Living in a pandemic stresses many relationships, and it may cause particular challenges for child custody arrangements.
In addition to shelter-in-place orders that restrict the ability to travel, parents may fear for their children’s safety in a co-parent’s care:
- What if the co-parent is exposed to COVID-19?
- What if the co-parent doesn’t take proper precautions to avoid exposure?
- What if the child is vulnerable to infection?
- What if your job routinely exposes you to at-risk populations?
These questions present difficult scenarios, but the Texas Supreme Court has made it clear that child custody orders should not alter, absent an emergency, during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Texas Supreme Court issued an opinion on March 24, 2020, saying that the custody order of “the existing trial court order shall control in all instances.”
Courts Are Closed
Even obtaining a hearing to change child custody during this time can be difficult. For one, most courts are closed except for emergency matters. Travis County Civil and Family Courts have suspended in-person hearings until at least May 11, 2020, to slow the spread of COVID-19. Courts will issue emergency exceptions. You can also request a telephone or video hearing or request written submission consideration.
Shelter-in-Place Orders Do Not Change Visitation
The court clarified that shelter-in-place orders do not restrict child visitation arrangements. This means that you should not skip visitation based on a shelter-in-place order. Consider exchanging your child with your co-parent as an essential matter for which you can leave your house.
Modification of Visitation
Parents are free to modify their child visitation schedule by mutual agreement. If you have an amicable relationship with your child’s co-parent, you may be able to reach an agreement that considers the safety of all family members.
Also, judges may modify child custody arrangements in emergency circumstances. Courts follow the “best interest of the child” standard when evaluating any child custody change.
Violating Court Ordered Visitation
If you do not follow court orders for any reason—whether illness or travel restrictions—communicate with your co-parent. Also, keep documentation of the circumstances that altered your ability to comply, recording the following:
- Date and time of the scheduled visit;
- If the police were called, the time and report number;
- Concerns that made you violate the court order;
- Witnesses to any altercation, including contact information;
- Screenshots of texts and saved emails with your co-parent; and
- Notes of phone or in-person conversations with your co-parent.
Know that violating a court order regarding child custody could land you in contempt of court. In Texas, the penalty for contempt of court is up to a $500 fine and up to six months in jail.
If you are afraid that your child may be in danger with their other parent, seek legal advice. If you are not able to come to an amicable resolution with your co-parent, an attorney can seek a court order to temporarily modify visitation.
Contact an Austin Family Law Attorney for Legal Advice
These are unprecedented times for the world, and child custody concerns only make the situation more difficult. State and local governments are rapidly responding to the pandemic with changing orders, so you should contact an attorney before violating a court order. Since each county in Texas has different restrictions, contact an attorney who practices in your county.
At the Law Office of Ben Carrasco, PLLC, you’ll work directly with me, Ben, on your child custody case. I will personally handle your case instead of outsourcing it to a paralegal or assistant. I fight hard but fair, especially where your children are concerned.
I am working remotely to comply with safety restrictions, and I am adept at helping clients navigate remote and emergency court hearings. Call me today for advice on your child custody concerns during COVID-19.