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Plan for a Happy Summer by Understanding Child Possession Orders

With telltale signs of spring appearing every day, it’s time to plan for a happy summer by starting off with a clear understanding of the various obligations and limitations contained in family court possession orders.

The Standard Possession Order provided in the Texas Family Code says a non-primary parent or non-custodial parent must provide written notice to the primary parent or custodial parent by April 1 of the 30-day period when they intend to have possession of the child(ren) beginning when school is dismissed for summer vacation and ending no later than seven days prior to the day that school resumes for the fall term.

This 30-day extended summer possession period must be exercised in no more than two periods that each must be at least seven days in length. Should the non-primary parent fail to provide notice by April 1, then the non-primary parent will have a period of possession from July 1 to July 31. This failure, outside of an agreement, prevents the non-primary parent from scheduling anything outside of that possession period. If you are planning a vacation, you definitely want to focus on the notice date.

The primary parent must provide notice by April 15 to elect one summer weekend from Friday to Sunday during the non-primary parent’s extended summer possession period. Additionally, the primary parent may also “trump” a weekend that takes place outside of the extended summer possession period. If you fail to elect your weekend by the deadline, you may still be able to “trump” one weekend by following two requirements:

(1) a 14-day notice must be provided prior to an elected weekend; and

(2) the weekend must not interfere with the non-primary parent’s extended summer possession or with Father’s Day. Obviously, this does not provide the same flexibility and could lead to unnecessary and additional animosity between parents.

Please keep in mind that the above governs those parents who live within 100 miles of one another. If that does not apply in your case, you should consult the individual provisions in your possession order.

EXAMPLE: Mother is the parent with the right to designate the primary residence of the child(ren). Father is entitled to extended summer possession of 30 days. Father would also have his normal weekend possession on 1st, 3rd, and 5th weekends from Friday at 6 p.m. to Sunday at 6 p.m. Father does NOT have Thursday access during the summer. Father forgets to designate by April 1 the period of possession he prefers, so his extended summer access will now default to July 1-31. He will also have his weekend access in June and August. Mother will get to “trump” one weekend in either June or August (to allow her to have almost four weeks of consecutive possession) and she may “trump” one weekend from July 1-31 while the father has possession.

If the Father does not forget the April 1 designation deadline, he may choose two consecutive weeks in June and two in August. If he does this, the Mother may “trump” one weekend during the four weeks he has chosen and one weekend during his normal weekend access that is not during the four weeks he has chosen.

Election of weekend access is important. Failure to designate often leads families to an unwanted trip to court to find a weekend they can agree on.

Do yourself a favor: AGREE ON A WEEKEND. Co-parenting includes being reasonable even when you don’t want to be and it angers the Courts when you can’t agree on a simple weekend. Regardless of whether you believe that the other parent will do it for you, agree on a weekend!

In order to avoid ending up in this predicament yourself, remember these points:
• Calendar these important dates (April 1 and April 15) every year
• Make sure your possession designation is timely

Doing both of these can put you on the path to a stress-free summer with your kids!

Balekian Hayes, PLLC, provides years of experience in all aspects of family law, including divorce, child custody situations, and matters involving Child Protective Services. Representing clients throughout Dallas/Fort Worth and the North Texas counties of Collin and Denton, we are known for our attention to detail and the high-level personal care we provide in every case we handle. Please call our office at (214) 849-1905 or fill out our contact form here if you need proven expertise in family law.

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