Court Instructions for COVID-19 Child Custody
The COVID-19 pandemic has proven to be difficult on many families; confusion over child custody agreements is widespread, and the number of couples looking for a The Woodlands divorce attorney and/or filing for divorce during the coronavirus has skyrocketed.
Thankfully, the courts have managed to stay in operation (in a limited manner and often only virtually) and have worked hard to continue to address family law issues. In fact, the Texas Supreme Court issued a court order on March 17th, 2020 that specifically addressed the issue of child custody during the coronavirus pandemic.
In our continued efforts to support our clients during this time, the child custody lawyers at Grimes & Fertitta are here to guide you through the implications of this order and what it means for you and your loved ones.
The status of child custody agreements during COVID-19
In Texas, child custody agreements during the COVID-19 pandemic are still in effect and should be followed as usual. 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 COVID19 pandemic.”
For many families, this court order should help clarify the confusion caused by the language of their custody agreements and by the language used surrounding the pandemic.
For example, some families were or are struggling with a provision in their custody agreements that a child should be turned over to another parent after Spring Break, when schools reopened. Some parents took this to mean that, since many districts decided to close schools, their child(ren) should stay with them. The order now makes it clear that this understanding is incorrect and that the child(ren) should have been turned over to the parent as though schools had reopened.
The court order also clears up disputes surrounding the strictness with which some parents wish to adhere to stay at home orders and social distancing measures. Now, parents who may not have been sure of their rights to see or take their children home during the pandemic know that the original custody agreement should still be followed.
The importance of staying flexible during COVID-19
While the Texas Supreme Court has ordered that child custody agreements are still in effect and should be followed as though school were in operation, it also allows 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.”
In other words, parents who share custody and who are allowed by the court to deviate from their regular agreement may wish to consider doing so if a change would better protect the child.
For example, if one parent must go to work in an environment where they are likely to be exposed to the virus while the other parent is able to work from home, the parents may wish to consider keeping the child with the parent who is less likely to contract the virus.
Another factor that couples may want to consider is the finances of their child’s other parent. If one parent has experienced severe financial difficulties because of the virus and can no longer keep the child at their home, the parent with a more stable income may wish to consider other means of keeping the child in touch via Skype or other means.
Handling child custody disputes during COVID-19
By including the aforementioned language in their order, the court has stressed the importance of remaining flexible during these unusual times. In fact, inflexibility may be frowned upon when issues are brought to the court’s attention, especially if the inflexibility was not in the best interests of the child.
For example, as of March 18th, 2020, courts in Montgomery County will sanction parents who try to use the language in their child custody agreement as an excuse to not return a child after Spring Break.
While staying in operation, Montgomery County courts wish to avoid convening for oral hearings during this time. Litigants and attorneys who try to abuse the court process to secure a non-essential oral hearing are exposing court employees, attorneys, witnesses, etc. to unnecessary risk, and may also receive sanctions.
The family lawyers at Grimes & Fertitta are available to help
Struggling with your child custody agreement during the coronavirus? Wondering if your next court meeting qualifies as “essential”? Trying to navigate child custody and fathers’ rights during this extraordinary time? The family law attorneys at Grimes & Fertitta are still working and are here to offer legal representation for a wide variety of practice areas.
A small and close-knit firm, we have built a reputation for treating our clients with respect and humanity—both assets at all times, but especially during a pandemic. Like the courts, we strive to work in your child(ren)’s best interests and we will work closely with you to achieve the best possible outcome during a dispute.
We will never treat you like just another case number. To request a consultation, call us at 713-224-7644 or contact us online today.
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