How is COVID-19 Affecting Custody Orders?

3 Aug, 2020

By Rob Musemeche

For the most part, COVID-19 should not affect your child custody order, but there are times when it might.

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected every part of life, including child custody orders for parents who have gotten a divorce. Of course, no matter when the divorce was finalized, there is almost no chance it included provisions for an unprecedented global pandemic. So, if you are wondering how to navigate these uncertain times, it is important to understand what the law says about your current child custody order.

Texas Supreme Court Emergency Order

Predicting that the courts would be inundated with requests for emergency hearings during the pandemic, the Texas Supreme Court issued several emergency orders regarding child custody orders, beginning in March, and continuing through the past several months. The orders state, among other things, that all child custody orders within the state would remain in place, and parents were expected to abide by them.

Essentially, the orders require that parents continue with the parenting plan and visitation schedule that was in place prior to the pandemic. More important, the Orders assume that parents will follow the possession schedule as if the schools were actually in session, in person, and following the regular school calendar. So, if a possession period begins at the time school is dismissed for the day during a regular school term, then parents are expected to exchange the children at that time. If the place for pick up and drop off was at school…. But, school is now only virtual, then frankly, the court’s orders are unclear at this time about where to drop off the children, and the default fall back provision of the SPO will revert to the exchange at the managing conservator’s residence. Parents who do not comply with these Emergency orders are placing themselves at risk for contempt, and other penalties associated with breaking a child custody order. Simply stating that you believe your ex is being irresponsible and not complying with the shelter in place orders, or that they are an essential worker and may be exposed to the virus is not enough. You must still comply with the original order.

When Someone Becomes Sick

The only exception to abiding by child custody orders for parents is if someone becomes sick. If someone becomes sick, most county health departments mandate that they must quarantine themselves until they recover to slow the spread of the virus. As such, if your child is sick, they should not visit their other parent, or if your spouse or someone in their household becomes sick and you want to prevent your child from being exposed, you can petition the court to modify the existing child custody order. Naturally, it may be wise to show the non-custodial parent the COVID positive test results…. Or, the situation will lead to distrust and likely court intervention by the one parent being denied possession and access to the “sick” child. There is no specific or clear instruction (as of yet) for the situation in which one of the parents test positive. Presumably, the children would remain with the non-infected parent by agreement.

If there is a dispute on these issues, a court may issue an emergency temporary restraining order because there is a known risk to the child or another person. While you cannot try to protect your child from a perceived risk, you do have the right to petition the court when you know that your child is in danger. It is important to speak to a lawyer prior to petitioning the court, as an attorney can help you throughout the complex process.

Musemeche Law Can Help Through This Difficult Time

The coronavirus pandemic has impacted every aspect of people’s lives, and that includes the child custody orders of parents of divorce. If you have questions about your original orders during this difficult time, or you need an order modified, League City Family Lawyer Rob Musemeche can help. At Musemeche Law, P.C., we have the necessary experience to petition the court and argue your case to secure a positive outcome for you. Call us today at (281) 475-4145 or contact us online to schedule a meeting with us to learn how he can help with your case.