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How Does Custody Work for School Pick-Up / Drop Off?

How Does Custody Work for School Pick-Up / Drop Off?
Hendershot, Cannon & Hisey, P.C.

Parents who have weathered a Texas divorce or who have resolved a child custody case often have many questions when it comes to how those custody arrangements work – particularly when determining the details of unforeseen circumstances, special celebrations and holidays, and everything in between. Part of that may also include confusion about who picks the children up from school, and who drops them off.

While every case and custody agreement is unique, Texas family courts typically appoint both parents as joint managing conservators (JMC). While that’s doesn’t necessarily mean there’s a 50/50 split in time-sharing, joint managing conservatorship in Texas does mean both parents have a shared right to make important decisions about their child, including decisions involving things like:

  • Primary residence;
  • Medical and mental health treatment;
  • The use of child support;
  • Representation of the child in legal actions; and
  • The child’s education.

As opposed to JMC, sole managing conservatorship, though reserved for limited situations, is a legal arrangement where one parent has the exclusive rights to important decisions and matters concerning their child.

While joint managing conservatorship andsole managing conservatorship may be confused with “joint legal custody” or “primary physical custody,” the terminology is distinctly different and not always relevant to Texas family law.

Here’s a brief explanation of what terms apply to Texas child custody cases:

  • In Texas, the term possession and access are used in place of “physical custody” and “visitation.”
  • A parent is said to have possession of a child when the child is physically under his or her care.
  • Access is a broader term which may refer to communications between parents and children, as well as parents physically visiting their child or being present at a child’s activity.
  • Joint managing conservatorship andsole managing conservatorship, as mentioned above, refer to parents’ legal rights, not their actual possession or access to a child (physical custody).
  • In many Texas custody arrangements, one parent (the custodial parent) has the majority of possession time of the child, even if it’s just a slight majority. That custodial parent may also have joint or sole managing conservatorship (the right to make important decisions). The other parent is referred to as the non-custodial parent, and may be a joint managing conservator, or a possessory conservator. In rare cases, parents may abide by 50/50 split of possession.

Find more information on our Texas Child Custody FAQ.

What Your Custody Agreement Says

The specific terms of parental possession, access, and arrangements for picking up or dropping off children at school are typically part of child custody agreements – whether they’re outlined as part of a standard possession order (used when parents aren’t able to agree on their own), or as the result of mutual agreements reached between parents for their own possession orders.

What your particular custody agreement says about school-related issues or hand-offs is important to understanding your rights and what’s considered permitted conduct. Here are a few things worth knowing:

  • School Pick-up / Drop-off in Your Custody Order – Whether you’ve been appointed joint managing conservatorship (or generally “joint legal custody”) or sole managing conservatorship, arrangements regarding your child’s travel to and from school is part of a possession schedule. These schedules address actual physical custody and visitation (possession and access) and are usually outlined in child custody orders, whether they’re constructed by parents and approved by the court, or handed down by the court in the form of a standard possession order.
  • Transportation Schedules – Custody agreements typically outline transportation scheduling, both in situations where both parents have joint managing conservatorship, and where only one parent has sole managing conservatorship. A transportation schedule can require parents to drop off or pick up children on specific days and at specific times, and may allow for the “forfeiture” of possession or access if a parent fails to meet those time-sensitive requirements (i.e. a parent doesn’t pick the child up within 20 minutes of the end of the school day).
  • Possession After School – Because most parents live less than 100 miles of each other, it is not uncommon for custody orders (or standard possession schedules) to designate specific weekdays and weekends for one parent to have possession. This means that during the school year, one parent may have more total possession time than the other. A standard possession order, for example, commonly allots possession from 6:00 pm on the first, third, and fifth Friday of each month, as well possession each Thursday from 6:00 pm to 8:00 pm. In some cases, an expanded standard possession schedule (or a schedule devised by the parents themselves) may allow possession to begin at the time school gets out. Should parents live further away, or if they wish to relocate beyond the geographic restrictions of an existing order, they may need to devise different arrangements, or ensure they adequately petition the court for a modification.
  • Holidays / Special Events – Holidays and special events can be specifically addressed in custody orders, and may begin at the time a child is dismissed from school for a holiday break or long weekend. Again, possession schedules may specifically proscribe a timeline and various requirements for holiday time-sharing (with annual switch-offs on who has possession to the child on particular holidays), or parents may be more flexible if they’re able to effectively communicate with one another about drop-offs and pick-ups.
  • Custody Order Violations – Should a parent violate a custody agreement by picking their child up when the agreement stipulates otherwise, it could be potential grounds for enforcement of custody orders, such as a temporary order to stop the violations or relief in the form of additional possession / access time to make up for lost visits. In some cases, removing a child from school without permission and without informing the other parent (especially if they are the custodial parent with whom the child primarily resides) could constitute more serious consequences, such as contempt or criminal charges for abduction.
  • Modifications – Things in life are not always predictable, and there may come a time when parents must address new and different circumstances involving themselves and the children they share, be it a long work project, unforeseeable emergency, injury or illness, work trip, or what have you. Ultimately, parents have the ability to strike reasonable compromises on their own; you and your child’s other parent can adopt different arrangements for school pick-up and drop-off for unique situations if you both agree. The ability to be reasonable and compromise can go a long way when it comes to unforeseen issues like having to pick up a sick child or when one parent being tied up at work, as well as for special circumstances, such as a birthday, holiday, or particular event. A lawyer’s input can be helpful even when parents agree verbally to minor possess order amendments, and especially so when parents seek modifications of custody agreements for significant circumstantial changes.

Help From Experienced Family Lawyers

Being a parent isn’t always easy; it requires a great deal of selflessness and sacrifice, and a lot of responsibility – especially when it comes to time management and making sure children are accounted for, picked up, dropped off, and transported to and from where they need to go. The same is true, and arguably more so, for co-parenting.

Texas parents with shared possession and access should know that while their orders may outline specific schedules, there are ways to seek slight deviations from standard schedules or major modifications to overall custody orders. How that’s done depends a great deal on the existing order, the rights of each parent, and the circumstances at hand – but communication, compromise, and legal insight from an experienced attorney can make a difference.

Have questions about child custody in Texas and how our divorce and family law team at Hendershot, Cannon & Hisey, P.C. can help? Call (713) 909-7323 or contact us online.

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