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How Does Child Custody Work in a Natural Disaster?

As Houston sits on pins and needles awaiting the possible landfall of Hurricane Laura, the Ramos Law Group, PLLC would like to take the opportunity to help our clients and potential clients navigate unprecedented waters.

It is important to remember that your existing custody arrangement, reflected in a Final Decree of Divorce, SAPCR or Paternity Order, remains in place and enforceable until further order from a Court. It is also important to remember that all Texans have an obligation to follow the laws and emergency orders of the Governor or County officials. What if these are conflicting in nature? What if circumstances outside of your control (such as hurricane flooding) prevent you from following the terms of your custody order? What if one parent wants to evacuate out of the Houston area but the non-custodial parent (the parent exercising a period of possession) wants the child here? A hurricane can quickly complicate a custody arrangement. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  1. Do your best to follow the terms of the order.
  2. If roads are open and travel is safe (and not prohibited by local government), there is no reason your custody exchange should not occur. You may want to evacuate for personal reasons but if there is no evacuation mandate, you should not leave town and prevent the other parent from having their regularly scheduled visitation. Doing so may be grounds for the parent who was denied possession to file an Enforcement action against you.

  1. Communication is key.
  2. Ideally, you have a good relationship with your co-parenting partner and can navigate unforeseen circumstances. That is not the case for all parents. An open line of communication and a degree of flexibility can help most parties reach an agreement on handling custody concerns during a natural disaster. Maybe one parent will miss a period of possession but will be given a makeup weekend at a later date. That would be the ideal scenario – work with each other to come to a fair solution that keeps everyone safe. If an amicable agreement cannot be reached, it is still advisable that your efforts to reach an agreement were documented. Keep screenshots of text messages showing you attempted to reach a fair agreement for the parties. It may help in a future Enforcement action (whether you’re the party filing the Enforcement or defending against an Enforcement action). Use email, text messages, or your third-party co-parenting website to facilitate communication.

  1. Do not take advantage of the circumstances.
  2. We are parents too – we understand you want your time with your child. We understand you may want to evacuate or keep your child safe by not conducting normally scheduled periods of possession. A natural disaster is a stressful situation for everyone and often there is not a clear-cut solution until after the storm passes. That being said, don’t be a jerk. If not under a mandatory evacuation, stay put and conduct periods of possession as normal if safe to do so. Do not use a potential hurricane or a hurricane that is not directly threatening the Houston area as a reason to violate a possession order. Family law judges do not look kindly on parents who take advantage of circumstances to intentionally deny the other parent their court-ordered possession.

  1. Legal help may not be available until after the storm.
  2. If the weather is severe enough, the family law courts and attorney offices may be closed so that workers can shelter in place safely. Police may not be willing to assist in custody exchange conflicts if their priority is the safety of a city in a massive storm. If a scheduled custody exchange does not goes as ordered by your decree or court order, try not to use municipal resources that should be directed elsewhere. Document what occurred (including text messages or recordings), and contact your attorney. An enforcement action may be filed at a later date.

  1. Be safe.
  2. Follow state and local recommendations. Communicate your plans to the other parent sooner rather than later. Don’t panic and make a safety plan (including custody concerns) sooner rather than later. At the end of the day, safety is the most important thing. A missed weekend of visitation can be made up, do not risk life to meet for a Thursday period of possession or a weekend.

If you have any questions about how the impending Hurricane Laura may affect your existing custody arrangement or questions about future emergencies that may occur, contact the team at The Ramos Law Group, PLLC today. We can be reached at  (713) 225-6200 and are here to assist you.

Last Updated on August 25, 2020 by Mary E. Ramos

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Mary E. Ramos

Mary E. Ramos is Board Certified in Family Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. She is recognized and respected throughout the Houston legal community for dedication in effectively representing clients’ rights and interests. Mary understands the emotional side of divorce and brings a special compassion to each and every case.

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