One of the most significant impacts of the coronavirus pandemic on the family law world is the disruption to standard visitation and possession schedules. Depending on the type of family law orders you have in place, you may have seen the amount of time you have spent with her children this spring and summer decrease for various reasons. I envision a situation where you have lost time with your kids over the past four months due to illness, the inability to travel, and perhaps even wrongful denial of Visitation. If you are concerned about how to regain last summer parenting time in the closing weeks of the summer and as the school year is slated to begin, then you have come to the right place.
Before we begin our discussion on how to regain any lost parenting time from this spring and summer, I think it will be worthwhile for us to discuss how time could have been lost for your family or any other during this time. We need to begin by noting that our lives have undergone several series of changes during this coronavirus pandemic. As such, we have seen changes to the rhythm and routine of our family court-ordered Visitation and possession schedules.
An old saying goes something along the lines of variety is the spice of life. That may be true as far as cooking is concerned, but this could not be further from the truth concerning people and families who determine their schedules based on a family court order. I say this because family court orders rely upon predictability and consistency to function well. If the school year is disrupted in classes that are not held in person five days a week, your possession ordered will be more challenging to follow. If your work schedule is thrown off and your hours change and become less predictable, you will not be available to pick up or drop off your children at any specific time.
This is troublesome for those of you who have family court orders because the structure is fundamental to maintaining a possession order's integrity. You can go through a standard possession order from a final divorce decree or child custody order to verify what I am talking about. Pick-up times for a non-custodial parent on a Friday do not simply say after the non-custodial parent gets off work, but rather show that a non-custodial parent is to pick up the children from the custodial parent's home at 6:00 PM. Drop off time after the weekend ends is typically at 6:00 PM on Sunday.
This is just a small example of how particular exact possession orders are. The reason for this is that if left to their own devices, parents tend to get loose with following the rules, and doing so can lead to consequences that are usually negative. I am not telling you to be really tedious in your adherence to your family court order, but I am telling you that you are signing your name to a document and her telling a judge that you will follow its terms. As I mentioned earlier in today's blog post, stability and consistency are essential to your family in any family that functions under family court orders.
If the structure of your lives breaks down for any reason related to this pandemic, then you may run into issues adhering to the terms of your family court orders possession schedule. It may be that you, your Co-parent, or one of your children Got sick from the virus or any other condition during the past four months. Statistically, it is more likely than not that you have not gotten sick from the coronavirus. It may feel like the coronavirus has gotten everyone under the sun sick. However, the truth is that most of us will escape from this pandemic without getting sick from the coronavirus. However, that does not mean that you didn't get the flu in the spring or didn't catch a cold during the summer.
As a result of sickness, you may have been unable to exercise periods of possession provided to you in your court waters. It is understandable not to want to expose yourself or your child to illness, and erring on the side of caution during his time is probably the route that needs to be taken. However, that doesn't make losing time with your child any more straightforward because someone gets sick. You want to be there with your child to spend time with them and make sure that you are doing your part to help them get better. If you were the person who got sick, then having contact with your child was not possible, and you likely lost time in that regard as well.
Travel bans and difficulty with mobility early on during the coronavirus pandemic
what we saw earlier during the coronavirus pandemic were travel restrictions put in place on a federal and state level. Americans living abroad experienced some difficulty in more significant challenges presented themselves as far as they are able to return to the United States during the beginning of the pandemic. If you were living or working overseas and had specific, well thought out plans as far as how you would exercise possession of your child, then it could have been that you experienced a great deal of disruption to these plans as a result of the pandemic.
On a more local level, at the beginning of the pandemic, local municipalities could issue stay-at-home and no travel orders for their citizens. This kept us at home other than leaving to go to the grocery store and perform other essential activities like this. Some parents had questions about whether or not they could even exercise possession of their child during these periods.
The Texas Supreme Court issued clarifying orders repeatedly in March and April this year, stating that parents should continue to follow the possession orders as laid out in their court documents and that stayed home orders did not apply to parents who were traveling to see their children. However, Texas issued orders that persons from Louisiana and other states quarantine themselves upon arrival in Texas for some time. This requirement may have contributed to some disruption in Visitation If you live or work in a form that was determined to be high risk at that time as far as spreading this virus.
If we look at things at an even more local level, we see that even traveling across the city may have been intimidating during the initial weeks of this virus. I don't know where any of you are in terms of your real fears and concerns over the virus, but I hope that you have been less opposed to physical movement and leaving your home throughout this process and pandemic. We heard horror stories at the beginning of the pandemic about the condition that these patients were in the hospitals and how people were struggling to breathe and needing a great deal of assistance to do so. After hearing stories like this repeated to us time and time again from the media, it would not be a shock to learn that many people were unwilling to travel to see their children for the risk of spreading or catching the virus.
What steps can you take to begin to regain lost visitation time with your kids?
Now that we have discussed the circumstances that were the most likely to have led to your needing to regain time with your kids, we can get into the tangible ways for you to get that time back. As with most family law matters, there are two routes that your case could go down towards. The first is negotiating a solution to this problem directly with your co-parent and avoiding a lawsuit. The other option is to file an enforcement lawsuit if you're possession was wrongfully denied by your co-parent.
Given the circumstances that Texas families find themselves in, I would like to believe that most people would be willing to work with their co-parents to come up with an agreeable solution to any parenting time lost due to the pandemic. If you lost ten days' worth of possession of every child this past summer, then you would understand if we want to win back and regain those ten days in the future. Depending on your circumstances, you and your co-parent would need to discuss the best way for your family to manage this.
With precious few days left before the end of the school year, now may be your last opportunity to fit in extended periods of makeup visitation for some months. Suppose we can return to near normalcy this school year and your children are engaged in in-person learning and extracurricular activities. In that case, there will be fewer opportunities during the school year for stretches of uninterrupted Visitation. If you and your co-parent can agree to it, now will be a great time to make up Visitation and take care of the deficiency in one sitting.
On the other hand, fitting all of the miss days of Visitation into one long period of makeup time may not work for your family based on your circumstances. In that case, you may need to negotiate a set plan to make up the days over a more extended period. My advice in this regard is to make sure that your goal is crystal clear to your spouse in that you have a written schedule to make sure that those days are accounted for. Coming up with a loose plan to make up the days over a very long period can be a recipe for disaster. If you need to negotiate for many days of makeup time, I will push for as many days to occur earlier rather than later.
Once you have your plan in mind, you can So on your names and make sure both of you have a copy of that plan. It can be written down by hand, be sent over email, or even drafted in a simple Microsoft Word document. The critical thing to keep in mind is that both of you should be clear on how the makeup days will work and your responsibilities to ensure that the makeup days occur as scheduled. If you can manage to do this, you will be a well-positioned ticket back to the days you lost this spring and summer.
Suppose you cannot work with your co-parent on establishing specific days of making time with your children. In that case, you may want to inquire as to whether or not you or she will be willing to attend mediation with you to hammer out an alternative agreement. Sometimes all two people need is the advice of an independent third party to help them problem solved through a tricky situation. Finally, suppose you were wrongfully denied possession during the summer and spring, and you cannot negotiate to make up time with your co-parent. In that case, you should file an enforcement lawsuit and allow a judge to intervene if necessary.
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