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COVID-19: Child Custody Possession Schedule Under Shelter-In-Place Order In Texas

Stay-At Home Order [Shelter-In-Place]: COVID-19 Disrupts Visitation and Access In Texas

In these uncharted waters, we at the Ramos Law Group would like to keep our former, existing clients and potential clients as informed as possible as we navigate family law matters in the shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic.

As you may know, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner and County Judge Lina Hildago have issued the directive that all Houston-area residents shall remain in their homes and all non-essential businesses shall close. The family law community anticipates that there will be many parents with existing orders relating to children that will have questions regarding the impact this shelter in place order will have on child custody and possession schedules.

MARCH 31, 2020 UPDATE: Harris County Judge Lina Hildago has extended the existing stay-at-home order through April 30, 2020 as confirmed cases of COVID-19 continue to rise in Harris County and surrounding areas. The Texas Supreme Court’s directives as well as all local rules issued by the local family law courts shall apply as long as this stay-at-home order remains in place.

MARCH 24, 2020:  The Texas Supreme Court has issued its SEVENTH EMERGENCY ORDER REGARDING THE COVID-19 STATE OF DISASTER, which outlines how Texas family law courts must handle possession and access during shelter-in-place directives.

Possession Calendar Under Shelter-In-Place Order Explained: 

Download Order:  SEVENTH EMERGENCY ORDER REGARDING THE COVID-19 STATE OF DISASTER

“This order applies to and clarifies possession schedules in Suits Affecting the Parent-Child Relationship. For purposes of determining a person’s right to possession of and access to a child under a court-ordered possession schedule, 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 an epidemic or pandemic, including what is commonly referred to as the COVID-19 pandemic.”

This means that parent conservators should continue to follow existing possession schedules as if schools are still in session, following the previously published school district calendar. As most area schools are not in session for purposes of an exchange, the exchange of the child or children should occur at the place designated in your decree or custody order for exchanges when school is not in session (typically the primary parent conservator’s residence but check your specific order to confirm).

This would include all periods of possession: Thursdays and weekends, whether a standard, expanded or modified possession schedule. The Courts were very clear that parents were to follow the school district’s previously established calendar to dictate Spring Break periods of possession so it is safe to assume the same rules should apply to possession schedules under a shelter-in-place directive.

As the purpose of a shelter-in-place directive is to stop the spread of COVID-19 and protect the citizens at large, we offer a few tips to clients:

  1. Practice social distancing and follow all public health recommendations to keep your family safe while you have possession of the children;
  2. Carry a copy of your court order or divorce decree in case there are traffic stops or you are questioned about your reason for being out during the shelter-in-place period;
  3. Keep an open line of communication and do your best to co-parent with the other parent-conservator;
  4. Be flexible – this is a difficult time for everyone;
  5. Call the Ramos Law Group if you have any specific questions about your existing custody order or your circumstances.

We know there will be issues that pop up – job schedules are shifting, childcare is complicated, and people are getting sick. The possession schedule in place may be unworkable with current circumstances. That’s why it is imperative you do your best to co-parent with the other parent conservator and attempt to navigate these difficult times together.

If co-parenting is impossible and you are absolutely unable to follow your existing order, please document all efforts at communication, document reasons for being unable to comply (medical records, work directives) do your absolute best to follow the terms of the order, and contact our office so that we may advise you regarding your specific circumstances. The Courts will not look kindly on parents attempting to take advantage of these circumstances to prevent the other parent having access and possession of the children. You will need to have a very good reason to prevent the other parent from having their scheduled periods of possession. The Courts are still open for habeas matters and writs of attachment, you can still face serious legal consequences for failing to comply with a Court order even in the midst of a pandemic.

Our office remains operational and we are here to assist you if you have any questions about your specific circumstances. To prevent our clients from traveling during this stay-at-home directive, we will be strictly communicating by telephone and teleconferences only.

Please stay safe and take care of yourselves.

Call To Schedule Your Consultation Now!

To help those impacted in Harris, Fort Bend, Brazoria, Montgomery or Galveston  by COVID-19 with just a few questions, we are offering 30-minute consultations with an associate attorney at $100. Our standard rates for a 60-minute consultation range between $200 to $400.

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