Custody Schedules: 50/50 v. Standard/Expanded Standard
Over the course of a year, the disparity between a Texas Standard/Expanded Standard possession schedule and a 50/50 schedule amounts to less than one day every other week, but Texans spend millions of dollars fighting over the difference. Why? Because parents consider time spent with their kids priceless, and, like real estate, you can’t make more of it.
Splitting up means trying to pull off the impossible task of living apart without losing any time with your children. In Texas, the Standard Possession Order (SPO) remains the rebuttable presumption in divorce cases, but, in recent years, Texas courts and its legislature have looked more closely at 50/50 possession schedules.
In SPOs, one parent has possession on the first, third, and fifth weekends of each month (usually from 6:00 PM on Friday to 6:00 PM on Sunday) along with Thursday evenings for two hours during the school year (usually from 6:00 PM to 8:00 PM), and for a thirty-day block in the summer. Parents alternate possession for Thanksgiving, Spring Break, and the first and second half of Christmas Break each year.
Most of the time, a SPO can automatically be bumped up to an Expanded (or Extended) Standard Possession Order (ESPO) upon request. An ESPO is just what is sounds like—a slightly expanded version of a SPO. This means that, during the school year, Thursday and Sunday possession periods become overnights. On first, third, and fifth weekends, a parent’s ESPO schedule is from when school is dismissed on Thursday until Monday morning when school resumes. Summer and holiday possession are largely the same as in a SPO.
The prevailing theory behind the SPO/ESPO schedules is that they provide stability for kids during the school year because more weekday overnights are spent with one parent.
Judges have wide discretion in picking a schedule if the divorcing parents can’t agree on one, but often award a SPO/ESPO schedule to one parent because it’s presumed to be in the child’s best interest under the law.
50/50 schedules awarding each parent the same amount of possession time are becoming more popular. In some states, judges now start by assuming the schedule should be 50/50 and work from there.
A 50/50 schedule can take many forms, but all give each parent possession for precisely 50% of the year. Two of the most common are “week on/week off” and “2/2/5/5”. In week on/week off schedules, parents exchange the child once a week, often on Friday or Sunday. People are drawn to the simplicity of this schedule, but 7 days is a long time to go without seeing your child. Many prefer a 2/2/5/5 schedule awarding one parent possession on Monday and Tuesday each week, the other possession on Wednesday and Thursday, and alternating weekend possession defined as Friday through Monday morning every other week.
Advantages of SPOs/ESPOs
Yes, a parent awarded a SPO/ESPO schedule has a bit less possession time. In some ways, though, it’s better time:
The parent with the SPO/ESPO schedule has the 1st, 3rd, and 5th weekends. Not every month has five weekends, so that parent gets a few more weekends each year. Weekend time is valuable because the kids aren’t in school and have more free time available.
It’s a little easier for the parent with the SPO/ESPO schedule to focus on work during the week. The other parent will have more day-to-day child rearing duties and the responsibility that comes with that. For example, if a child begins struggling in school because he’s not completing homework, scrutiny may befall the parent who has more overnights during the school year.
Advantages of 50/50
Kids often prefer them. Children of divorcing parents yearn for peace and civility. They want everything to be “equal” and don’t want to be placed in the middle of the conflict. A 50/50 schedule helps do that because it nullifies the appearance of one parent having an advantage over the other.
The schedule values time with mom and dad equally. For years, courts have assumed mothers should be awarded more time as the primary caretakers of children. Now, we recognize both parents often work outside the home and share parenting responsibilities.
A 50/50 plan does not automatically decrease or prevent child support from being awarded. Many divorcing parents assume a court can’t or won’t award child support if they have equal time. That’s not correct. Courts can, and often do, award child support—sometimes at the full statutory amount—even if a 50/50 plan is awarded.
Which Schedule Fits Your Family Best?
Possession time doesn’t have to be an eternal source of conflict for divorcing or separating couples. Either schedule should provide both parents plenty of time to maintain a great relationship with the children.
If you’re wrestling with this issue, an attorney specializing family law can help you tailor a plan that best fits your family’s needs. Parent work schedules, kids’ activities, and, perhaps most importantly, the proximity of the parents’ homes, should all be considered.
And, while SPO/ESPO and 50/50 schedules are commonly awarded if a case goes to trial, mediation gives you the opportunity to be creative and further customize how you share time with your children.
Ultimately, when determining which schedule is best, analyze it like a judge would by asking yourself, “What’s best for the kids?”
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