Suddenly, the most routine events in our lives have become a challenge with every move requiring a risk-assessment.
If you share custody with another conservator under a Texas court order, you may have questions about the interplay between State and local emergency orders and your current child custody possession orders.
Another Texas Supreme Court Child Custody Emergency Order
In its Twelfth Emergency Order Regarding the COVID-19, the Texas Supreme Court disaster stated:
“In determining a person’s right to possession of and access to a child under a court ordered possession schedule in a Suit Affecting the Parent-Child Relationship, the existing trial court order shall control in all instances.
Possession of and access to a child shall not be affected by any shelter-in-place order or other order restricting movement issued by a governmental entity that arises from the pandemic.
The original published school schedule shall also control, and possession and access shall not be affected by the school’s closure that arises from the pandemic.
Nothing herein prevents parties from altering a possession schedule by agreement if allowed by their court order(s), or courts from modifying their orders on an emergency basis or otherwise.”
So, the rule of law is clear: follow existing orders for possession of your children.
What If You Have Concerns?
Many Texas parents continue to have concerns for the safety of their children and there are many circumstances warranting further consideration.
- You suspect the other parent either has COVID-19 or has been exposed to someone with the virus?
- You suspect someone in the other parent’s household either has COVID-19 or has been exposed to someone with the virus?
- A person in your household or the other parent’s household is a member of a vulnerable population?
- You don’t believe the other parent and those in the household follow social-distancing guidelines?
Unfortunately, the law provides no answers to these questions and it bears repeating - the Texas Supreme Court has instructed parents to follow their current custody order.
So What Are My Options?
You have three options:
- Express your concerns to the other parent in a non-accusatory way and be prepared to listen to his or her perspective. Discuss, compromise, be parents.
- File in court a petition to modify your current possession orders. Because courts are running slowly, you will need to seek issuance of an emergency order modifying or even suspending visitation.
- Don’t follow your court orders, withhold the child from the other parent, and risk being held in contempt of court, fined, and jailed.
In most cases, Option 1 is going to be your best choice.
While you and the other parent may not have an open line of communication, you need to try to discuss.
Absent extraordinary circumstances, Option 2 will fail given our Court’s strong preference for frequent and ongoing parent-child contact.
Going with Option 3 and refusing to follow your court orders will probably further polarize your relationship with the other parent and could have serious legal consequences.
Document – Always
No matter the situation, you should document the events surrounding each disputed term of child possession and be sure to note the following:
- Date of the scheduled visit.
- Time of the incident.
- Name of law enforcement officers involved (if applicable).
- Law enforcement report number (if applicable).
- Names of third-party witnesses and how to contact them.
Don't Take Chances – Get Legal Help
Your case is unique and it will be worthwhile for you to visit with a knowledgeable family law attorney to know your child custody options.
Don't try to handle this on your own.
Schreier & Housewirth Family Law
1329 College Avenue, Suite 100
Fort Worth TX 76104
Gregory L. Housewirth is a Board-Certified Family Law Specialist practicing in Fort Worth Texas. With 30 years of family 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 dedicated to promoting collaborative divorce in Texas.