If you began the month of March with an active family law case in Texas or were at least contemplating the start of one, then you are aware of what the Coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic has done to the timeline of your case and your life. What could have been an efficient and timely family law case has now turned into a situation where delays and frustration are the norms. I wouldn't blame you if you took no solace in knowing that almost every other person in Texas who is involved in a family law case is going through the same thing.
When in-person hearings are delayed into May, and it has become near impossible to mediate and settle cases in the meantime, the feeling of being stuck in neutral has begun to take hold for many in the legal community. Your attorneys want to help you but have limited avenues to do so. If it has taken you months or even years to start your case, this pandemic and the subsequent lockdown are exactly what you wanted to avoid.
As always, if you have questions about family law issues, the Law Office of Bryan Fagan has answers for you. While I can't pretend to know about each of your specific situations, I am confident that many of the topics we touch on today will be relevant to you and your family.
Please don't hesitate to contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan with any questions you may have about your active family law case or a case you wish to begin soon.
Can divorces be filed in Texas during the Coronavirus pandemic?
This is a question that is coming up quite a bit amongst those interested in family law matters. The decision to file for divorce can be tough to come to. If you have thought long and hard about filing for divorce and have decided to move forward, it can be incredibly deflating to learn that there may be roadblocks to getting your case started.
The nice part of living in 2020 is that almost all matters related to beginning a family law case can be done over the internet. Courts in Harris County will accept new filings in child custody or divorce cases if you need to start a new case or respond to a petition filed by your spouse.
On the other hand, there are no new trials held for the foreseeable future in Harris and most of the counties surrounding Harris County. The best thing that you and your spouse could do with all this downtime is to work with your attorneys and come to a settlement in matters related to your case. If no settlement can be reached, then it is probable that your case will need to wait weeks, if not months, to be awarded a trial date.
That does not mean that you should wait to file for divorce or any other family law case. If your divorce is something that you and your spouse cannot avoid, you are probably best off filing your case now and then, seeing where things stand shortly as far as the decision to postpone trials and keep people in their homes. In the meantime, you can use this time at home as an opportunity to work through any problem areas with your spouse. You may be able to avoid the divorce altogether or at the least informally settle/negotiate your case together.
How impacted will your custody or visitation schedule be in the age of the coronavirus?
This is a very reasonable question to ask. No matter where you are reading this blog post from, you are doing so from a municipality (county or city) that has instituted some degree of a stay-at-home order. Some refer to them as "lockdown orders" others as "shelter in place" orders. The bottom line is that our way of life has been severely curtailed over the past weeks due to a concern that the coronavirus could be transmitted from person to person at a high rate if we were allowed to continue working, recreating, and worshipping as we have become accustomed to.
Whether you are involved in a current family law case that has you under temporary orders or has final orders in place from a prior case, you are probably curious about whether or not your custody or possession schedule will be impacted by the stay-at-home charges that have blanketed our nation. For the most part, they will not affect your prior possession/custody orders. Various courts throughout the country and within Texas have ruled that the stay-at-home orders do not impact your custody schedule.
What does this mean for you and your child's other parent? For starters, it means that you all should conduct yourselves the same way that you had been before coronavirus became a relevant part of our lives. The schedule for sharing possession of your child(ren) included in your final orders should be followed despite our local governments ordering us to remain at home until further notice.
Does this mean that if you are ill that you should still take your child for weekend visitation? No, not at all. Parents like yourself should use common sense and proceed with caution when coming into contact with your children if they are ill. It is still possible to be positive for the coronavirus and have no symptoms at this stage in the game. If you feel ill, it will make sense not to expose your child to the disease needlessly. If that means allowing your ex-spouse to maintain possession of your kids through a time that was supposed to be yours, then so be it.
Can you and your spouse bypass the wait time for a trial if you have an agreement in place?
Getting back to something that I was discussing with you all earlier in today's blog post, if you have an agreement in place with your spouse, then you may be able to jump ahead of everyone else waiting for a divorce and proceed to the courthouse with the final decree of divorce in your metaphorical hands. Of course, the courthouse isn't open for business currently. Still, most family courts allow you and your spouse to finalize your divorce if you have completed and signed a final decree of divorce with all the requisite paperwork attached.
Typically, parties completing a divorce need to attend what is known as a prove-up hearing in front of their judge. This hearing is more or less a formality if you all have an agreed order in place; however, given the need to avoid person-to-person contact as well as the infancy of tele-hearings, most of these sorts of requirements are being waived for now.
What you should do is work with your spouse, your attorney(s), and the court where your case is filed to determine what you need to do to complete your divorce. The Houston area is home to dozens of different family law courts. What applies in Houston may not apply in Liberty County and vice versa. Before you and your spouse prepare for a specific outcome, you need to figure out if that outcome can even be achieved, given our current situation with this virus.
Speaking of settling cases- can you still get a mediation scheduled in the Houston area?
I would spend a great deal of time in a blog post on divorce discussing the importance of mediation in regular times. However, in person, mediation would seem to be something that would be difficult to arrange given our statewide shutdown.
Depending on the mediator, however, you may find that you can arrange for an in-person mediation session despite the shutdown of commerce, business, and our lives in a general sense. Online mediations are typically uncommon but could work in a pinch, such as the one we find ourselves in currently. Skype is a tool that most of us are already familiar with, and there are similar online platforms that could also work for you and your opposing party.
How would visitation work with your kids if they live in another state?
If you think it is difficult to see your kids right now when they live a couple of neighborhoods away from yours, consider how difficult your situation would be if your kids lived in another state altogether. Suppose your kids reside in another state, and you need to obtain a new order regarding custody/visitation. In that case, you should consider that depending upon how many positive coronavirus cases that state has, your ability to utilize the court's system may be minimal.
We have already talked about how current possession schedules should be followed even in the face of the coronavirus and the various restrictions instituted by governments in response to it. However, if your child is jumping on an airplane every few weeks to come to visit you in Texas, or you are doing the same to see her, you may want to revisit your orders. For instance, if your child lives in western Louisiana, you may find it possible to drive to pick your child up. Any further away than that, and visitation with your child may need to take a break depending upon how you and your child's other parent view this situation.
In this or any other situation where "Act of God" occurrences happen (like Hurricane Harvey back in 2017), you and your ex-spouse should work out some make-up visitation periods if either of you is forced to miss time with your kids through no fault of either party. Once the travel restrictions are lifted, you should be able to arrange an alternative schedule to allow you to make up most of the time you had to give up with your child during the shutdown.
As you have read in other blog posts from our law firm regarding possession and visitation, technology is your friend when you cannot exercise custody as usual. Video does not make up for not being with your child in person, but it is better than nothing. Your child can get a lot out of seeing your face and hearing your voice- even if you are hundreds of miles away from them. Do not underestimate the impact that these virtual visits can have on your child.
Are our family law attorneys still working despite the crisis with the coronavirus?
In short, yes. While the Law Office of Bryan Fagan may have a limited amount of attorneys in the office right now, our goals of keeping our staff and public health are not contradictory with serving our clients. Our office is open and accepting new clients despite the health crisis that our world is facing. If you need to begin or complete a family law case, we are here to serve you. If you want an attorney to draft documents for you, we can do that as well. We exist to help our community and will do so no matter the obstacles.
Questions about how the coronavirus may impact your family law case? 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 are available for over the telephone or video consultations six days a week. We understand the tough times that you may be going through. After all, we are in this together as a city, state, and nation. Don't allow the difficulties of this pandemic to cause you a delay in the next phase of your life and those of your family members.
If you want to know more about what you can do, CLICK the button below to get your FREE E-book: "16 Steps to Help You Plan & Prepare for Your Texas Divorce"
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Other Articles you may be interested in:
- Do you have coronavirus-related problems? Read this blog post for solutions
- Frequently Asked Questions Regarding Texas Marriage
- Non-Marital Conjugal Cohabitation Agreements for the Unmarried Couple in Texas
- Common-Law Marriage and Texas Divorce Guide
- How to get a Common Law Divorce in Spring, Texas
- Am I Married? - Marital Status in Texas
- Can I sue my spouse's mistress in Texas?
- When is Cheating Considered Adultery in a Texas Divorce?
- Six things You Need to Know Before You File for Divorce in Texas
- Common Questions about Texas Prenuptial and Marital Agreements
Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC | Houston, Texas Divorce Lawyers
The Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC, routinely handles matters that affect children and families. If you have questions regarding divorce, it's essential to speak with one of our Houston, TX, Divorce Lawyers right away to protect your rights.
Our divorce lawyers in Houston, TX, are skilled at listening to your goals during this trying process and developing a strategy to meet those goals. Contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC by calling (281) 810-9760 or submit your contact information in our online form. The Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC, handles Divorce cases in Houston, Texas, Cypress, Klein, Humble, Kingwood, Tomball, The Woodlands, the FM 1960 area, or surrounding areas, including Harris County, Montgomery County, Liberty County, Chambers County, Galveston County, Brazoria County, Fort Bend County, and Waller County.