Religious Holidays and the Texas Standard Possession Order

Texas’ Standard Possession Order sets out when each parent can have the children. The Standard Possession Order includes details, even as to the time of day. But the only religious holiday that the Texas legislature included in the Standard Possession Order is Christmas vacation. Nevertheless, the experienced family law attorneys at Houston’s Boudreaux | Hunter & Associates, L.L.C., can assist you with drafting a possession order including additional Christian religious holidays, or Jewish or Muslim holidays.

Boudreaux | Hunter & Associates, L.L.C., is a multi-lawyer family law firm. There are two partners. Partner Shannon Boudreaux has experience in many facets of family law, from agreed divorces to high-conflict family law situations. She is also a certified mediator who tries to resolve cases as amicably as possible. Kevin Hunter is the firm’s other partner. He is a talented oral advocate, having participated in moot court competitions in law school. He is a recipient of 2017’s 10 Best Client Satisfaction Award from the American Institute of Family Law Attorneys.

Religious Holidays and the Texas Family Law Practice Manual

The Texas Family Law Practice Manual has added many more Christian religious holidays to the existing Christmas vacation. In addition, it has added religious holidays for Jews and Muslims.

Many of the religious holiday provisions call for picking up or dropping off a child at a certain time of day, or on the day school lets out or resumes. We have not included these details because they vary according to each case. Our purpose is to outline the holidays included in the Manual.

In addition, when holidays alternate years, the parent with visitation typically takes even-numbered years. The custodial parent takes odd-numbered years. Sometimes, one parent is observant but the other is not. Then, the observant parent may have the children during all the religious holidays unless that deprives the other parent of meaningful time with the children.

Christian Holidays

Christmas alternates between the beginning of the holiday period to December 28th and from December 28th to the end of the holiday, between even and odd-numbered years.

These Christian religious holidays alternate, for the day, between even and odd-numbered years: Ephipany, Ash Wednesday, Palm Sunday, Easter Sunday, Day of Pentecost and All Saint’s Day.

Jewish Holidays

Hanukkah alternates, for the full eight days, between even and odd-numbered years.

These Jewish religious holidays alternate, overnight, between even and odd-numbered years: Rosh Hashanah (First Day), Rosh Hashanah (Second Day), Yom Kippur, Sukkot (First Day), Sukkot (Second Day), Shemini Atzeret, Simchat Torah, Purim, Passover (First Seder) and Passover (Second Seder).

Muslim Holidays

Eid al-Fitr alternates, from the last day of Ramadan until the second day of Eid al-Fitr, between even and odd-numbered years.

Eid al-Adha alternates, from the day before Eid al-Adha begins until the second day of Eid al-Adha, between even and odd-numbered years.

Limitations on Religious Holidays

There might seem to be a disconnect between court orders and religious holidays. The disconnect comes from the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. It states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof . . .” The Texas Constitution contains a similar provision. So how can a court order that parents have the children for religious holidays?

The short answer is that courts may not issue such orders absent the parents’ agreement. Texas jurisprudence has firmly embraced this principle. For that reason, there are few courts that even discuss it.

The best example of a court facing this issue has been Rosenstein v. Rosenstein, in which the mother’s religious preference was unknown, but the father was Jewish and observant. The trial court made an order that:

  • Prevented the mother from taking the children to church because she could not have the children until 1:30 p.m. on Sundays;
  • Took away the mother’s Wednesday night possession so that the children could take Hebrew lessons; and
  • Overrode the usual Standard Possession Order provisions to the extent that they conflicted with Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Hanukkah and Passover.

Under these circumstances, the mother lost so much time with the children that the court of appeals concluded the trial court’s order violated the Establishment Clause and reversed that order.

If you should need help with negotiating or drafting custom orders regarding the children when one or both parents are observant in their religions, don’t hesitate to contact the experienced family law attorneys at Boudreaux | Hunter & Associates, L.L.C., by calling (713) 333-4430 or visiting our contact page.