One of the many challenges in the divorce process is figuring out when each parent will have possession of the children – the parenting plan schedule. This issue is even more complicated when both parents have demanding jobs and particularly when those jobs do not necessarily have the typical nine to five schedule. This article discusses four issues for divorcing parents to consider in working together to come up with a possession schedule that works for the parents and the children.
- Actual Possession Time- First, you have to decide what type of a possession schedule would best fit your family. You may have heard the term “Standard Possession Order.” Generally speaking, the Standard Possession Order refers to the schedule specifically set out in the Texas Family Code for the non-primary parent. The Standard Possession Order is a schedule where the children reside primarily with one parent (the primary parent) and have visitation with the other parent (the non-primary parent) as follows: a) the first, third and fifth weekends of each month; 2) a Thursday evening or overnight each week during the school year; 3) an additional 30-day period of possession during the summer; 4) every other Spring Break vacation and Thanksgiving vacation; 5) Mother’s Day or Father’s Day weekend; and 6) half of the Winter holiday. Another schedule that families often follow is a 50/50 possession schedule where the parents share equal possession time of the children. There are many different 50/50 possession schedules. To name a few, there is the week on/week off schedule, the 2-2-3 schedule where the parents alternate weekends and the Monday/Tuesday and Wednesday/Thursday blocks, and the 2-2-5 where the parents alternate weekends and one parent always has Monday/Tuesday and the other always has Wednesday/Thursday. There are also many hybrid schedules of the Standard Possession Order that increase the non-primary parent’s possession time but are not quite 50/50 schedules. The point is that a possession schedule is not a one-size-fits all. Every family is different, and if you can reach an agreement with your spouse, you can work out a possession schedule that best fits your family’s needs. Contact an attorney at Goranson Bain to discuss other possession schedule options and the specifics of possession and access.
- Geographic Restriction- Another issue to consider in determining the possession schedule is whether a geographic restriction is appropriate for your family, and if so, what it should be. A geographic restriction refers to the specific geographic area in which the children must reside. Typically, the Courts will restrict the children’s residence to the county where the children currently reside and/or any county contiguous to that county. This is not always the case though. For example, if the non-primary parent resides a significant distance away from the children’s residence, there may not be a need for a geographic restriction. On the other hand, if the parents decide to do a 50/50 possession schedule, the geographic restriction could be quite small, such as the school district where the children currently attend school. In most situations, a 50/50 possession schedule where the parents live many miles from each other or in different counties is not workable for the child or the parents since it would require a significant amount of time in the car travelling to and from school or the other parent’s residence. Therefore, the distance between the parents’ residence is an important factor to consider in determining the possession schedule.
Regardless of the possession schedule ordered in the formal parenting plan or divorce decree, parents should consider being flexible and working together on any changes to the schedule as unexpected events come up or parents or children’s schedules change. This is particularly important when both parents have demanding jobs and obligations that could cause them to miss their periods of possession of the children. If parents build a good working relationship from the start with reciprocity for any requested schedule changes, parents can work together to trade days or time when a parent cannot avoid going into the office early, an afternoon appointment runs into the evening, or a parent has unavoidable work travel during his or her period of possession. When you are thinking of telling your ex-spouse “no” to schedule change request or accommodation, consider that the next time it could be you that needs to call in a favor of the other parent.
- Electronic access– To supplement each parent’s time with the children, parents should consider allowing children to have reasonable electronic interaction such as phone calls, texts, face time or Skype, with the other parent during his or her period of possession, particularly as the children adjust to having two homes and not seeing both parents as often. If one parent lives far away, has to travel extensively for work, or works primarily when the children are not in school, electronic access can help the children stay connected with that parent At the same time, both parents need to be respectful of the other parent’s time with the children and ensure that such interaction is reasonable and not disruptive to the children’s time with either parent or the children’s schedule and activities.
Although you are divorcing, you will still be a family – the same parents and children. The family structure and dynamics will just be a different set up, with two homes instead of one. If you can work together and develop a good co-parenting relationship, you can work through scheduling challenges that come up to make the possession schedule of the children work for the entire family.