It’s the most wonderful time of the year. At least that’s what the song tells us. But for parents who live separately and have to make plans for sharing the children, it can be anything but wonderful. The state of Texas lays out some clear guidelines for how to create a child custody holiday schedule, and if their parents can collaborate, they can further refine that schedule to meet the needs of their particular family.
The key legal document will be the Possession & Access Order. If a couple is divorced, this order would have been issued as part of the custody settlement. If they were never married, a family court will still have issued the order as a part of clarifying the non-custodial parent’s rights and responsibilities.
What if an unmarried couple has never been in family court to work all this out? In the state of Texas, that likely means fatherhood was never legally established and the mother has all the rights and responsibilities--including deciding where to spend the holidays.
For the sake of this discussion though, we’ll presume a Standard Possession Order was issued. The Texas code of family law has very specific requirements that are to be followed in this order. The requirements serve as a minimum baseline that can be enforced if parents are unable to agree.
Who Gets Christmas?
The Christmas, or winter holiday season, is split into two parts. Part One begins when the child’s school year goes on break and ends at noon on December 28. Part Two then begins and goes until the child returns to school.
Families that celebrate Christmas will have a clear preference for Part One. The standard requirement is that the custodial parent gets Part One in odd-numbered years. The non-custodial parent gets Part One in the even-numbered years. So, let's say the kids live with mom. It’s 2021, so that’s where they’ll stay until noon on the 28th. Then dad comes to pick them up for the balance of their break. Next year, the schedules will flip.
What About Spring Break?
Spring break is comparable to winter in that the kids have an extended period off school. Even so, Texas chooses not to split up this time period. It’s kept simple--in an odd-numbered year like this one, the kids stay with the custodial parent. In the even-numbered years, the non-custodial parent gets them.
Please note one significant exception--if the non-custodial parent lives more than 100 miles away, they are entitled to spring break every year.
How do you handle three months off? This is the time when the non-custodial parent may want the opportunity to take the kids on a vacation, something that likely wouldn’t work within the framework of a standard visitation schedule. Texas allows the non-custodial parent to get 30 days of time over the summer break. If the parent lives 100-plus miles away, that time grows to 42 days.
Other Notable Holiday Days
The odd-year/even-year rotation plan is reversed for Thanksgiving. The non-custodial parent gets the kids in a year like 2021, with the custodial parent getting them in even-numbered years. It’s set up this way so that in any given year, the kids will spend Thanksgiving with one parent and Christmas with the other.
For birthdays, the non-custodial parent has the right to visit the child between the hours of 6 PM and 8 PM. It’s not a lot of time, but with birthdays often falling on school nights and the important criterion always being the best interest of the child, it’s not mandated that kids stay overnight anywhere other than their home.
For Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, common-sense rules apply--Mother’s Day with mom, Father’s Day with dad. Every year.
Can My Ex & I Work Out a Different Schedule?
Yes! The state law is meant for situations when couples cannot agree. But maybe your situation is different. Different families have different holiday traditions. For example, those in the Jewish faith might prefer to use the eight days of Hanukkah as the baseline of an equitable sharing arrangement. Those that do not celebrate a particular religious holiday in December might find another way of dividing up the time. All of these are matters to be discussed with your attorney and negotiated as a part of the final custody arrangement.
Even once the possession order is issued, adjustments can be made on the fly. If the parents agree, they can work things out on a year-to-year basis. Of course, if agreement cannot be reached, then the protection order is binding.
One thing both parents usually have in common is a desire to see their kids happy over the holidays. To that end, it’s always a good idea to review the schedule with them, particularly in the Thanksgiving-to-Christmas time frame that is hectic for almost everyone. That way the kids know what to expect and everyone can be on the same page. And the holidays can get back to being the most wonderful time of the year.
Hembree Bell Law Firm, PLLC has lawyers who know what you’ve been through when it comes to wanting yourself and your kids to be happy. We know what your rights are and will work to make sure you’re protected in a custody settlement. Contact us today, either online or at (512) 768-9737.