Since the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) arrived in the United States, virtually every aspect of our lives has changed. All non-essential businesses have been systematically shut down (and some government functions), schools have been closed, and stay at home orders have been put in place. For parents who are not categorized as “essential workers,” they’re subject to stay at home orders with the exception of visiting grocery stores, gas stations, pharmacies, and healthcare providers. Understandably, the pandemic has poured over into every part of our personal lives and child custody is no exception.
The coronavirus has parents asking, “Do I have to let my kids see the other parent during their court-ordered time with them?” With stay-at-home-orders, travel advisories, and health concerns, a lot of parents are confused about child custody and how they should handle it, and reasonably so. This is the first time anyone in the United States alive today has seen something like this. In this article, we hope to shed light on the situation and help clear up any questions that you have.
What Does Your Custody Order Say?
The coronavirus pandemic has raised serious concerns over parents. They’re worried about stay-at-home orders, increasing their children’s risk of infection if one parent is a healthcare worker, changing pick-up and drop-off locations now that schools and workplaces are closed, traveling long distances for pick-ups and drop-offs, and placing their child on an airplane if the parents live in different states. Clearly, there’s a lot for parents to be concerned about.
Here’s what you need to know: The Supreme Court of Texas issued its Second Emergency Order regarding the COVID-19 disaster, which went into effect on March 13, 2020, and expires on May 8, 2020.
In reference to child custody suits, the Order states: “For purposes of determining a person’s right to possession of and access to a child under a court-ordered possession schedule, the original published school schedule shall control in all instances. Possession and access shall not be affected by the school’s closure that arises from an epidemic or pandemic, including what is commonly referred to as the COVID- 19 pandemic.” In other words, parents are expected to follow their existing child custody schedule as is.
“But what if it doesn’t make sense for us to follow the order, what if following our child custody order is impractical given our circumstances?” is a question thousands of Texas parents are asking. Under Part 3) of the Order it states: “Nothing herein prevents parties from altering a possession schedule by agreement if allowed by their court order(s), or courts from modifying their orders.”
What if I Don’t Want to Follow the Order?
Family law attorneys across the country are receiving calls about child custody problems raised by the COVID-19 pandemic. Common reasons why the current child custody order may not make sense during this public health crisis include distance or an increased risk of infection to the child or one of the parents.
Another issue is concerns over one’s child being under the other parent’s care. Some parents are worried that the other parent is not taking the coronavirus seriously. Such a parent may be concerned the other parent is not practicing social distancing or good hygiene; that they’re not avoiding social gatherings; or that they’re not following guidelines issued by President Trump, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the Texas Department of State Health Services. If you have such concerns, we can help.
The coronavirus pandemic has affected many aspects of family law, including child custody and family violence. If you need legal assistance with a child custody modification or another family law matter that has risen from COVID-19, we invite you to contact the Law Firm of Johnson & Gaskill PLLC for the sound guidance you need during this difficult time.