What Are Texas Step-Up Possession Orders?

Texas child involved in a step-up custody order

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There are many reasons why one parent may not be ready to assume a standard possession order when a child custody case is heard, but this doesn’t mean he or she will never be ready. Circumstances change, and challenges are overcome, and the State of Texas recognizes the important role that both parents play in their children’s lives.

When one parent isn’t ready to take on, isn’t in a good position to take on, or isn’t capable of taking on substantial parenting time, the court may implement a step-up possession order that helps the parent prepare for or earn enhanced visitation.

If you have questions or concerns about a potential step-up possession order – whether it applies to you or your children’s other parent – it’s time to consult with an experienced Round Rock child custody attorney.

The Court’s Starting Position

When Texas courts make child custody decisions, they always turn to the best interests of the children, and a wide range of factors guide the process:

  • The age of each child

  • Each child’s physical, educational, and emotional needs.

  • Any special needs any of the children have.

  • Each parent’s ability to adequately address each of the children’s needs

  • The depth of the relationship each of the parents has developed with each of the children

  • Each parent’s commitment to co-parenting effectively with the other

  • Each parent’s commitment to supporting the other’s ongoing relationship with the children

  • Whether domestic violence, child neglect, or child abuse is involved

  • Whether either parent has addiction issues or concerns related to substance abuse

Texas courts prefer to maximize the amount of parenting time each parent receives. There are, however, situations in which building up to more considerable visitation over time is preferable, and that is where step-up possession orders come in.

Parenting Time

Parenting time, which is also called possession, refers to when the children are with one parent or the other. When one parent has the children for the majority of the overnights while the other parent has a visitation schedule, they are referred to as the primary custodial parent and the noncustodial parent, respectively.

Sometimes, the noncustodial parent needs to get started by having fewer, shorter visits with the kids and working up to a more expansive parenting time schedule.

If you think a step-up custody schedule could be a good fit for your situation, discuss your case with a Round Rock family law attorney.

The Standard Possession Order

The default standard possession order in Texas includes the noncustodial parent having the children the first, third, and fifth weekend of every month from the time school is dismissed until the time that it begins again on Monday morning. This parent also gets every Thursday evening with the children. There are also default arrangements for summer break, spring break, winter break, and beyond.

The court has other standard possession orders available. Parents also have the option of negotiating scheduling terms that address their unique needs and work for their families.

When starting out with a standard possession order isn’t in the cards for the parent in question, the court may begin with a step-up possession order that allows the parent to work toward a parenting time schedule that allows for more time with the children.

Prevailing wisdom holds that children are better off when they are able to spend a significant amount of time with both parents, and the court’s step-up approach supports this.

Before a Child Turns Three

Texas courts recognize that children who are not yet three are of a tender age, which makes going back and forth between parents according to a standard possession order less than ideal. As such, the primary custodial parent may have the young child for every overnight while the noncustodial parent may be awarded short but consistent visits with the child each week.

As the child moves through the stages of development, the noncustodial parent’s visitation schedule can keep pace by stepping up until it reaches the level of a standard possession order. This step-up possession plan is based on the young child’s needs, and at this tender age, limiting the amount of going back and forth between homes is considered advantageous.

If your custody case involves a child under the age of three, you need seasoned legal guidance to build a custody order that protects your parental rights and your child’s needs. Contact a Round Rock family lawyer for guidance during your case.

When Step-Up Possession Schedules Make Sense

Step-up possession schedules are also called progressive or tiered schedules, and they refer to child custody arrangements that evolve over time and with the participating parent’s increasing involvement with the child – or that evolve as the child ages and moves beyond tender years.

Step-up possession orders are most likely when one of the following situations applies:

  • The child is not yet three years old.

  • The noncustodial parent hasn’t spent a considerable amount of time with the child to date.

  • The noncustodial parent doesn’t have a permanent residence or a suitable home for the children.

  • The noncustodial parent has concerns related to addiction or substance abuse but is seeking help.

  • The noncustodial parent is married to or lives with an abusive partner who isn’t safe for the children to be around.

When the noncustodial parent’s circumstances make him or her unfit to have the children overnight – but the parent is committed to taking the steps necessary to right the situation – the court may order a step-up possession schedule.

When the parent’s goal of securing more consistent parenting time with the children and the court’s goal of advancing the children’s best interests align, a step-up possession schedule can play an important role.

How Step-Up Possession Schedules Work

Each step-up possession schedule – like other parenting plans – is detailed in the court orders that are handed down. Step-up possession schedules can take a range of forms because every situation that requires graduated possession is unique.

Example One

Consider this example in which the parents agree on a step-up possession schedule.

A couple with two children is divorcing, and both agree that the mother will be the primary custodial parent. While both parents also agree that the father should spend time with the children, he has a drinking problem that concerns them both.

Although the father has never been negligent with the children, his drinking has the potential to interfere with his ability to be a solid, responsible parent. The father recognizes the mother’s concerns, commits to getting the help he needs, and agrees to a step-up possession schedule based on the progress he makes on his drinking problem.

Example Two

Consider the same example when the parents are not in agreement. This time, the same two parents are involved, but the mother insists on supervised visitation only and the father isn’t convinced that his drinking poses a concern for their shared children.
In this instance, the court will need to step in and make the child custody determination on behalf of the divorcing couple. The judge may order a step-up possession order that’s based on the father upholding the requirements included in the plan if such an arrangement is deemed necessary.

The Step-Up Possession Schedule

Step-up possession schedules generally begin with relatively limited visitation that gradually increases. For example, the noncustodial parent of a newborn may only have a few hours with the baby a week for the first few months, but the amount of time they spend together as the baby develops into a toddler can increase significantly.

In the examples described above, the court can include target goals that allow the father to increase the amount of visitation he receives as he continues to reach these goals.
The four basic stages of step-up possession orders include the following arrangements:

  1. Supervised possession in which the noncustodial parent gets a specific number of supervised visitation hours with the children each week

  2. Unsupervised Saturday possession in which the noncustodial parent receives unsupervised visitation with the children from 12 PM to 8 PM every first, third, and fifth Saturday of every month

  3. Non-expanded standard possession in which the noncustodial parent has possession of the children every first, third, and fifth Friday of the month from 6 PM until 6 PM on the following Sunday, as well as every Thursday evening from 6 PM to 8 PM

  4. Expanded standard possession in which the noncustodial parent has possession of the children every first, third, and fifth Friday from the time that the school day ends until the time that school resumes on Monday morning – along with possession from after school on Thursday until school resumes on Friday morning

As long as noncustodial parents remain in compliance with the court’s step-up requirements, they’ll continue stepping up their visitation according to the prescribed timeline. However, if they fail to live up to the requirements, noncustodial parents will be pushed back to the previous step (which reduces parenting time) and will start over from there.

Actual step-up possession orders are specific to the case at hand, and they can be more or less restrictive depending on the circumstances involved. The bottom line is that this step-up system allows parents to build up to more parenting time with their children, which – barring a serious reason for ruling otherwise – is the court’s primary goal.

FAQ about Step-Up Possession Orders

Step-up possession orders are a useful tool for establishing parenting time routines that might not otherwise be possible. If you’re facing a custody concern that may involve a step-up possession order, the answers to the following frequently asked questions might help with some of your own.

Do I Need an Attorney?

Having a child custody attorney in your corner is always advised in child custody cases. When it comes to child custody cases in which a step-up possession order may be implemented, proceeding with the skilled legal guidance of a trusted Round Rock child custody attorney with impressive experience handling these challenging cases is the surest means of protecting your parental rights.

How Do I Know If a Step-Up Possession Order Is a Good Plan?

If you’re concerned that your children's other parent isn’t living up to his or her responsibilities or isn’t capable of keeping the children safe during a standard possession order, a step-up order might be an excellent alternative. This approach sets goals that your ex must consistently meet before receiving additional parenting time, and this gradual increase can help put your mind at ease.

In the end, your seasoned Round Rock child custody attorney will skillfully advocate for terms that protect your parental rights and your children’s best interests, which may or may not include a step-up possession order.

What Does a Child’s “Tender Age” Have to Do with Parenting Time?

Texas employs what is known as a Tender Age Doctrine, which holds that the best interests of children under the age of three are best served when the children aren’t passed from one parent’s home to the other’s at this vulnerable stage of life. Instead, the noncustodial parent of a very young child may be awarded a step-up possession plan that allows them to work up to a standard possession schedule.

Is There Any Way to Increase the Amount of Parenting Time I Was Awarded by the Court?

If you received a step-up possession order, you’ll need to meet the goals it sets forth for you in order to work your way up to a standard possession order. However, once you’ve accomplished these goals, there are circumstances in which the court will consider a parenting time modification.

If three years have passed since your parenting time order was issued, or if you, your children, or their other parent has experienced a significant change in circumstances, the court may consider your request for a modification that involves an increase in parenting time.

Speak with an Experienced Round Rock Child Custody Attorney Today

Brett Pritchard at The Law Office of Brett H. Pritchard in Round Rock, Texas, takes great pride in his impressive reputation for helping clients like you obtain favorable child custody terms that work for them. We’re on your side and here to help, so please don’t wait to contact us online or call us at (254) 781-4222 and schedule your FREE consultation today.

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