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Pandemic Shared Parenting 101: What happens if you can’t agree?

In yesterday's blog post we introduced the topic of coordinating alternatives in visitation schedules during the COVID-19 pandemic. We have seen that the Supreme Court of Texas has stated numerous times that parents living under family court orders should continue to follow the parenting plans contained in those court orders absent specific circumstances. As we get closer and closer to the four-month anniversary of the beginning of this period of pandemic in Texas I think it's useful to consider as many alternatives to your position schedule as is possible. It is always difficult to share possession and access agree children with an ex-spouse. it can be even more difficult when the health and safety of all persons involved is at some degree of risk due to a virus. 

I think that in most circumstances parents like yourself are willing to be more flexible given a desire to do what is best for the children and also an understanding that we are living in times that will hopefully never be duplicated again in that war fairly unpredictable in terms of being able to prepare or just what this pandemic has meant to ourselves and our country. What we are seeing now more hopefully causes all to feel grateful for our lives that we were able to lead to this point and will hopefully be able to lead once again in the near future. 

In today's blog post, I wanted to present an alternative reality to what we just discussed yesterday. In that blog post I shared with you my thoughts on what can be arranged if you and your co-parent see eye to eye on the issues of possession in excess of your children. This was sort of a pie in this guy, idyllic look at shared parenting in Texas. Your reality may be much different from what I discussed with you yesterday. You may find yourself in a position where you and your Co parent agree on virtually nothing regarding possession in excess of your kids. 

That is the question I want to address in today's blog post. What can you do, and what should you do, if you and your Co parent cannot agree on visitation, possession or access during the pandemic? This can include the creation of alternative possession plants if your parenting plan from the divorce decree will not function well given the pandemic or any other topic related to parenting in a separated household during a pandemic. Fortunately, there are avenues for you to go down should disagreements be more prevalent then we may have hoped at the outset of this pandemic. 

Modify before a violation of your court order occurs

If you find yourself in a position where you are going to violate a provision in your court order, I would recommend that you take a look at all of your options before you do so. I will say, also, that there are circumstances in which your court order should not be followed if the circumstances themselves are extreme, and you truly believe that the health and safety of her child is at an immediate risk. We have already covered that concern over your child getting this virus based on typical circumstances at home is not reason enough to violate a court order.

In the event that abnormal circumstances have arisen in your personal life that in your opinion create legitimate reasons why you are family court order should not be followed then you will need to have a court modify and change those orders rather than simply violate them out right. The family courts of Harris County and the surrounding counties are open to an extent right now but are not operating at full capacity. This means that it will not be as easy to obtain a court hearing as it would have been earlier this year or hopefully in the months to closeout 2020. Most of the hearings that are granted quickly by courts deal with immediate health and safety issues regarding children or parents. These are emergency situations and not dealing with the long-term risks to your health and your children because of COVID-19. 

A generalized concern over health or risks associated with allowing your child to visit with their other parent is necessary before you consider modifying or outright breaking a child support order. It is a serious violation of a court order for you too not consult with the other parent and go against one term or another of that order. Remember that you, your spouse, your attorneys and the judge all put your names on this order in signed. I cannot overstate how serious a matter it is to violate a family court order. Do not underestimate the impact that I violated court order can have on you and your family both in the short term and in the long term. 

In the event that you violate the court order and your co parent files an enforcement Lawsuit against you in family court then he or she will have a number of different legal avenues Ultimately, a make-up Visitation schedule may be created by the judge that favors your ex-spouse and disfavors you and your circumstances. You may also be in a situation where before you even get to court your ex-spouse asks you and your attorney to attend mediation in an attempt to modify your court order in order to achieve at least temporary solutions that will suit you all better than going to see a judge in the enforcement lawsuit. 

Or, the conclusion of an enforcement lawsuit is oftentimes a show cause hearing before a family court judge. This show because hearing will force you to defend yourself against allegations of your violating a court order in regard to possession and access of your child. Basically, your ex-spouse will allege that you violated the court order on specific dates in regard to specific parts of the order. Evidence will be produced, and you will be asked to offer defenses for your violations. As we've talked about many times, a generalized fear of the coronavirus and concerns over your child getting sick at some point due to maintaining a Visitation schedule will not suffice as defenses. 

The essence of a show because hearing is that you will be required to explain to the judge why the violations occurred. Again, if you do not have good cause and the violations did not occur over a serious matter then you may be penalized financially, criminally And at the very least with Visitation time awarded to your ex-spouse in order to make up for the time lost with your child when you violated the court order. The judge will give you an opportunity to explain why you chose to violate the court order circumstances led you to believe that violation was justified. 

You and your Co parent will also be asked whether or not you all discussed these matters prior to the violations occurring and whether either side was agreeable to a negotiated settlement on the subject. It will look especially bad for you and your position if you never took the time or even attempted to negotiate an alternative Visitation schedule with your Co parent prior to violating the order. I am not telling you all of these circumstances in order to intimidate or scare you. These are the likely outcomes in your situation if you choose to knowingly and willingly violate a court order. Just as you would be extremely upset at losing time with your child your ex-spouse is likely to feel the same way. Put yourself in their shoes, rather, an attempt to work out a negotiated settlement prior to taking matters into your own hands.

Do you and your co-parent have to involve a judge when it comes to negotiating alternative parenting schedules? 

You and your Co parent are fully capable and able to create alternative Visitation schedules with your children without ever needing to go before a family court judge. Many times, parents will violate court orders without even thinking to consult with the other parent in order to create temporary, revised orders that can accommodate both you and your Co parent. Holding the mistaken belief that your Co parent is unwilling to work with you in this regard is a huge mistake. 

There is an old saying that goes something like it is better to have to beg for forgiveness than ask for permission. This may be true in some regard when you are a child in the punishments from your mother are pretty insignificant in the grand scheme of things. However, when we begin to talk about potential remedies and punishments from a family court judge the scale of those punishments and remedies jumps up exponentially from what you experience as a child. These judges can potentially find you thousands of dollars and even order you to serve time in jail for up to six months depending upon the circumstances of your case. 

If you and your co-parent are able to negotiate and come up with alternative visitation agreements with one another then I would recommend putting all of your agreements and your negotiations in writing. This way, each of you will be able to have a record of the proceedings and will avoid potential sources of miscommunication down the line. Trust me when I tell you that things that are very clear right now may become less clear in the months ahead. People forget details that were once extremely obvious and tend to remember things more in their favor and the reality actually was. 

Emails, text messages and other electronic documentation can be utilized with ease in order to make sure no problems exist with recording and memorializing negotiations and agreements when it comes to possession and Visitation with your Co parent. Take the time to come up with an agreement that suits both of you very well and organize your thoughts as if the documents were someday to go before a judge. 

What happens if you or one of your children actually contracts the virus? 

So far in today's blog post we have covered this topic from the perspective of a family who is not been directly impacted by the virus. However, you and your co-parent should work together and make arrangements that allow your child to be able to maintain their relationship with each parent during this season even if he or she were to get sick. We've already talked a great deal about makeup parenting time and how important that is for parents to agree upon should a child or parent get sick from the virus. 

Your most important objective as a parent is to ensure that your child remains healthy and is as safe from risk as possible. This is not unique to this time of pandemic. Whatever circumstances you find yourselves in, you should work with the other parent to create arrangements that allow your child to remain healthy. This may mean following closely the government's guidelines and recommendations for a person who gets sick with COVID-19. Obviously keeping this person away from others until testing can be administered to show that he or she no longer is contagious it would be for the best. Concerns about possession, Visitation and access should take a backseat to keeping yourself and your children safe during this time. 

Questions about possession and access during the COVID-19 pandemic? Contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan

The attorneys in staff with the Law Office of Bryan Fagan would like to thank you for sharing part of your day with us here on our blog. if you have any questions about the material that we covered in today’s post please consider contacting our office. Our licensed family law attorneys offer free of charge consultations six days a week here in our office, Over the phone and via video. We are here to help serve you in your family and when she didn't know that we are available to help you no matter what family law circumstance you find yourself involved in. 

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