This article was written by Hance Law Group associate attorney Jonathan James.
For divorcing couples with children, the negotiations over parenting time can be challenging, especially if one parent wants 50/50 time. In Texas, there’s a standard possession order and there’s an election to extend possession times commonly known as an expanded possession order, parenting plans which place the majority of parenting time with one parent (sometimes referred to as the custodial parent) and give the non-custodial parent-specific days each month. (Typically, that plan includes Thursday night from 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. plus the first, third and fifth weekends of the month during the school year, with the expanded version including overnight stays on Thursday and Sunday night.)
A great number of parents in Texas – either by choice or through what the judge assigns through litigation – end up with the standard or expanded standard plan. And oftentimes, when making that decision, they’re thinking about how the plan works during the school year. But there are also a series of rules for the summer months, which are geared toward making parenting time more fair and equitable, but can also make questions of who has the kids when more confusing.
The first and most important thing to know about the summer plan – like the plan during the school year – is that whatever the parents negotiate for themselves takes precedence over what’s in the decree. But if the parents disagree, the decree is there as a backup, so there’s a specific plan that the parents can follow.
In the standard as well as the expanded standard plan, the fundamentals are summer possession are the same. The non-custodial parent still gets first, third and fifth weekends (though it’s from Friday 6 p.m. to Sunday 6 p.m. even in the expanded standard plan). But then there’s also a 30-day period of parenting time granted to the non-custodial parent during the summer – though it’s not as clear cut as it sounds.
By April 1, the non-custodial parent designates which days he wants for extended summer possession time. (For our example, let’s assume the custodial parent is the mother.) It has to be in no more than two periods of seven days each, with 6 p.m. counting as the “start” of each day, so it can be one 30-day block, a 23-day block and a 7-day block, two 15-day blocks, or some other combination within those parameters. Those blocks can be anywhere from the start of summer (the day after the child or children’s last day of school) to seven days before the start of the next school year.
If the non-custodial parent does not make a request by April 1, parenting time defaults to 6 p.m. on July 1 to 6 p.m. on July 31. Days within those requested periods that overlap with first, third and fifth weekends still count as part of the 30. For example, this July, the 1st is a Friday – so if a non-custodial parent requests July 3 to July 11, it counts as nine days and that parent still gets July 1-3 since it’s his weekend. But if that parent requests Thursday, June 30 through July 11, it counts as a block of 12 days, even though there’s just one extra weekday being added to the same block of time.
While the non-custodial paragraph gets first to say in setting the calendar, the custodial parent gets to amend the final calendar by “stealing back” two weekends. By April 15, the custodial parent can designate one weekend (Friday 6 p.m. to Sunday 6 p.m.) out of those 30 days like hers. The custodial parent can also designate one of the first, third or fifth weekends outside of the thirty days as hers, provided that it’s not Father’s Day weekend. Father’s Day weekend is the father’s parenting time regardless of whether he’s the custodial or non-custodial parent.
Though I’ve made it as simple as I can while covering the entirety of the summer roles, it’s a good idea to consult with a lawyer if you’re a non-custodial parent wanting to maximize parenting time and the rules confuse you.
In my next article, we’ll talk about some of the conflicts that can arise in determining summertime, some alternatives available to parents who don’t like the default rules, and some tools that parents can use to better sort out their schedules.