A Family Lawyer’s Survival Guide for the Coronavirus (COVID – 19) Pandemic

You can’t say we didn’t see this coming.  For over two months, we’ve watched as this mysterious Coronavirus has spread across, China, Italy, all of Europe and now North Texas.  Given the situation, our Tarrant county family courts aren’t giving into fear, rather they are making a reasoned decision to “flatten the curve” as the virus spreads to avoid accelerating its spread to unmanageable proportions. If the rate of infection were to soar, there is a real concern our healthcare system would be unable to meet the needs of all affected.

In short, the strategy now is short-term pain for long-term gain.

Existing Court Hearings are Postponed

Accordingly, all Tarrant county family courts are cancelling all dockets through April 1, 2020.  Put another way, if you currently have a hearing scheduled in family court, that hearing will be postponed to a later date.  This includes hearings for temporary orders and final trials.  Your lawyer will work with court staff to reschedule your hearing, but you’ll need some patience as it may take two to three months for court dockets to return to normal.

Emergency Relief is Still Available in Family Court

Tarrant county family courts remain available to enter emergency orders.  Sometimes, though, it’s hard to tell exactly what rises to the level of an “emergency.” Consider this your guide to “self-diagnose” your situation.  If you still have questions, connect with us to learn more.

Child Abuse

Child Protective Services (CPS) is your first call if you believe there is an immediate danger to the physical health or safety of the child.  The CPS hotline number is (800) 252-5400 or you may call 911.  CPS has the legal power to immediately, and without a court order, to remove a child from a dangerous environment.   What happens to a child once removed from the home by CPS gets complicated, but at least you can be sure the child is safe pending further action.

Temporary Restraining Orders Requesting Extraordinary Relief are still available during the (COVID – 19) shutdown.  If you are related to the child such as a non-primary parent, grandparent, adult sibling, aunt or uncle, you may be still able to obtain an emergency order for possession of a child or an order restricting a parent from having access to the child, pending hearing. 

Family courts are generally cautious about disrupting the status quo, so you’ll need to do things right.  To get such an emergency order you and your lawyer will need to show the Court proof that the child’s current environment would significantly impair the child’s physical health or emotional development.  Judges want to know the child’s current circumstances so be prepared to give detailed information including dates, times and personal observations.

Family Violence Protective Orders are still available to keep you and your children safe.  Such orders are a power shield to protect you from an abuser and can require the abuser to immediately leave your home and remain 500 feet away from your home, work, or the children’s school.  Again, your first line of defense is to call 911.  A police officer can issue an emergency protective order which may later be converted into a protective order lasting for years.  When such an order is needed, a family law attorney can help you prepare your application for a protective order.

A Little Perspective

This, too, shall pass.  It will pass more quickly and be less impactful if we discipline ourselves now, limited our contacts and daily activities.  Thirty years in family law has taught me that all things family law will resume as before — I say this with resignation, not joy.  In the meantime, take a run or a walk. Ride your bike. Use this time for good.  And, knowing that the courthouse is basically closed, see if this isn’t a good time to establish a new line of communication with your child’s other parent, pull together, compromise, and flatten your own curve a little.

Gregory L. Housewirth is a Board-Certified Family Law Specialist practicing in Fort Worth, Texas.  With 30 years’ family law law experience, Mr. Housewirth has represented hundreds of clients in divorce, custody, CPS, modification, and grandparent cases.  In addition, Mr. Housewirth is a qualified family law mediator and a member of Collaborative Law Texas, a practice group dedicating to promoting collaborative divorce in Texas. 

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