The question of to what extent a child custody order needs to be adjusted during the coronavirus pandemic is one that our attorneys have been asked about frequently throughout the last four months period to be sure there have required to have been more adjustments made regarding parenting time with your kids during the tail end of this past school year and this summer than in years past. We have observed parents who were forced to come up with changes to custody orders on the fly; at least in terms of that, I'm associated with parenting.
A custody order typically refers to topics that are more closely associated with Visitation and parenting. Custody is not used within the Texas family code but is familiar for family law attorneys and clients. As best as I can describe it, control seems like it is generally thought of as a catchall term for possession, Visitation, access, and similar topics within the world of Texas family law. These are all important subjects, to be sure, but I believe that the ability to make decisions on behalf of your children Is just as crucial.
At one beginning of a family law case, most parents are understandably concerned most with being with their children as much as possible. Friends and family tell people horror stories about how their divorce took a turn for the worse when the judge awarded an ex-spouse more time with the kids than they could receive. Hearing stories like this tend to give folks a misguided idea about how custody rights are divided in a divorce. For the most part, I want to make clear that child custody and divorce cases are settled in mediation and rather than determined in a courtroom.
It is the experience of most people who have gone through a family court case that their custody order was probably the most hotly contested issue within the case. The reason for this is that custody orders touch on So many different areas of your life and that of your children. As a result, parents are keenly aware of how important it is to get it right the first time and negotiate for the most advantageous order is possible. There is no guarantee that you will be able to come back and modify this order in the future, so you had better put forth the effort to negotiate as strongly as possible now.
With all of that being said, we can turn our attention to custody orders during this pandemic. The troublesome part about this whole process has been that we do not know exactly where it will end. It is hard to plan for a future whose arrival is uncertain. We know about custody during the pandemic or any other time because your orders need to be clear as far as what your expectations are in what your co-parent's expectations are. However, it would help if you balanced that clarity with creating flexibility during uncertain times.
What all does custody encompass in a Texas family law order?
And this is the subject that I think we need to talk about first and foremost before we can get into whether or not it is appropriate to adjust your custody orders due to the pandemic. Child custody means that you have a responsibility regarding the decision-making for your child and the duty to provide certain things on a fundamental level for your child. The legal rights about decision-making over children relate to medical, education, and psychiatric areas of their life. This means that you and your co-parent will hold rights to make medical decisions on behalf of your minor children and make educated decisions related to their schooling.
How these rights are divided up between you and your Co-parent will be up to the two of you. There is no set way for parents to share ownership and responsibilities about their children. However, many parents choose to allow each other to make certain decisions independent of the other parent. In contrast, additional choices need to be made in conjunction with that parent. In the event of a tie where you and your Co-parent cannot agree on a specific aspect of parenting your child, then you would be able to defer to a tiebreaker person in the life of your child. This is often a pediatrician for medical decisions or a guidance counselor about educational choices. It would be best to think through these steps while you are negotiating any family court orders in custody matters.
It would seem that these types of responsibilities are essential right now, given this pandemic. We do not know precisely when the new school year will start or how much it will be held remotely via a computer. The school districts may offer parents some degree of autonomy over determining how much their child should be in school physically and how much their child should be attending school virtually. You will be able to make decisions on behalf of your child regarding education along with your Co-parent. Be aware that the decisions you make regarding your child's education are critical. It would help if you did not shy away from holding firm on your positions regarding your decision-making ability and your Co-parent.
About medical decisions, it is typical that you will be able to make decisions on behalf of your child independent of your Co-parent in emergency-type situations. The reason for this is that it would be impractical for you to have to wait to get ahold of your Co-parent before making decisions regarding emergency medical situations. Often, the decision has to be made very quickly, and you would not have the ability to reasonably contact your Co-parent and wait for a response about how to proceed.
In other circumstances, such as with elective surgeries or procedures, you would be able to reach out to your Co-parent and to be able to gain knowledge of how they feel about that particular procedure. These rights about medical decisions are often held in combination Or conjunction with the other parents. Suppose you all cannot agree on whether or not to move forward with the surgery, for instance. In that case, a pediatrician or other doctor could be listed in your family court orders to make that decision and break the tie between you and your co-parent.
Possession, Visitation, and access issues surrounding child custody
I think the most reasonable area to expect that your custody orders will need to be adjusted due to this pandemic is about possession, Visitation, and the axis of your child. The thing that we all need to keep in mind is that your child's health and well-being could potentially be at risk due to this virus. As such, you and your co-parent must be willing to work together to create a structure for your child this summer and into the fall that allows them to maintain their safety. This is true at any time but is especially true during this pandemic.
Let's layout a worst-case scenario and assume that your child or your co-parent got sick. Given the widespread nature of the virus, it is possible that this could impact your family. In that case, you should look to your summer visitation schedule to determine the next steps you take regarding modifications or adjustments that need to be made. Given the time that we're all in right now, as far as it is the summer, you may not need to make any significant changes at all.
For example, If you are to have your child until the end of July, it is possible that if they were to be sick right now, no changes in your child custody orders. The reason for this is that your child may be scheduled to stay with you through the end of the month, giving you a week and a half for your child conditioned to get better. No adjustment to the parenting schedule would be needed as a result.
However, if you have a different possession schedule than This, you may need to adjust your parenting schedule to accommodate the ill person. It would not make sense to shuttle your child in between houses while they are sick. Yes, if you are the parent who is losing time with your child due to an illness, then I can ultimately see if you would be frustrated by this. However, you can always schedule makeup time with your child when your child's condition improves.
You do not have to follow your family court orders word-for-word at all times.
I will close out today's blog post by telling you that there is no requirement that you follow your family court orders at all times, no matter the circumstances. Yes, these are family court orders in the document- they are not suggestions. In just about any case, I would tell you to follow the court orders and not do whatever you want without consulting your co-parent. Under most circumstances, Behaving could lead to an enforcement case where you end up back in family law court addressing alleged violations of the family court order.
However, under some circumstances, you should be willing to adjust your orders and be flexible in parenting time with your child. The unprecedented nature of this pandemic should lead you and your co-parent to be more communicative with each other and more willing to bend in certain areas if it is in the best interests of your child. The judge does not expect you to follow the terms of your court order if it puts someone's well-being at risk.
I will note that the risk to someone's well-being needs to be an actual, objective risk rather than just a general unease feeling. For example, if you ask your co-parent to temporarily modify your child custody orders because you fear that your child will get sick if they leave your side, then that is not a reason necessarily to adjust anything. There needs to be some basis in reality to modify a court order. If you have that reasonable basis and you and your co-parent can communicate about what changes need to be made, you should go ahead and do so.
Any changes or adjustments should be written down in agreed to in advance by both you and your co-parent. Do not rely on your memory or general understanding that you both are OK with the adjustments. To be unclear is to be unkind. This means that you all should be crystal clear on the expectations for returning to the terms of your child custody order once the pandemic-related circumstance has lifted. If you can manage to take into account all of these pieces of advice and communicate them with your Co-parent, you will be well off in terms of your child custody circumstances.
Questions about the material contained in today's blog post? Contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan
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The Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC, routinely handles matters that affect children and families. If you have questions regarding child custody, it's essential to speak with one of our Houston, TX, child custody lawyers right away to protect your rights.
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