How and When to File an Enforcement Lawsuit in Texas During the COVID-19 Pandemic

One of the difficulties that parents who share custody of a child have had to endure related to the COVID pandemic is disruptions in Parenting time and child support. Parents who share custody rely on structure, stability, and consistency about parenting their child with a co-parent. Even if you and your family have been fortunate enough to avoid falling ill from this virus, it is unlikely that you have been able to avoid having your schedules and routines thrown off in sometimes dramatic fashion. Let’s walk through some of how your schedule and habits may have been thrown off due to this virus.

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Changes in routine associated with visitation

First, I can think of no more direct way your custody situation regarding you and your child could have been disrupted due to this virus than if one of you were to become ill. If you, your Co-parent, or your child were to get sick with this virus, then the structure and routine associated with your custody arrangement would have to be modified temporarily. This does not mean that structural changes need to be had or long-term consequences need to be considered, but for at least a few weeks, your visitation schedule would necessarily need to change.

I would envision the changes being centered around temporarily modifying the nature of your Visitation Schedule. For example, we are closing out the summer months of the year and transitioning into the fall semester of school. This is important because the summer months allowed for longer stretches of uninterrupted visitation for both your child’s custodial and non-custodial parent. With no school and fewer activities to be concerned with during the summer, you all could enjoy uninterrupted possession. With the summer months coming to a close, we have to be mindful that your child’s schedule will be changing.

A lot can change associated with this school year calendar, as we have already experienced due to this pandemic. At first temporary closure of the school calendar eventually became a cancellation of all classes after spring break 2020. This was a change and a challenge that most people couldn’t have imagined ever occurring here. However, we all learned to develop mechanisms for handling these changes to ensure that our kids didn’t suffer any neglect in their education.

What happens when A change to your visitation schedule needs to be made due to an illness? Some of you reading this blog post may have already been forced to confront this issue at other times when you, the other parent to your child or your child him or herself, became ill. It can be a scary situation to deal with illness in your family, especially if your child becomes sick. My sincere hope is that you and your family have avoided getting sick during this time.

However, suppose at some point one of your contracts is the virus. In that case, you should know that there are options for you to take advantage of concerning temporarily modifying your Visitation schedule to help keep everyone healthy. If you get the virus, you will need to contact, you’re coherent, and let them know you are ill. Working with your doctor, you should develop a plan and expect you to recover and need to be away from your child. That plan should be directly communicated to your co-parent to know the expected time that you will not be able to spend with your child.

If your child was with you while you got sick, you, your co-parent, and your child’s doctor need to work together to decide where your child should go. Getting your child a coronavirus test seems like a logical place to begin, and if your child tests negative for the virus, they should likely go to the other parent’s home while you are getting better. However, don’t take my word on that, and I would recommend that you speak to a medical professional about what to do as far as keeping your child safe if they do not test positive for the virus.

You should document all of the time you lost with your child while you were getting better and recovering from the virus, and you should communicate your ideas about making up this time to your co-parent. It should be expected that there will be some back and forth in disagreement about how to make up this time best. It is doubtful that your court orders will prescribe how to do this, and it will be incumbent upon you in your co-parent to determine the best way to make up this time.

Disruptions to child support during the coronavirus pandemic

the other key area that I would envision is Impacting your family during this time. It would be regarding the ability to pay child support. If you have recently lost your job or had your hours reduced due to the coronavirus or our government’s response to it, then you may be in or some tough months ahead as far as paying child support. Depending on how much money you have saved and to what extent your child support obligation is burdensome for you, it may be the case that you require help paying child support.

The Child Support Obligation That you pay each month typically runs through the office of the attorney general child support division. This is the state agency that has administrative power over the payment and distribution of child support. These folks receive direct child support payments from your employer and then distribute the payments on a specific date to your Co-parent; this occurs on a regular schedule, and a disruption to your employment would almost necessarily disrupt the structure of paying child support.

We have seen our nation Forced to go through difficult economic times this spring in summer associated with the coronavirus pandemic. The most significant impact that the country is had to withstand is the loss of life inherent in contracting the virus. Otherwise, I think it is safe to say that the second most impactful part of the virus has been on the nation’s economy. Many areas of our economy have seen severe contraction or outright elimination as a result of the pandemic. You may work in a sector of the economy that requires a person-to-person interaction, and as a result of the virus, your job may have been eliminated.

What can you do if you find yourself in a position where you have lost your job and still have child support payments coming in the next few months? Unless you can find a new job almost immediately, you will likely run into some issues associated with paying your child support obligation. Fortunately, you may be in a position where you and your co-parent can work out some alternative methods for producing child support during this time. These are great ways to avoid an unnecessary enforcement case related to child support.

The first thing you should do about losing your job is to contact your co-parent. Please make sure that they know that you have lost your income; you are doing everything to find new employment as quickly as possible. If you are upfront and honest with them about your situation, you are much more likely to work out an alternative method for paying child support, at least temporarily.

On the other hand, if you choose to hide from your co-parent the reality of your job loss, the missed child support payment coming next month will come as a great surprise. A surprised person is much more likely to file an enforcement case against you than someone who expects they missed child support payment.

The next phone call you should make about your child support situation is the opposite in general. The attorney general’s office should be made aware that you will not be able to make your child support payment next month due to a loss of your job and the subsequent loss of income. While the attorney general’s office does not represent you, nor you’re coherent in front of family court judges, it can help in situations like this if you need to work out a temporary repayment schedule with your Co-parent. This could help you avoid an enforcement case where both your Co-parent and the opposite attorney general have issues with your inability to pay child support.

When is it necessary to file an enforcement case in a Texas family law matter?

This is the $1,000,000 question that we need to answer as we conclude today’s blog post. My point in spending so much time on What situations are avoidable by direct communication and negotiation with your co-parent was to show that it is not always necessary to file an enforcement case to arrive at solutions that work well for all parties and your children. An enforcement case can be lengthy, expensive, and difficult to proceed with. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t pursue this as an option if your situation requires it. However, if it can be avoided, you absolutely should negotiate as much as possible to do so with your co-parent.

If you cannot negotiate for an altered visitation schedule that allows you to recoup time with your child, you are in a position where you do need to file an enforcement case. To do so, you would need to make a specific note of the time you missed with your child and details regarding the inability to negotiate for make-up time for the period missed. Depending on the nature of your family court order, your co-parent may be required to go to more extraordinary lengths to accommodate you in a situation like this. A family court order will often require parties to attend mediation on missed visitation due to illness. If your co-parent has been unwilling to abide by any term of your child custody orders related to visitation, you should not hesitate to learn more about enforcement cases.

If you are in a position where you have not been paid child support that has been owed to you and the reason is that your co-parent lost their job, I would recommend that you do everything possible to work with them to avoid filing an enforcement case. The simple truth is that time can be created somewhat easier than money for specific situations. Meaning, you and your co-parent can almost always create alternative visitation schedules that carve out periods to make up for days lost during the summer when a parent was ill.

On the other hand, as the old saying goes: you can’t get blood from a turnip. This means that if a person doesn’t have money, you can’t magically wave a wand or file an enforcement case to get that money. The enforcement case may motivate that person to get a job or gain some short-term income, but it cannot by itself send money to that person’s bank account.

You can gain a judgment from a child support enforcement case, but you are not automatically entitled to money in your bank account as a result. For this reason, I recommend doing whatever you can and taking whatever steps possible to avoid filing enforcement cases for child support, especially during this time.

Questions about material contained in today’s blog post? Contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan

If you have any questions about the material contained in today’s blog post, please do not hesitate to contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan. Our licensed family law attorneys offer free of charge consultations six days a week in person, via video, and over the telephone. These consultations are an excellent way for you to learn more about our office and allow us to speak to you about your case.

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