It’s springtime in Texas and pollen is in the air (and on everything), which means that summer is right around the corner. For many Texans, that also means that it is time to re-read the summer possession schedule for your children. In nearly all possession schedules, summertime possession is different from the regular school-year possession in some way.
The first thing to remember about possession schedules, in general, is that they are rarely one-size-fits-all, meaning that even a possession scheduled labeled as “Standard” may not be exactly what the Texas Family Code sets out as the Standard Possession Order (sometimes referred to as the SPO). For example: a possession schedule might be labeled as “standard” and all provisions of a possession order might be exactly as set out in the Texas Family Code, except that the possessory parent only gets 14 days of “extended possession” in the summer. You need to read your specific possession schedule closely and go by what your order says, as opposed to listening to what your sister’s best friend’s cousin’s neighbor says his schedule says. As always, if you have questions you should call a family law attorney to go over the order with you.
Focusing specifically on the upcoming period of summer possession, if you have the Standard Possession Order as it is set out in the Texas Family Code, the possessory parent must give written notice by April 1 if that parent wants to choose his or her specific dates for summer possession. If the possessory parent misses the April 1 deadline, he or she can still exercise summer possession, however it is specifically set as July 1 until July 31 for parents who live within 100 miles of their children.
The primary parent (or parent who has the “exclusive right to designate the residence of the children”) then has until April 15 to give the possessory parent the primary parent’s choice for two different periods of summer possession. The first one the primary parent gets to choose is one weekend during the possessory parent’s extended period of summer, meaning during the time period that the possessory conservator designated by April 1 or during the month of July if no time period was designated. There is not a fallback if the primary parent does not designate one of the other parent’s weekends for the primary parent to have possession, meaning there is not a provision that says if the primary parent does not designate, they automatically get a particular weekend. The primary parent must designate by April 15 in order to get this period of possession, or he or she waives it. The second period of possession the primary parent needs to designate by April 15 is one weekend outside of the possessory parent’s extended summer time, meaning one of the possessory parent’s regular weekends that falls on a first, third, or fifth Friday of the month. Designating this weekend has the effect of giving the primary parent several weeks of uninterrupted possession during the summer to take a trip, visit family, or just spend extra time with the children. If, however, the primary parent forgets to designate this extra weekend by April 15, he or she may still do so as long as the primary parent gives the possessory parent 14 days’ written notice prior to the intended weekend.
There are many other possession schedules that are common in Texas, although they are not specifically set out in the Texas Family Code the way the Standard Possession Order is. Some of these include a week-on-week-off schedule, every other week schedule and some that are specific to the parents’ work schedules. It is very common for summertime possession to be treated differently than regular school-year possession, so be sure to read your specific order.
If the summer possession schedules weren’t confusing enough to people trying to operate within them, we now have the added confusion brought on by COVID-19. The first issue that people are encountering is: when does summer officially start if schools do not resume regular classes this year? As of now, April 1, 2020, the Supreme Court of Texas has issued an emergency order that instructs people following possession schedules that the “school year”, as well as all school holidays and other scheduled time off, shall be as set out in the originally published school calendar and shall not be affected by any closures or suspensions due to COVID-19. If schools make the decision not to return, we could see the issuance of new or even different instructions by the Supreme Court of Texas, so it’s best to talk to an attorney if any questions come up in the next couple of months. What does that mean for the beginning of summer possession schedules? Even if children are not physically attending school, the summer possession schedule will not begin until the last day of school, as published on the original school calendar that was not impacted by COVID-19.
Next, people are adapting to “shelter in place” or “stay at home” orders from their local governments and wondering how those will affect possession and exchanges of children. Again, as of now, April 1, 2020, the Supreme Court of Texas has weighed in on this issue by saying that “shelter in place” orders or the like do not affect possession schedules. Children still need to go back and forth between parents according to the possession orders in place, unless the parents mutually agree to do something other than what their possession order states. This will apply equally to summertime possession. At this point, we do not have any reason to think the Supreme Court of Texas will say differently.
At the Sinclair Law Office, PC, we are recommending that our clients do their best to work with the other parent or conservators to work out solutions that are best for their children and are workable for the adults involved. We are in the midst of uncertain times, people are fearful, and the answers are not always black and white. While you want to hug your children and keep them close, so does their other parent. Keep in mind that your children are experiencing their own emotions about the current situation and it will help your children to see the adults around them working together.