Father playing with kids

When parents decide that it’s time to separate and divorce, they also have to decide how they will continue to co-parent their children.  In optimal situations, parents are able to work together to come up with a parenting plan that is best suited for their children considering the specifics of the family.  That is the approach taken in a collaborative divorce and the results can be quite satisfying for everyone involved. 

On the other hand, if the parties choose to litigate their custody dispute, parents are forced to take opposite positions resulting in one parent “winning” and one parent “losing” custody.  Assuming there are no serious parenting issues with either party, in Texas the “losing” parent is usually awarded a Standard Possession Order (SPO) with the children.  That means the “losing” parent gets possession of the children on the first, third, and fifth weekend of each month from Friday to Sunday, and on Thursdays during the school year from 6 pm – 8 pm.  Those times can be expanded to turn the Thursday possession into an overnight period, returning to school the next morning.  It can also be expanded to have the children returned to school on Monday mornings after the weekend.  Of course, in addition the SPO provides for the parties to alternate holiday possession and for the “losing” parent to have possession for thirty days in the summer. (For a more detailed look at the SPO, see Tex.Fam.Code 153.311 https://texas.public.law/statutes/tex._fam._code_section_153.311   Most judges consider the SPO to be the only option when the decision is left up to the Judge.  While there is nothing inherently wrong with an SPO, it doesn’t work for every family.

When separating parents choose to work with each other and develop a parenting plan that best fits their family, they can be creative with the parenting time enjoyed by each.  For instance, parents who are equally suited to care for their children can work out a schedule that gives each of them 50% of the time with the children.  One way to accomplish this is to alternate weeks with the children.  Families often find that starting their weekly possession time with a child on Friday works well because it allows the child to “settle in” to the new household over the weekend before starting the school week on Monday.  It also allows the parents to have time to exchange anything the child might have left at the other parent’s home before the busy school week starts.  The child should always have plenty of phone or facetime with the other parent during the week as needed by the child.

For younger children, a week may be too long to go without seeing the other parent.  This doesn’t mean, however, that a 50/50 schedule can’t be accomplished.  Parents of these children sometimes choose a schedule in which one parent always has Mondays and Tuesdays, the other parent Wednesdays and Thursdays, and the parents alternate weekends.  This is sometimes referred to as the 5/2/2/5 schedule.  The benefit of this schedule is that the longest a parent will go without seeing the child is five days.  Another benefit is that the parents and the child always know where the child will be on future Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.  This can make it easier to plan extracurricular activities and parents’ work schedules.  While some complain that there is too much back and forth with the 5/2/2/5 schedule, there are no more exchanges with this schedule than there are with an SPO.  It is almost like adding Wednesdays to the SPO (the difference being that it has alternating weekends instead of first, third and fifth weekends). 

Some parents’ work schedules call for parenting time to be specifically tailored.  Airline pilots and attendants, hospital professionals, and first responders often have rotating schedules that do not fit with the standard possession schedules.  Parents who want to ensure that a child spends time with the parent instead of a sitter do well to consider the best way to craft an order in these situations.  In collaborative cases, the parents can explore all avenues in developing such a tailored schedule. 

While child support is not necessarily related to parenting time, whenever the parents deviate from an SPO it usually follows that child support is addressed in a different manner as well.  When left to a judge, the Court will usually order guideline child support payable by the parent exercising an SPO.  (See Tex.Fam.Code 154 https://texas.public.law/statutes/tex._fam._code_section_154.001).   If the parents have elected to exercise more equal parenting time, it might be appropriate to consider different support provisions.  The parties should take into account the difference in each parent’s income and expenses.  Sometimes rather than direct support, a parent who earns substantially more might pay for specifically identified things such as private school, extracurriculars, etc.  

As discussed above, the Texas Family Code provides a standard framework for parenting time and support.  But for parents who want to be more in control of their families, even after divorce, creative solutions are out there.  All it takes is the willingness of both parents to come to the table and consider all options. 

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