Coronavirus and Child Custody
I have recently been interviewed for CNN and BBC Radio.
Click to read the CNN article “Navigating Child Custody in the Time of Coronavirus”
Click to hear the BBC Radio Newsday interview.
Both major news outlets asked me the same question: What do separated or divorced parents do about custody of their children during a pandemic?
This is an issue for virtually every single parent who is sharing parenting time of their children.
Since we started our stay-at-home orders, child custody during the coronavirus pandemic is the number one issue we have had to deal with in our family law practice. I am sure it will be number one for the foreseeable future.
This means that divorced and separated parents have to discuss how they are going to handle their parenting time schedule and coronavirus safety precautions until life returns to normal.
If You Have Custody Orders
If you are a divorced or separated parent with a Texas custody order in place, unless both of you agree otherwise, your custody order remains in effect during the coronavirus emergency.
The Texas Supreme Court has issued an Emergency Order requiring parents to follow the parenting time schedule spelled out in their existing orders. This means that one parent cannot unilaterally deny a parent who has a lawful right to possession under a court order to take possession of their child on coronavirus concerns. The children are to switch possession on their regular schedule, even during the coronavirus pandemic.
The Texas Supreme Court has also clarified that the original posted school calendar is the calendar that controls for periods of possession. In Texas, holiday and summer periods of possession are usually defined by the child’s school calendar. When the pandemic forced school closures and Spring Break extensions, parents disagreed as to when periods of possession were to switch. The Texas Supreme Court’s Emergency Order makes clear to parents that the original school calendar controls.
In the face of coronavirus, with children switching households, parents should come to terms on the “rules” they will follow across both households to stay safe from coronavirus exposure.
If you are in Texas and you are being denied possession on the grounds of coronavirus, you should seek enforcement of your possession with the Court. The Courts are open, but access to a hearing is tricky. Some Courts are hearing motions by submission, some are having video conferences with counsel to work through contested issues, and some are scheduling contested hearings by videoconference, including evidentiary hearings. Every Court across Texas is handling differently their courtroom procedures during coronavirus, but there are remedies available for violation of custody orders.
If You Need to Modify Custody Orders
The court-ordered possession schedule may not be right for your children during the coronavirus pandemic.
If both parents agree to a changed schedule during this time, your possession order can be temporarily modified for the time-being without setting a precedent for when things go back to normal.
If both parents are amicable but need help working out the details of their coronavirus custody plan, custody attorneys can help you get to an agreement on what the rules are going to be that will meet the family’s needs during this emergency. We have access to virtual mediation, which is an efficient and effective tool to working through coronavirus parenting issues.
All agreements should be written into an agreed temporary modification order signed by the Court.
If parents do not agree and changing households during coronavirus presents significant health and safety risks to your children, you may need to pursue a contested modification lawsuit.
Lazar Law can help determine a strategy for modifying parenting time schedules during coronavirus.
If You Need to Separate
If you decide to divorce or separate during the pandemic, you will need a temporary custody order put in place. What a possession schedule looks like during a pandemic may be very different than what a possession schedule normally looks like. Whether your new custody arrangement is agreed, can be worked out amicably or needs the Court’s input, these are not normal times, and special attention needs to be paid to the needs of your family.
Do you have questions about custody during the coronavirus health crisis? The experienced Austin family attorneys at Lazar Law can help. Call 512-477-1600 today