Online Standard Possession Order for iPhone/iPad and Macs

Jimmy Verner has built StandardPossessionOrder.com, a website that allows the user to select among the options allowed by the Standard Possession Order and download a visitation calendar to an iPhone, an iPad or a Mac computer.

What is a Standard Possession Order?

In Texas, we don't have "visitation" with the children when the parents live apart. We call it "possession of" or "access to" the children. But a possession order is, in reality, a visitation schedule.

The Standard Possession Order is statutory. It sets most of the defaults when the parents don't otherwise agree. But the Standard Possession Order has a number of options, too. You can read all about that at the website's About the SPO section.

What Does the Website Do?

The Standard Possession Order is very complicated. So it seemed like a good idea to code the Standard Possession Order for the Calendar application that comes with iPhones, iPads and Mac computers. That way, a parent could see at a glance which parent the children were supposed to be with and when.

The website explains the Standard Possession Order. Once you understand your choices, you can click on the Choose Options tab to pick the options you want. Once you have confirmed your choices, you can buy the Standard Possession Order (through the year 2050) for $5.99. You will then download the file into your computer and sync it to your mobile devices.

Once you have installed the calendar, then you must customize it further because the Christmas holidays and Spring Break aren't the same across school districts plus some summer periods of possession must be picked.

Who Should Use the Website?

Attorneys should use this website to prepare visitation calendars for their clients when they prepare their clients' divorce or paternity decrees.

Parents can use this website, too. Most divorce and paternity decrees include the Standard Possession Order when there are minor children involved. There will be a section in the decree called "Standard Possession Order." The parent can simply input the options listed in the decree on the Choose Options tab and prepare his or her own Standard Possession Order.

Questions?

Don't hesitate to send me an email if you have any questions.

- Jimmy Verner

 

Visitation and the Six O'Clock Hour

The 81st Texas Legislature has adjourned, having passed two major family law bills. The bills are Senate Bill 866 and House Bill 1012. They make many changes to Texas family law. This post is the first of several to examine these bills' effects.

Changes to the Standard Possession Order

Beginning with section 6, House Bill 1012 implements changes to the Standard Possession Order. An important change is setting out a default time for possession exchanges of 6:00 p.m.

In the past, for example, a possessory conservator could elect that weekend possession begin at the time a child's school is regularly dismissed. Tex. Fam. Code § 153.312(a)(1) (2007). Other parts of the Family Code, although allowing for possession, did not specify a time. E.g., Tex. Fam. Code § 153.312(b)(2)(A) (2007) (summer possession upon written notice). Now all these periods begin or end at a default time of 6:00 p.m. 

How is the default avoided? A conservator must request the court to impose alternative beginning and ending possession times per amended Tex. Fam. Code § 153.317 (effective September 1, 2009) (reprinted in full below). Upon request, the court must alter the standard possession order - unless the court finds that alteration would not be in the child's best interest - to allow possession to begin or end when school lets out or resumes for the following periods of possession:

  • Weekends
  • Thursdays
  • Spring break
  • Christmas school vacation
  • Thanksgiving
  • Mother's Day

Father's Day is the third Sunday in June. School is not in session then, but Father's Day possession can be extended to 8:00 a.m. on the Monday after Father's Day.

Specifying 6:00 p.m. as the exchange time is helpful to parents, lawyers and the courts because now there will be a default time for changes of possession. But if a conservator had the right to elect the alternative provisions before, why did the legislature change those parts of the Family Code? Apparently, the purpose is to allow the court more control over when possession occurs, even though a court already has extensive power over possession.

There is a subtle mismatch between the House Committee Report on House Bill 1012 and the text of new section 153.317. According to the House Committee Report, if a conservator elects the alternative possession beginning and ending times, "and the court finds the election is in the best interest of the child, then the court must change the start and end times to [the] specified, alternative times stated in the statute." (emphasis added). But the statute reads that the court must change the start and end times, upon a conservator's request, "unless the court finds that the election is not in the best interest of the child." (emphasis added). 

Which conservator bears the burden of proof? Is the burden to show that alternative times are in the child's best interest or are not in the child's best interest?

Continue Reading...

Video Visitation and Other Electronica

The Texas legislature has gone high-tech, at least in the variety of ways Texas law now permits a conservator to keep in touch with his or her children.  In new Texas Family Code section 153.015 - entitled "Electronic Communication with Child by Conservator" - the legislature has endorsed frequent contract by "telephone, electronic mail, instant messaging, videoconferencing, or webcam."

But the legislature also made clear that electronic visitation is intended to supplement periods of physical possession, not replace it.  The new statute specifically states that electronic communication "is not intended as a substitute for physical possession."  Further, the availability of electronic communication cannot be considered by a court as a factor in setting child support.

What are the requirements for electronic visitation?  There are three:
  1. Each parent must provide the other parent with the child's email address plus any other information needed for electronic visitation.
  2. Each parent must notify the other parent of any changes in email addresses or other information not later than twenty-four hours after the change takes effect.
  3. If "necessary equipment is reasonably available," each parent must permit electronic visitation at reasonable times "with the same privacy, respect, and dignity" as physical possession.
According to long-time family law Prof. John J. ("Jack") Sampson of the University of Texas, the legislature decided to add this section after "hearing stories of parents not allowing children to speak to the other parent during periods of possession."  While they were at it, the legislators decided to include email, instant messaging and video.

Section 153.015 appears after the break. Continue Reading...

A Close Reading of the Extended Possession Statute

Texas' Standard Possession Order sets out when the noncustodial parent has visitation with ("possession of") the children.  By default, the noncustodial parent has visitation with the children on Thursday evenings during the school term between 6:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m., and on the first, third and (if there is one) fifth weekends throughout the year from 6:00 p.m. Friday to 6:00 p.m. Sunday.

But a noncustodial parent may request alternative times for visitation to occur on Thursdays and on weekends.  According to Texas Family Code section 153.312(a), the noncustodial parent may elect that weekend visitation begin when the child's school is dismissed on Friday.  The noncustodial parent may elect - unless not in the child's best interest - that Thursday visitation begin when school is dismissed and end on Friday when school commences.

What are the results of the alternative visitation times?  Thursdays become overnight visits, and when a Thursday precedes weekend visitation, as a practical matter visitation begins Thursday when school lets out and ends on Sunday at 6:00 p.m.  Thus, a noncustodial parent may have extended weekend visitation.

But this Family Code section, and another one like it - Texas Family Code section 153.317 - require the noncustodial parent to make these elections "before or at the time of" the original court order setting out visitation, or "before or at the time of" any modification order.  A recent Fort Worth Court of Appeals case faced the issue whether a noncustodial parent could ask for these elections by themselves, after a modification order recently had been signed.  The Court held that this parent had lost his opportunity to make these elections because he did not make them before or at the time the court granted the modification order.

Accordingly, a noncustodial parent who wants to elect these alternative visitation times must make these elections "before or at the time of" the divorce, a paternity order or a modification action, or the elections will be considered waived.