Creative Visitation Schedules
In divorces with children, or in child custody cases between unmarried persons, the visitation schedule is often one of the most litigated and argued aspects. Parents who were once used to spending all of the time with their children now face the prospect of splitting time with them between two households. Under Texas law as set forth in the Texas Family Code, the Standard Possession Order is the generic, one-size-fits-all approach to handling visitation. It is presumed to be in the best interest of children over the age of 3. There is no discussion or guidance on how to handle visitation for children under the age of 3.
In lieu of a Standard Possession Order, the Texas Family Code enables you to cooperate with your spouse in devising a custom visitation schedule that serves the best interest of your children. Each family and child is unique and it only makes sense to consider the unique aspects of your family when creating a visitation schedule.
A short overview of a Standard Possession Order, outlined by the visitation received by the non-custodial parent, is as follows:
Weekends: 1st, 3rd, and 5th weekends of the month, with the option to begin when school releases on Friday and to end when school resumes the following Monday, or from 6:00 p.m. on Friday until 6:00 p.m. on Sunday.
Thursdays: each Thursday from 6:00 p.m. until 8:00 p.m., or the option to begin when school releases on Thursday and to end when school resumes the following Friday.
- Spring Break: on even-numbered years for the Spring Break Holidays beginning at 6:00 p.m. on the day school is dismissed until 6:00 p.m. on the day prior to school resuming.
- Thanksgiving: on odd-numbered years for the Thanksgiving Holidays from 6:00 p.m. the day school is released until 6:00 p.m. the day prior to school resuming.
- On even-numbered years for the first half of the Christmas Holidays starting at time school is dismissed for the holidays until Dec. 28th at noon.
- On odd-numbered years for the second half of the Christmas Holidays starting at noon on Dec. 28th until 6:00 p.m. on the day prior to school resuming.
Summer: extended summer visitation for 30 days, divisible into no more than two (2) periods of at least seven (7) days in length, if written notice is provided before April 1st; however, if no notice is provided, then the entire month of July.
Custodial Parent: receives all other time not allocated above. Further, the custodial parent may carve out one (1) weekend during the non-custodial parent’s summer visitation and one (1) weekend outside of the 30-day schedule but during which the non-custodial parent would otherwise have visitation (1st, 3rd, or 5th weekend) during the summer.
In my experience, if a divorce case with children or any other child custody case is decided by a judge, the judge will implement a Standard Possession Order 80% of the time, or more. Judges are not prone to get creative or think outside the box in handling visitation issues. Therefore, unless the Standard Possession Order is the best option for your family, I highly encourage you to consider collaborating with your spouse or the other parent on a suitable visitation schedule before you put this critical matter in the hands of a judge at trial.
Before I present some potential visitation schedules and before you begin the process of crafting your own, I would recommend that you consider and ponder the following concepts:
- There is no perfect visitation schedule. In other words, there is no visitation schedule that will compensate for the fact that your child will be splitting time between two households;
- A visitation schedule should be designed to serve the best interest of your child, not your best interest. That is not to say that yours and your spouse’s or other parent’s work schedules and your desires to spend time with the children have no bearing whatsoever. The central focus should always be on the children and only the children. Do not get caught up in what percentage of time you or your spouse or the other parent will get. Don’t forget that the most innocent parties in this matter are undoubtedly your children.
- Seek advice from friends, family, clergy, and psychologists; however, ultimately rely more upon your thoughtful judgment and that of the other parent or your spouse. That is not to say that third-parties cannot provide valuable insight-they can. However, they are not as intimately familiar with the unique aspects of your children.
- A visitation schedule should be suitable to the age of your child. If you have very young children, it is common to implement one schedule during their infant or pre-school years and another visitation schedule or additional schedules thereafter. The most typical transition ages I see are 18 months and 3.
- The best visitation schedule is the unwritten visitation schedule. By that I mean it is imperative to have a written visitation schedule in your divorce decree but, ideally, you should only have to follow your written visitation schedule if cooperation and communication have deteriorated. Life demands flexibility and so will your children in adjusting to life post-divorce. Your behavior during the divorce process is often instrumental in dictating post-divorce cooperation and flexibility between parents.
The schedules outlined below are not intended to provide each and every possible visitation schedule. Indeed, there are limitless ways to modify and devise a suitable visitation schedule. The following examples are first organized by the age of the child and then by other stated goals.
Birth to 18 months:
- Example 1: Every Saturday from 11:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. OR every Saturday from 9:00 a.m. until 1:00 p.m.; AND every Wednesday from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
- Example 2: Every Saturday from 2:00 p.m. until 6:00 p.m.; AND every Monday and Wednesday from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
- Example 3: 1st, 3rd, and 5th Saturday of each month from 11:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. AND Wednesdays of each week from 5:30 p.m. until 7:30 p.m. AND Mondays of each non-Saturday week from 5:30 p.m. until 7:30 p.m.
- Holidays and Summer (for all examples): Thanksgiving Day from 9:00 a.m. until 2:00 p.m.; Christmas Day from 1:00 p.m. until 7:30 p.m.; Summer- continue weekday and weekend schedule OR 7 days during the summer, designated no later than April 1st.
Toddlers: Eighteen Months to Three Years
- Example 1: Every Saturday from 10:00 a.m. until 10:00 a.m. on Sunday; AND every Wednesday from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
- Example 2: Every Saturday from 2:00 p.m. until 6:00 p.m., extending to Sunday at 10:00 a.m. on alternating weekends; AND every Monday and Wednesday from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
- Example 3: 1st, 3rd, and 5th Saturday of each month from 10:00 a.m. until 10:00 a.m. on Sunday; AND Wednesdays of each week from 5:30 p.m. until 7:30 p.m. AND Mondays of each non-Saturday week from 5:30 p.m. until 7:30 p.m.
- Holidays and Summer (for all examples): Thanksgiving Day from 9:00 a.m. until 2:00 p.m.; Christmas Day from 1:00 p.m. until 7:30 p.m.; Summer- continue weekend schedule, AND 14 days during the summer, optionally divided into two 7 day periods, to be designated no later than April 1st.
50/50 Visitation Schedules:
- Example 1: Alternating weeks, from Friday at 6:00 p.m. or at the time school is released until the following Friday at 6:00 p.m. or until the time school is released; AND Tuesday of each off week from 6:00 p.m. or at the time school is released until 8:00 p.m. or until the time school resumes on Wednesday.
- Example 2: Parent A: From Sunday at 6:00 p.m. or at the time school resumes on Monday until Tuesday at 6:00 p.m. or at the time school resumes on Wednesday. Parent B: From Tuesday at 6:00 p.m. or at the time school releases on Wednesday through Thursday at 6:00 p.m. or at the time school releases on Friday. The parents alternate weekends beginning at 6:00 p.m. on Thursday or at the time school releases on Friday until 6:00 p.m. on Sunday or at the time school resumes on Monday morning.
- Holidays and Summer (for all examples): Holidays as per a Standard Possession Order; Summer- 21 days for each parent, to be designated no later than April 1stand 15th by each respective parent (with those designation dates rotating each year).
Other Visitation Schedule Variations:
- The child spends four days with Parent A and three days with Parent B, then three days with Parent A and four days with Parent B.
- The child spends five days with Parent A and two days with Parent B, then two days with Parent A and five days with Parent B.
- The child spends the school year with Parent A and spends two days per week with the Parent B. In the summer, the child lives with Parent B and spends two days per week with Parent A.
- The child spends three weeks with Parent A and one week with Parent B per month while alternating weekends.
The parents alternate weekends but the child goes to Parent B’s house every day after school until Parent A picks him up at a designated time.
Whatever custody schedule you choose, if possible, try to give everyone in your family time to adjust before making changes. Sometimes, implementing a visitation schedule temporarily before finalizing the divorce gives each spouse or parent as well as the children an opportunity to test out the schedule. Again, all of the schedules above are just examples and there are infinite possibilities and variations. Please consult with an attorney prior to agreeing to any visitation schedule as it is always imperative that you understand your rights in this process.