Standard Possession Order – PART I

SPO = Standard Possession Order. To divorcing parents it’s the gold standard. It’s what our great state legislature promulgated. It’s the possession schedule that a non-custodial parent is “supposed” to have.

Except it’s not.

There’s so much misunderstanding surrounding SPO that we’ll take several blogs to discuss it. Part I centers on why we have SPO in the first place.

Come with me back to the 70’s and early 80’s when, as disco faded away, I broke in as a young lawyer. Back then, divorce decrees – including custody and visitation – ran to only eight or nine pages. (Today’s decrees often stretch to fifty or sixty pages!) That’s in large part because visitation (as we called it back then) was simple. If mom had custody (as mothers usually did) then dad had a right of “reasonable visitation” with the kids.

What’s that mean? Basically, reasonable visitation meant when the custodial parent decided the non-custodial parent could see his or her children. The custodial parent was in total control. The poor non-custodial parent never knew, from week-to-week, just when or if he or she would be allowed to see the children.

Originally, reasonable visitation was designed to let parents do what worked best for their kids. Every family’s schedule is different. No two are alike. Courts didn’t want to dictate to parents when they’d see their kids. They opted for moms and dads to have as much freedom as possible to design their own schedules. Works great with parents who act in good faith. Not so much for custodial parents who will use kids as pawns by withholding possession in order to punish or control the other parent.

Which led to a lot of parents to file post-divorce modification and enforcement cases, so much so that lawyers and judges grew tired of them which, eventually, trickled (or up?) to the legislature. And it was they who passed SPO into existence, to try and deal with all of the post-decree grumbling and carping about visitation.

But the philosophy behind SPO was the same as before – to give parents the mostly unfettered freedom to design their own possession schedules. However, unlike pre-SPO days, SPO protects the non-custodial parent from being frozen out of his/her kid’s lives by this simple expedient – the SPO says the parents can design their own possession schedule and, if so, they may disregard SPO. But, if they cannot then SPO is the default possession schedule given to the non-custodial parent.

If you will, SPO is the default setting. It may or may not be good for children, but at least it provides a detailed schedule of possession for the non-custodial parent, so he or she doesn’t get shut-out.

That’s it. The philosophy of SPO. Simple, huh? That’s not to say it’s best for all kids, much less your kids, but it’s not designed for that purpose. Its purpose is to prevent a parent from not seeing his or her kids at all.

Next blog, how does SPO work, anyway?

Grace and peace.

Mark Lewis