FAMILY LAWTop 5 Questions Split Custody Parents
ask During Coronavirus & Back to School

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We live in a world that currently has a high degree of uncertainty due to the coronavirus and how it can impact children at school and especially for parents with split custody.   Here are the top 5 questions that parents ask and navigate during this difficult time and season.

1. Can I keep my child from the other parent if I think someone in the family is at risk of getting coronavirus?

If you do not let the kids go during their court-ordered visitation period, know that anyone who does not follow a court order takes a risk. The risk is that the other parent might file a motion to enforce, and you could be held in contempt of court. If this happens, talk to a lawyer.

Whatever you decide, you need to have documentation about why you did it and what you did. It might be possible to build a defense, but you should talk to a lawyer first. Check out the Visitation Journal Template for help documenting incidents. You MUST be able to prove your concerns to the judge, and this visitation journal template will help in that effort.

Things you will want to document include: the date of the scheduled visit; the time of the visitation attempt; the time police were called (if applicable); and police report number (if applicable). Write down the details about any specific things that made you worry about the person’s health or ability to care for the child. Law enforcement might not send an officer for a custody dispute during this emergency; they may prefer that you make a report online or by telephone.

Write down the names of third-party witnesses, and how to contact them. Document what happened. Save all the child’s medical records. Take screen shots of communications. Take notes during conversations and consultations.

Remember that the best interest of the child is the standard the court must follow when it makes court orders about custody and visitation. Also, you have a duty to protect your child. If you have concerns about your child’s health or safety, call the Child Abuse Hotline, 800-252-5400.

Study your court orders to make sure you understand your rights and duties as to your children’s health, safety, and welfare.

2. I am afraid to send my child for visitation or return the child to the other parent because of COVID-19.

The Texas Supreme Court’s emergency orders regarding the COVID-19 state of disaster clarifies what to do about possession and access of children when shelter-in-place orders are in effect. Possession of and access to a child are not affected by any shelter-in-place order or other order restricting movement issued by a governmental entity that arises from a pandemic. The orders are in effect at least through June 1, 2021.

As long as your court orders say it’s OK, you and the other parent or conservator are free to agree to whatever possession and access and exchange methods work for your family.

There could be many reasons you do not want your child to go with the other parent during the coronavirus crisis. Some examples:

  • Someone in the household has been diagnosed with COVID-19;
  • Someone in the household is not wearing a face covering or mask in public;
  • Someone in the household might have been exposed to COVID-19;
  • Social distancing is recommended but you think the other parent’s social distancing practice is not good enough;
  • There is someone especially vulnerable in the home, such as an elderly person or someone with a compromised immune system; or
  • The child has been exposed to COVID-19 and might expose someone else in the other parent’s household.

But, your court order is still in effect unless you go back to court to modify them and the judge does modify them.

Look at your court orders to see what rights and duties you, as a parent, have. These duties are usually the ones listed in Texas Family Code 151.001 and 153.073 and 153.074. There are rights and duties you have at all times, and other rights and duties that you have when the child is with you.

Depending on the level of threat to the child, refusing to return the child might be a valid option if you think the child is in imminent danger. If possible, talk to a lawyer about your situation before taking any action.

Talk with the other parent about your concerns, and try to work out a solution that allows the child to stay safe and healthy. If talking to the parent doesn’t work and the danger to the child is immediate, call 9-1-1 (for an emergency) or CPS at (800) 252-5400 (if you suspect the child is being abused or neglected).

3. My child’s school schedule changed because of the coronavirus. What does this mean for my visitation?

Some Texas school districts changed their schedules to try to keep coronavirus from spreading. The Texas Supreme Court issued orders clarifying that the standard possession order and originally published school schedule still apply.

So, for purposes of determining when a person’s right to child visitation under a court-ordered possession schedule occurs, 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. The original school schedule as published should still be followed. The standard possession order, if that is what you have, is still in effect.

Keep yourself up-to-date on what’s going on in your county and in the school district where your child goes to school. You may need to check with the family courts in the county that issued your custody and visitation orders. You are best served by talking to a lawyer who practices in the county that issued your court orders.

Most standard possession orders let parents arrange for visitation schedules that work for their families if they mutually agree. But as the Texas Supreme Court has said, you may want to consider modifying your court orders to address situations like this. You may consult with a lawyer to help you create appropriate orders.

4. What might happen if the other parent files a motion to enforce visitation?

If the other parent files a motion to enforce visitation, you should still file an answer regardless of whether you feel your are in the right or not. The other parent may ask the judge:

  • for contempt (like fines, probation—even jail time);
  • to be reimbursed for expenses incurred in attempting visitation that was ultimately denied;
  • for additional parenting time/make-up parenting time to spend with the children.

If you are the parent filing the motion to enforce visitation, talk to a lawyer in your jurisdiction about whether or not the court is hearing enforcements during the coronavirus crisis.

5. The other parent has been diagnosed with coronavirus. Do I have to let them see the child?

Depending on the level of threat to the child, refusing to return the child might be a valid option if you think the child is in imminent danger. If possible, talk to a lawyer about your situation before taking any action.

Talk with the other parent about your concerns, and try to work out a solution that allows the child to stay safe and healthy. If talking to the parent doesn’t work and the danger to the child is immediate, call 9-1-1 (for an emergency) or CPS at 800-252-5400 (if you suspect the child is being abused or neglected).

As long as your court orders say it’s OK, you and the other parent or conservator are free to agree to whatever possession and access and exchange methods work for your family. But, your court order is still in effect unless you go back to court to modify it and the judge signs a new order modifying your current.

Look at your court orders to see what rights and duties you, as a parent, have.  There are rights and duties you have at all times, and other rights and duties that you have when the child is with you.

If any of these questions above are something you have a concern with or are currently facing, the experienced attorneys as Hanshaw Kennedy Hafen, LLP are able to help and point you in the right direction.  Call our offices today to schedule a consult with our Family Law attorneys.

Information sourced from:
https://texaslawhelp.org/article/coronavirus-and-child-visitation

Need help with child custody challenges? We can help.

Hanshaw Kennedy Hafen Family Law

1415 Legacy Drive, Suite 350
Frisco, TX 75034
Phone: 972-731-6500
Fax: 972-731-6555

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