my ex husband gets her every 1st 3rd and 5th weekend starting on wednesdays what’s are his days in this month november 2013

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Tracy November 14, 2013 at 11:20 pm

I have 2 questions. 1. If the non-custodial parent asks the other parent the location of the child, are they required to let them know? For example, if the mother is going out in the evening when it is not the father’s visitation time, is she required to let the father know who is keeping the child if he asks
and 2. If expanded custody is not referenced in the custody order, does the non-custodial parent have to file with the court requesting this?

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Carol November 21, 2013 at 9:26 pm

If the child is 7 months old …on standard visitation…are they still able to spend the nights on Friday 6 p.m. to Sunday 6 p.m.

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Carol November 22, 2013 at 4:15 am

Can you please give me advice ASAP…I am very bothered on how small and confused my child ia when he gets back home…The whole 2 hrs of crying at the other non – custodial house…please assist me of how I can make visits more calmly for my child…

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sharon bailey December 3, 2013 at 2:40 am

My question is, my daughter just turned 2 on Nov 30. She was also born with a condition called Craniosynostosis, which she’s had the major head surgery for an is ok. We go every 3-6 months for head scans. Her father was abusive to me and my other child who doesn’t belong to him. He refuses to let me see my daughter I’ve missed milestones, Halloween, thanksgiving and her 2 birthday. I miss her so much. He’s not keepin up with her medical I do. What can I do?

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Christian December 9, 2013 at 4:38 am

My husband has the extended standard visitation meaning visitation ends on Monday when school resumes. What happens in bad weather and school is cancelled? If it is not safe enough to get out and take the kids to school how is it safe to get them delivered home or have them picked up? The mom is insisting she come get them at 8:00 am and will not wait until later when the temps rise.

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