Summer season is fast approaching, and that would typically mean co-parents across the metroplex are gearing up for some significant changes to their daily schedules with kids staying home. In the current environment created by Covid-19 and social distancing, the summer of 2020 might look very different than those of the recent past. Nevertheless, with most counties slowly phasing back to a normal—or maybe “new normal” is more accurate—pace of life and business, the summer schedule remains.
There are numerous ways in which the possession schedule for summer months has been crafted into custody orders across the state. Some are standard and adopt the one-size-fits-all approach, while others are intricately unique and carefully tailored to fit the specific needs of a particular family.
What does the standard, one-size schedule look like?
The Standard Possession Order, crafted by our legislature and incorporated into the Texas Family Code, is a defined schedule delineating which parent is legally entitled to possession of a child, and it is presumed to be in the best interest of the child. Under the Standard Possession Order, one parent is designated with specific periods of possession, and the other parent is entitled to possession “at all other times not specifically designated” to the first parent.
The parent with designated periods during the school year is entitled to 30 days of possession time in the summer, which can be exercised consecutively or broken up into no more than two smaller periods of at least 7 days each if notice is provided to the other parent by April 15th (if not, the 30 days runs from July 1-31). The parent with designated periods will still get the regular 1st, 3rd, and 5th weekend periods that they normally have during the school year, but the Thursday periods go away in the summer.
If a 30-day block of time in the middle of the summer is impractical because of a parent’s work schedule, or a child’s summer activities, what options are available for a more customized approach to the summer schedule? Here are a few options that some parents have utilized when the circumstances called for more of a customized fit:
Week-on / Week-off: Alternating seven-day periods of possession has some advantages over the standard block schedule. It shares the load of additional childcare needs that comes when both parents are working and school lets out and limits the span of time that the child goes without seeing the other parent. 30 days without seeing a 16-year-old might not sound that bad (and in some cases, might serve as a needed relief), but it is typically more difficult to say goodbye to a 5 or 6-year-old for such an extended period of time.
The “Quadrant” Schedule: This approach takes June and July and breaks them up into four quadrants. One parent gets the first half of each month, the other parent gets the second half of each month, and they rotate every-other-year. Although the summer vacation schedule will generally run into the first couple of weeks of August, this schedule has some clear advantages to a standard structure. It provides each parent with two opportunities to take extended trips and travel with the child—if you have the privilege of lasting memories of road trips to the Grand Canyon, summer nights on the beach, or sleeping under the stars next to a campfire, those are typical trips that take more than 7 days, and this schedule can make creating those memories much more available. It also has the benefit of avoiding the need for designating—and potentially arguing—over which weeks one parent wants to exercise. This schedule is set as soon as the order is signed, meaning you can start planning your summer vacation three years in advance if you feel like it!
Alternating Weeks with Extended Election: This schedule has the same general structure as the week-on / week-off, but it includes a carve-out for each parent to extend one of their seven-day periods into a ten-day period. This gives added flexibility for those longer trips to visit Aunt Betty up in Brunswick or hop across the pond for a European Vacation.
At the end of the day, the schedule that has the best chance of working is the one that both parents agree upon and work together to come up with. And most importantly, crafting your summer schedule to be conducive to the child’s activities is crucial to ensuring a smooth, successful summer vacation.