The Infamous Standard Possession Order and the Usefulness of Parenting Plans

October 15, 2015 | Ty Czapla

I've witnessed several parents attend court pro se (that is, without an attorney) in order to determine, among other things, conservatorship, i.e. custody, of their children. If the Court is presented with no evidence of family violence, essentially abuse or neglect, and believes it to be in the best interest of the child, it will often issue the parents a "Standard Possession Order" with the understanding that the parties can mutually agree to deviate from the terms of the SPO.

A SPO is a detailed and lengthy order that sets out how possession of the child is to be managed between the parties. It's terms are specifically outlined in the Texas Family Code, although the terms can generally be modified by court order or mutual agreement of the parties. Of its numerous terms, is the appointment of a managing conservator and possessory conservator. The possessory conservator generally is permitted (1) possession on Thursdays from 6:00 pm to 8:00 pm, (2) the first, third and fifth weekends of the month, and (3) 30 days in the summer. Holiday visitation is generally designed to provide equal visitation, although there are specific rules for specific holidays; the father is permitted visitation on father's day weekend, for instance. Many other terms are included in a SPO, and I encourage parties to read the terms closely before permitting a court to just impose a SPO.

This gets to my next point, I feel that many parties agree to an SPO simply because they are told that the SPO can be modified by mutual agreement. While this is true, mutual agreement is much harder to come by when, months down the line, there is a dispute over possession and one party can say: hey, if we can't agree, you have to abide by the SPO terms. In other words, it's generally best to agree in advance to terms that conflict with the SPO. The parties will be able to defuse future disputes, and this will only result in happier parties and happier children. This is where Agreed Parenting Plans can be of great help. Such plans are simply agreements by the parties regarding custody and possession that can be tailored to the unique circumstances of their case.

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