COVID- 19 and Custody: What You Need To Know About Custody Arrangements During the Pandemic
The COVID-19 pandemic has upended nearly every aspect of daily life. There are shelter-in-place orders, parents are working from home, and classrooms for most children have become laptops and video chat links. Navigating the new normal under these conditions is challenging on its own. Still, things can become even more complicated when it comes to separated families and co-parenting issues. Parents want to protect their children's safety and welfare, but how can they do that if their court-ordered custody arrangements risk exposing their child to COVID-19?
If you are facing this situation or have questions about how the Coronavirus might affect your custody arrangements, here's what you need to know.
My child lives in an area with a shelter-in-place order. Does that mean I cannot see my child at my scheduled time?
No. The Texas Supreme Court has issued several emergency orders to provide for the administration of court-related matters during the lockdown. In determining a parent's right to visitation, the Court has said that possession of and access to a child is NOT affected by any shelter-in-place or any other order restricting movement because of the pandemic. So your visitation rights are not affected by these shelter-in-place orders, and you can still see your child according to terms of your custody plan.
If my ex-partner has been exposed to COVID-19, lives with someone who has been exposed, or there is an outbreak in their neighborhood, can I refuse to honor the visitation schedule because I am concerned about infection?
If you have concerns about COVID-19 exposure during visitation, your best option is to work out a custody modification plan with your ex-partner. Under these circumstances, negotiations do have to be a knockdown, drag-out fights if parents are willing to compromise. Talk with your ex-partner to reach a visitation agreement that keeps the child's best interest in mind.
There also are resources to help. As a place to start, check out this video from legal aid about parenting during a pandemic.
If you are unable to agree and believe your child is at an increased risk of infection at your ex-spouse's home, then you can't just refuse to honor the visitation schedule. You'll need to file for emergency temporary orders in family court.
Family courts grant emergency temporary orders to modify custody plans if a plaintiff-parent can prove that their child would be in immediate danger without modification to the visitation schedule.
What are the penalties if I decide to keep my kids home anyway?
You can face severe penalties if you decide to deviate from the custody schedule without an agreement or court order. Your ex could file a motion to enforce visitation, and the court may hold you in contempt. If that happens, the law allows the court to order any fair and just remedy. Such penalties could mean changes to the visitation schedule that benefit your ex or your arrest for criminal kidnapping charges.
To avoid this, you want to talk to an attorney before taking any adverse actions without court approval. If your concerns about your child's safety are severe, you can also call the Child Abuse Hotline at 800-252-5400.
As experienced child custody attorneys, Angela F. Brown and Associates are committed to helping you create a custody arrangement that works for your family. Contact us to book a free custody strategy session today.