How Are Holidays and Special Occasions Handled in Standard Possession Orders?

How Are Holidays and Special Occasions Handled in Standard Possession Orders?When the summer months, holidays, or special occasions are here, it is common for parents who are going through a divorce to feel like they are missing out when they are not spending time with their children. This can be one of the most challenging aspects of the divorce process, but sooner rather than later you will need to sit down with your ex-spouse to discuss and develop a fair schedule of who gets the kids during certain holidays, special occasions, and summer breaks. When doing this, it is crucial that you keep your children’s best interests in mind, while also ensuring that both you and your ex-spouse receive fair quality time with them.

A standard possession order (SPO) provides a specific, scheduled date and time for each parent to have their children. Holidays, summer months, and special occasions are usually taken into consideration when developing this order. The goal is to be fair for both parents while still focusing on the best interests of the children.

How do holidays and special occasions work under the SPO?

Texas tries to break this process down as easily as possible for parents who are sharing custody of their children. Typically, you will go by a system that is based on even and odd number years. This means that your children will be scheduled to spend Thanksgiving and Christmas with you during even numbered years, and they will be scheduled to spend Thanksgiving and Christmas with your ex-spouse during odd numbered years. You can schedule any holiday that you would like to with this system (Valentine’s Day, Labor Day, Easter, etc.). This makes it uncomplicated and easy to remember for both parties involved.

Can I deviate from the SPO when it comes to holidays with my kids?

You and your co-parent can create any type of custody order you like, but if it deviates from the standards, then it’s no longer a “standard possession order.” So yes, you can “deviate” from the standard if you both agree that you want a different type of holiday schedule. It is extremely important that parents sit down and plan out how holidays will work, including days a student has off where the parents may be working.  Then, they should work with a San Antonio family law attorney to ensure that it is established in writing. This may prevent some arguments and disagreements as well as make the set schedule as clear as possible going forward. You should think about these holidays and occasions:

  • Religious holidays
  • Birthdays
  • Father’s Day
  • Mother’s Day
  • Thanksgiving
  • Summer breaks
  • Winter breaks
  • Student “holidays” (AKA, teacher or staff development days)
  • Federal holidays, such as Independence Day or Memorial Day

What if I want the kids during the summer months in San Antonio, TX?

Most of the time, the judge will order that one parent has the children for 30 consecutive days during the summer. This can be scheduled for certain months for your convenience. For example, if you want the children for the month of July, your 30 days will be from July 1st to July 31st. However, if you are the non-custodial parent, you are required to notify the other parent about wanting these 30 consecutive days over the summer. Keep in mind that the custodial parent can decide that they would rather split the 30 days into two separate visitation periods instead of giving the entire 30 days at once.

Can the SPO be changed?

You can modify any order; however, you usually need to have good reasons for changing this order. A common example of when the order is changed is if there was an order put in place before a child was three. The SPO usually consists of short visits for children under three, but once the child becomes older, the court gives the non-custodial parent more time with the child.

Another example of when an order could – and should – be modified is if one of you starts a new job that has different hours. For example, if you were in medical school when you got divorced, and are now starting a residency in Emergency Medicine which requires you to work nights and weekends, then yes – you should seek to modify your SPO to reflect that change.

Why a handshake agreement for holidays is a bad idea

On occasion, parents may have unexpected issues that crop up at the last minute: a sudden illness, a mandatory shift at work, maybe a surprise visit from a relative who lives far away. In such cases, it’s normal for one parent to reach out to the other and see if their co-parent will “switch” a holiday date.

Such incidents happen to all parents, and as long as both agree to the one-off swap, it’s typically fine in the long run. However, routinely making changes to your order, or ignoring what the order says, can land you in hot water, legally. First, it’s illegal to violate a court order, and an SPO is a court order. Technically, you could face contempt of court charges, fines, and potentially jail time if your ex hauls you in front of the judge.

Second, it’s unfair to your children to disrupt their routine that often. Remember: all custody decisions are designed to put the needs of your child first. One of those needs is parenting time with both parents.

Finally, your “handshake” agreement can change without warning. If your co-parent suddenly decides the deal you worked out is no longer working for them, or if you or your co-parent experience a change in circumstances that makes it impossible to continue following your version of the deal, your routine may suffer serious disruptions, too. For example, say you and your co-parent agree that your child can accompany you on a cruise this summer during your co-parent’s parenting time. A few days before the trip, your co-parent decides he or she doesn’t actually want to give up his or her parenting time after all. Legally, the order says your child must remain with your co-parent – and you may be out of quite a bit of money.

We’re not saying that exceptional circumstances won’t arise, or that you can never deviate from the schedule no matter what; we’re simply saying that it’s best to speak with one of our San Antonio divorce attorneys about how we can help you with your order. If you believe there may be extraordinary circumstances in the future, or if an SPO isn’t the right fit for your needs or the needs of your child, we can help you craft a custody order that works best for both of you.

If you need assistance with your visitation or custody issues, please consider hiring Grable Grimshaw, PLLC as soon as possible. Our San Antonio family law attorneys are aware of how stressful, frustrating, and overwhelming these situations can be. Therefore, we will do everything we can to ensure that you receive a fair parenting schedule that works for you. Call our office or submit our contact form to schedule an appointment at our San Antonio office today.