For divorced/separated partners sharing child custody, COVID-19 sparked a lot of questions. Who gets custody over the child if one parents gets sick? If one parent is sick, should the other one break the child custody order? What happens to the order if one parent is an essential worker or a medical practitioner? These questions only continued with the announcement of the Texas school system closures.
It is important to note that, despite the pandemic, court-mandated child custody and visitation orders are still active and should be upheld. Read along with us on today’s blog as we dig deep into child custody orders amidst COVID-19 to uncover all parents need to know.
What to Know About Court-Mandated Child Custody Orders Amidst COVID-19
The Supreme Court of Texas has mandated that for existing child custody orders:
- Any shelter-in-place order or other order restricting movement issued by the government due to an epidemic or pandemic shall not affect an existing order.
- Nothing can prevent parents from alerting their child custody arrangement and schedule, if allowed by their court orders – especially in the case of an emergency.
How Has COVID-19 Impacted How Parents View Child Custody Orders?
Legally, all Texas court-ordered child custody orders have not changed since the pandemic happened. However, for many parents who have not kept up with Governor Abbott’s announcements, there has been some confusion surrounding the topic. The ways that COVID-19 has impacted how parents view their child custody orders include:
- A change in the way parents think about their child custody order. Some feel they can break their order to protect their child in the case that they feel one parent has been exposed to the virus.
- A change in the way parents feel about their child custody order. Some wish to break or change an order due to emotional reasons, such as the desire to spend more time with a child.
Why Would Parents Change a Child Custody Order During the Pandemic?
Parents might want to change a child custody order in the event that one parent was exposed to COVID-19. Additionally, parents might want to contact the court to change their child custody order if:
- a parent is exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19
- a parent has a high-risk job and is frequently exposed to COVID-19
- the child is high-risk for COVID-19
- the child has COVID-19
What to Do if a Parent Is an Essential Worker
If one parent is an essential worker, first-responder, or medical professional, the concern is understandable. The court cannot tell parents what to do in this situation, however, we encourage that they use their best judgement. Keep in mind that the best interests of the child should come first. Here are some other suggestions to consider if one parent is an essential worker:
- Change custody orders temporarily and make sure to come to an amicable agreement.
- Hire a mediator or arbitrator if help is needed to craft a new custody order and/or visitation schedule.
- Create a COVID-19 protocol that is consistent for the child throughout both households.
- If the child is immunocompromised or catches the virus, come to a mutual agreement with the other partner that will allow the child to stay at one household for an extended period. Seek out legal assistance if this is not possible to do so together.
What Happens if One Parent Violates the Child Custody Order?
If two parents have a Texas court order detailing child custody and visitation rights, then they both must follow this order. In the event this order must be changed, both parents must consult with an attorney and/or get this changed by the court themselves. Failure to comply with this order may result in legal consequences. Some of the common examples of child custody violations that have happened during the pandemic include:
- The denial of parent visitation due to fear
- Failure to communicate with one parent about a child’s whereabouts
- Unagreed trips or vacation time with the child without the other parent’s knowledge or permission (if the child is taken outside the state of Texas the consequences are more severe)
- Unallowed extended visitation time with a child
- Unauthorized childcare
How to Know if the Child Custody Order Is Enforceable
We ask that before parents go to court to enforce their child custody order, that they understand a little about the law. Texas state law declares that you must ensure the child custody order “is clear, specific, and unambiguous as to the duties and responsibilities of the alleged violator.” What this means is that the order must be as detailed as possible and account for unexpected situations that might be encountered during the pandemic. Without precise, specific terms, the order might not be enforceable in court. If this happens, the parents should speak with a lawyer and determine which adjustments to make to protect them better in the future.
What Should a Parent Include in a Motion to Enforce a Visitation Order?
When a parent files a motion to enforce a visitation order, the Texas Family Code chapter 157.002 requires that it includes:
- Which part of the visitation order the other parent violated
- What exactly the other parent did or did not do to violate this order
- The request for relief or what the parent would like the court to do about this violation
How a Professional Lawyer Can Help
COVID-19 has impacted us all on some level. For parents sharing custody of a child/children this time has been especially difficult. To maintain, enforce, or modify a child custody and/or visitation court order, seek out the advice of a professional attorney.
It is a confusing time now during COVID-19 to enforce or modify an existing child custody order. For assistance, contact our office online today or call us at (713) 903-8112 to schedule a free case evaluation with our attorney.