The coronavirus pandemic began in March of this year; it is still ongoing. We knew relatively little about this virus at the beginning of the pandemic, and we know only slightly more about it now. We know that it is a respiratory disease. We know that it is relatively contagious. We can also look at the data of infections and deaths and determine which groups are most susceptible to those conditions. Unfortunately, we have seen that while most people, the vast majority, recover from the illness, there have been many who have not.
Local governments met the virus with a stay at home orders. County officials took the lead on these stay-at-home orders, which, to that point, I cannot remember ever being Implemented in all my years living in Texas. The governor declared a state of emergency, and our ways of life or dramatically changed for some time. Many of us began to work from home on a Monday through Friday basis. Some of us reading this blog post had our positions furloughed until the state home orders lifted. Others were even less fortunate and had their jobs ended prematurely by this shutdown.
In addition to problems associated with employment as a result of these stay-at-home orders, many questions were raised regarding child custody questions and parenting time in the world of family law. Fortunately, the Texas Supreme Court issued orders clarifying that people we're supposed to follow their prior court orders absent specific circumstances as to why they should not do so. Otherwise, here are some perspectives on how you can manage child custody access during the time of the pandemic.
How closely do you need to follow your parenting plan orders during this period?
The Texas Supreme Court has made it pretty clear that you should follow your custody and parenting plan court orders during the pandemic. Even when they were travel restrictions in place and stayed home orders were the norm, these executive orders from the Supreme Court allowed you and your children to be able to travel from home to home in compliance with the orders if these orders were ever to go back into place I would recommend that you carry a copy of your court orders with you just in case a law enforcement officer or to stop you and ask what you were doing.
The concern of most people during this time is with their safety and the safety of their children. No one is going to fault you or your child's other parent for being concerned About safety right now. However, just because there is a pandemic ongoing does not mean that you can deny your Co-parent parenting time with your children. This is an excellent opportunity for you and your co-parent to work together to communicate your concerns with one another before disagreements rise to the point of causing disruptions in parenting time for either of you.
For example, you all should speak regularly about your thoughts on the pandemic depending upon any external factors beyond your control. Could you and your ex-spouse agree on following specific guidelines of social distancing, staying at home as much as possible, and otherwise washing your hands and practicing good hygiene? I don't think these are unreasonable expectations for you and your ex-spouse to hold of one another.
On the other hand, your circumstances may place you and your family into a situation where following your court-ordered parenting plan presents a risk to your health or that of your children. In this case, as well, you and your co-parent should put aside any differences and do your best to work together to find a solution that will allow both parents to be able to exercise Visitation and access to their children.
Suppose that someone in your home or in that of your co-parent has gotten sick, either with the coronavirus or with any other illness for that matter. You may also think about if one of your households houses a person who is either elderly or is sick with another type of illness and is in a vulnerable category of persons. If it sounds like one of your If you fall into one of these categories in a circumstance like this hits home for you, then alternative plans should be worked on in advance. It's not as if suddenly you become aware that your grandmother is living with you or that your ex-wife has an aunt who lives with her has cancer and should not be exposed to the person to make carry the virus.
What else can you all do if average parenting time is unavailable?
Suppose one of these atypical situations applies to your family. In that case, you will need to do everything you can to balance protecting the well-being of those in your households and working together to make sure that each parent can spend time with their children right now. I've heard of families deciding that for the time being; children should remain in one household or the other; that's limiting exposure in the other household, which houses a compromised individual. This doesn't sound appealing to the parent who doesn't get to see the child in person. Some alternatives can be arranged, which allow that parent to make up Visitation later on in the year after conditions improve.
Overall, parents want to promote strong relationships between themselves and their children and encourage their children to feel stable and safe during these abnormal times. Consider how you feel regarding the pandemic in that your job may be in jeopardy, you have concerns over your health and that of your family, and any other problems that may have come up period now; imagine being a child in this position knowing very little about the virus and having little experience in the world on how to manage your emotions and concerns. This is why I believe parents must help their children by enforcing specific discipline standards in the home, encouraging the development of relationships with both parents.
When in-person Visitation or access does not work due to one of the health concerns that we have previously discussed, then I would suggest that you are looked towards virtual parenting and technology as a means to bridge that gap. If you all agree that your child should not be in the home of one of you or your ex-spouse during this time, then the parent who does not get personal interaction with the child should utilize technology to their advantage. There is nothing wrong with chatting over the phone using a FaceTime type application, Facebook, or any other method of social media to engage in Visitation safely. Yes, it is not ideal, and each parent wants to spend time with their child as stated in their court orders. However, when this is not possible, the next best thing may be to work together to discover how technology may be of assistance in this regard.
As I mentioned earlier in today's blog post, you all should be considering what Would make up a visitation schedule for you and your family could look like. At some point, this period of the pandemic will end. It may not feel like it right now, but there is no indication that this will be a season of our lives that stretches on and on for years and years and years. With That being said, your child should be prepared to spend additional time with the parent with whom in-person Visitation was not possible during these months of the pandemic. You all can attend virtual or in-person mediation sessions to create an alternative possession and access schedule, or if you can do so, you may be able to negotiate this type of agreement together without the assistance of a mediator or the courts.
Finally, given these abnormal circumstances, I think it is fair for a parent to bypass Visitation completely this summer if they believe it to be in the best interest of their child. I know that parents work very hard during divorce and child custody cases to fight for every scrap of possession time they can muster. However, if your circumstances make it so Visitation in the coming months will be impractical, then there is nothing wrong with engaging in virtual Visitation for that time. If you believe that makeup, Visitation will not be on the cards. I'm not telling you to give up on creating a set of circumstances that allow for in-person Visitation. Still, I am saying that I can imagine certain situations developing with families that make even makeup Visitation challenging to achieve.
How should you and your co-parent memorialize your agreements?
If you and your Co-parent can agree on makeup Visitation or alternative Visitation schedules during the pandemic, I would recommend that you write everything down. These documents do not have to be fancy or littered with legal language, but they do need to be clear in as concise as possible. I think people run into issues where they try to create two elaborate facts specific to circumstances for Visitation access. Eventually, someone will forget one of the details or either parent will become hazy on why a particular aspect of the plan was agreed to in the 1st place.
I think an agreement that can be concise yet flexible and spell out periods of possession for each parent during this time would be for the best. If you both can sign the document and make sure a copy is available to each of you, that is even better. If I were emailing a copy of a parenting plan to a co-parent, I would want a read receipt attached to that email so that you know and have proof that your Co-parent received the email and read the message.
I don't think there is much of a need to send a certified letter or anything like that, but an email should be perfect in this situation. If you have questions about particular aspects of your temporary plan, there are family law attorneys in Southeast Texas who can look at your agreement and provide advice. While you should not need an attorney to necessarily represent you if you and your Co-parent agree on the framework of a parenting plan for this time, it is helpful to have an attorney's guiding hand when it comes to the basics of hammering out alternative visitation schedules.
Suppose you and your Co-parent cannot agree on alternative Visitation schedules and are unable to work together in general on this subject. In that case, you may need to go in a different direction. Tomorrow's blog post here on our website will focus on what can happen if you and your ex-spouse cannot work together to find common ground during these abnormal times. Violated court orders happen with some frequency, and we want to make sure that you know your options if that should happen to you and your children.
Questions about family law during the COVID-19 pandemic? Contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan
If you have any questions about the information 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 consultation six days a week in person, over the phone, and via video. We want you to know that our office stands ready to assist and advocate for you and your family no matter what is going on in our world.