What should parents do about exchanging their children under a Texas standard possession order when school is not in session due to COVID-19?

This is a question that the family law attorneys with the Law Office of Bryan Fagan have been receiving with great frequency since the middle of March. Most family court orders in Texas determine possession and visitation based on the school year calendar for the school district or school that your child attends. Without that reference point, many parents were left scratching their heads as to how to proceed. With some questions about what will happen with school starting up (or not) in the Fall, we figured it was a good idea to continue to provide answers to these questions as we head into the summer months.

If you have been keeping your child on a set schedule with at-home learning, you and your family will be ahead of the game, at least when maintaining a structured environment. Many children, however, are left to fend for themselves due to a range of circumstances. Talking to your children about these abnormal times can help them to process these changes instead of just reacting to them without any context about how or why they are occurring in the first place.

Since your child lives apart from both parents, you can utilize this time as an excellent opportunity to begin to focus on co-parenting and working together to coordinate your messages to your children, child care during the summer, and what you all will plan to do during the Fall if a school does not start up on time at the end of summer. As unpleasant as it can be to work directly with your ex-spouse on situations like this, I can tell you from experiences working with many parents in our community that it is best for your children.

What are family law attorneys advising their clients during this time?

It is beneficial to have an attorney in your corner who not only knows the law but can guide you as far as what to do if a problem comes up associated with possession or visitation. If you have an ex-spouse who is not honoring your court orders or has decided not to be flexible with you during this difficult time, then you may need to hire an attorney to help you sort out your options.

Without knowing your particular situation, it is tough to give specific advice. If you want to talk with experienced family law attorneys, you should contact our office today. We can schedule you for a no strings attached, free of charge consultation via phone or video. It’s in these conversations where your specific questions can be answered. Otherwise, we will do our best in today’s blog post to provide general advice that you can apply to your life.

One advice that is not legal is that you and your family should focus on one thing above all else right now: your health. This means that you should be aware of what the government is advising you to do while staying healthy. However, that does not mean that you should not work with your doctor and the pediatrician for your children. Common sense (which isn’t so common anymore) cannot be ignored during this time, either.

Showing your child how to act in a challenging circumstance can be a lesson that sticks with your child for the rest of your life. More is caught than taught with children, in my opinion. I know that with my kids, they will often “forget” something that I tell them, but they will remember vividly the things I do. The habits that you display for your children as far as your health and how to take care of yourself are essential for your children during this time.

Simple things that we take for granted are habits that need to be ingrained into your child starting now. This means handwashing before and after meals and making sure that the surfaces in your home are regularly cleaned seem like little things in the grand scheme of things. However, I think we can all attest that little things can make a big difference in the lives of our families right now.

Social distancing is a concept that we are all undoubtedly familiar with at this stage of the game. The idea of distancing yourself from people who may or may not be ill makes sense and, in theory, should have been something that we did even before COVID-19 or the coronavirus became part of our vocabulary. We should all be making sure that our kids understand why we are behaving like we are and begin to keep in mind how to protect themselves from sickness.

Finally, staying healthy means keeping up with the news at events that warrant it. I am not saying that keeping the cable news networks on your phone or television all day long is an intelligent thing to do. Doing that may do more harm than good. However, you should find a reputable news source and refer back to it when updates occur in our area. For example, as the government begins to roll out various business openings, you should know when and if those changes impact you and your family.

Help your child to keep things in perspective.

Your child may be one, seven, or seventeen years old. Depending on your child’s age, you need to help him, or her be aware of the ongoing changes as we begin to live our lives at the age of COVID-19. Eventually, there will be a vaccine for this virus. Finally, we will live our lives more generally than we have the past seven weeks. However, we are not there quite yet. As a result, we need to help guide our kids through this time.

That does not mean that our kids need to live in constant fear of becoming ill, getting others sick, or seeing family members get sick. Someone they know may get sick, but you should help your child to understand that we all have a responsibility to keep ourselves healthy. That is how we can show commitment to others, as well—striking a balance between staying healthy, distancing ourselves in public when need be, and educating our children on steps they can take in the meantime to keep a proper perspective on this virus.

Look to your court orders when deciding how to proceed with possession and visitation.

Unless you and your child’s other parent can come to a mutual understanding and agreement on alternative setups for visitation and possession, you will need to abide by your court orders. Dig out a copy and make sure that you understand what is expected of you. Those orders are not optional and do not stop working in case of a pandemic. They are still the rules, and you need to follow them until the judge from your court tells them otherwise.

The tricky part about that is your schedule and ability to care for your children during this time may have changed a great deal. For instance, if you are ill, live with a sick person, or are a member of the “at-risk” population, you may want to allow your child’s other parent to care for your child at least for the next few weeks. Again, getting the coronavirus does not mean that you will get ill. It does not mean that worse will happen to you. However, if we are aware of the virus being passed from person to person, there is no use risking your health or your child.

It would make a ton of sense for you and your child’s other parent to work out between yourselves how you would handle a situation where one of you gets sick. Hopefully, that never happens, but you want to be prepared. Until that occurs, I think it would generally be best for little to change in regard to your court orders. For one, changing court orders between yourselves will become difficult to enforce. Secondly, it will be good for your child to live their life as consistently as possible in these days where there is no school.

Suppose you and your child’s other parent can come to an agreement on an alternative scenario for possession or visitation this week. In that case, your circumstances may change next week, and one of you would need to change their mind for the agreed-to scenario to go up in smoke. This will cause anger, frustration, and a disruption to your child’s schedule. It also promotes (in my opinion) a constant degree of negotiating and back and forth between you all when it comes to modifying the orders on the fly.

The whole point of going to court, hiring attorneys, and submitting them to a judge for approval was to avoid being in a situation where those orders stop working right away or can be changed without a great deal of thought. Coming up with new demands on the fly with your ex-spouse may work for a short period but, in the long run, may cause more problems than it solves. Talk to your ex-spouse as soon as you can about how you want to handle future periods of possession/visitation that are disrupted by this virus.

Do not try to hide you’re being ill if you do get sick.

At this point, I’m going to guess that many of us know a person who has gotten sick with COVID-19. Whether or not the person got gravely ill or was just under the weather, the sickness has spread to the point that most of us have previously come into contact with it. You may have even considered what you would do if you do get sick and have a visitation period coming up with your child. You wouldn’t want to get him sick, but you also do not want to miss out on a period of visitation.

What you should do is be completely honest with your child’s other parent about your situation. If you think that you have the virus or are just sick, generally speaking, it is not wise to be with your child right now if you can avoid it. When working directly with your ex-spouse on coming up with visitation arrangements is an excellent thing to do. Our lives have all changed as a result of this virus- at least temporarily. It would make sense that visitation and possession would change as well.

You should make sure that your ex-spouse has a plan (and that you do, too) if the other one gets sick. Alternative child-care, transportation logistics, extended family who can help, etc., all need to be worked out before either one of you falls ill. This is no longer a situation where you can say that you got sick out of the blue. We are all aware of what can happen as a result of this virus. Now it is up to us as parents to help keep our children safe.

Questions about possession and visitation in the age of COVID-19? Contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan

The attorneys with the Law Office of Bryan Fagan appreciate your time with us on our blog today. We post unique content here every day, so we encourage you to return tomorrow, as well. In the meantime, if you have any questions about the material that we have discussed in this blog post, please do not hesitate to contact our office. We can schedule a free-of-charge consultation for you with one of our licensed family law attorneys. These consultations can occur over the phone or via video to better suit your needs as we hopefully transition back into a more regular and virus-free routine.