CoronaVirus (COVID-19) Impact To Child Custody Visitation & Access During Spring Break and School Closures
Counties Served In Texas: Harris, Fort Bend, Brazoria, Montgomery and Galveston
Over the past week, our family law firm in Houston, Texas, has been inundated with calls from concerned parents regarding the handling of possession and access under the CoronaVirus (COVID-19) extended spring break and school closures. If you have children subject to a court-ordered visitation schedule, you may be confused regarding when the exchange should occur during spring break and what happens if the closures continue for an extended period. Most of the confusion stems from districts using varying terminology from “extended spring break” to “school closure”.
MARCH 17, 2020 UPDATE – The Texas Supreme Court has released its “Second Emergency Order Regarding the Covid-19 State of Disaster” as it pertains to Standard Possession Orders.
“1. 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 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 COVID19 pandemic.
2. Nothing herein prevents parties from altering a possession schedule by agreement if allowed by their court order(s), or courts from modifying their orders.
3. This Order is effective as of March 13, 2020, and expires May 8, 2020, unless extended by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.”
School closures stemming from Covid-19 shall have no impact on the existing possession schedule. Parties shall continue to follow the possession schedules contained within their SAPCRs, divorce decrees, or other court orders. Failure to comply can result in a finding of contempt, fines and attorney fees being levied against the non-compliant party.
We highly recommend using this as an opportunity to co-parent and show your kids that when times are tough, both parents will step up and do the right thing. DO NOT use this as a situation to take advantage of the other parent. Instead, work towards a compromise that maybe both parties feel a little pain but agree on something with the best interest of their children in mind.
Absent an alternative visitation and access agreement in writing; we recommend following your order for visitation according to the published school district calendar per the Supreme Court of Texas’ statement. Keep in mind that this is still considered the regular school year, so normal school year periods of visitation will remain in effect.
With the above in mind, we are in uncharted waters. Some parts of the country have announced school closures for six weeks! There will likely be additional concerns that have an impact on custody arrangements. As such, please co-parent with compassion so that both parents get to make use of the extra time with your children while they are out of school and make sure to keep the lines of communication open between you and the other parent. If you have doubts on how to move forward or if you’re being reasonable answer the following questions:
- Am I taking advantage of the crisis?
- If I were before a family court judge, would I be considered the unreasonable parent?
If you answered yes to the above, you should reach out to our office as soon as possible for additional guidance.
We plan to keep the office open onsite until directed otherwise by the Mayor of Houston or Governor of Texas. We will now be offering consultations and client meetings via phone calls or Zoom, which allows us the flexibility to work both onsite and remotely. If you have friends or family with divorce or custody issues, please feel free to refer them.
If you are unable to reach an agreement and the child is not returned under the existing possession calendar, you may have recourse. Call Now! – Mary E. Ramos Board Certified in Family Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization
Call To Schedule Your Consultation Now!
To help those impacted 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.