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Can My Ex Deny Custody Time Because of COVID-19?

The COVID-19 pandemic has had dramatic impacts in the world of Texas family law. So much of child custody, child support, possession and visitation rely on predictable routines. These routines allow families to be able to rely on certain events that can occur in regular intervals. If you need to pay rent on the first of the month, but your child support payment isn’t there- you have a problem. If you arrive at your son’s mother’s house at 6:00 p.m. on Friday and he isn’t there for pickup- you have a problem. The list goes on.  

Before we jump into the subject of how COVID-19 impacts the world of custody denial, let’s take a look at how things are supposed to function in an ideal world when it comes to the most important areas of family law.  We can begin by discussing child support- one of the most hotly contested issues in the world of family law, no matter if you are the parent who is to receive or is obligated to pay child support.  

Child Support- how it’s supposed to work 

Child support is intended to help the custodial parent of a child (the parent who cares for the child a majority of the time) pay for the necessities associated with raising that child. The non-custodial parent (the parent with whom the child does not reside primarily) is ordered by a court to provide monthly child support based on their net monthly income and how many children he or she is legally obligated to support. 

The payment of child support from one parent to another is pretty straightforward. Suppose that you were ordered to pay child support. A wage withholding order would be drafted, signed by the judge and sent to your employer. At the beginning of each month your employer would divert the specified amount of child support towards the Office of the Attorney General (OAG). Their office would then send payment directly to your ex-spouse. She would receive the money on the date your order states the child support should be paid. 

If this set up does not appeal to you, keep in mind it works better than you are making the child support payments directly to your ex-spouse. For one, you are not responsible for keeping track of payments.  It happens without you having to lift a finger. Think of it like automatic bill payments. The other thing that this set up does it keeps track of the payments for you. In the event that your ex-spouse attempts to argue that she didn’t receive a payment, you can login to your account online and just pull up your register of payments as proof. 

Child Support- how COVID-19 issues could complicate the payment and receipt of child support

Uncertain and difficult economic times can lead to problems when it comes to child support. Remember when I mentioned a little while ago how set schedules contribute to predictability and the well-functioning of child support. Well, if you have lost your job or had your hours reduced at work that would throw a wrench into being able to pay child support on time. A wage withholding order doesn’t do much good when you aren’t employed somewhere due to the shutdown. 

What happens when you can’t pay your child support as scheduled? Problems can arise from multiple fronts. First and most importantly your child does not get the support that he or she relies on in part to subsist during the month. True, you never know how your ex-spouse is spending the child support but ostensibly it is used to pay for food, shelter, school supplies and other things for your child. 

Not being able to pay your child support does not mean that you will be thrown in jail. It does not mean that you will even have to go to court to have the issue addressed by the judge. What you can do is contact the OAG and your ex-spouse to let them know about your situation. The OAG can attempt to put your case before a court if you need to have your child support orders modified downward. Your ex-spouse may be willing to work out a payment plan with you while you work on getting new employment. Either way, do not put your head under a rock and expect this issue to go away on its own. 

Child custody- how it’s supposed to work

Child custody is probably the most commonly used phrase out there when it comes to family law cases involving custody. Custody is a term that has come to encapsulate possession, visitation, and many other topics relevant to family law. What I mean when I write “custody” is what is actually defined as “conservatorship.” These are the rights and duties that a parent has in relation to their children. 

Parents with conservatorship rights over their children can make decisions regarding health, educational and other areas of their child’s life. Some parents share these decision-making abilities in a 50/50 fashion. Others take a different split depending on their individual circumstances. 

Parents also have duties to provide for their children. The duty to provide an education, food, clothing, a place to live and to ensure a safe environment for children are essential. This is what it means to have duties to support a child.

Child custody- how it can be impacted during the era of COVID-19

I think the most straightforward area where custody can be impacted in this time is in relation to decisions regarding the health of your child. If something were to happen to your child during this time period, you and your ex-spouse may be called on to make decisions in relation to medical treatment for your child.  If your child were to get COVID-19 then you would need to be able to make decisions about what sort of treatment he or she should receive. 

You should become familiar with what your child custody orders state from your final decree of divorce. You or your ex-spouse may be able to make independent decisions regarding the health well-being and medical treatment of your child. Depending upon what you negotiated for in your divorce you may have to consult with your ex-spouse prior to making decisions for your child in regard to medical treatment. Do not put yourself into a situation where you attempt to make decisions for your child that go against your final decree of divorce. If you have questions about what your divorce decree states in regard to child custody, please consult a experienced family law attorney such as those with the Law Office of Bryan Fagan.

Possession of your child- how it works in ideal circumstances

Possession of your children refers to the time during which you are actually able to have your child in your home with you. During the COVID-19 pandemic you are likely spending more time at home in an attempt to avoid crowds and contracting the virus. Many divorced parents have their possession orders laid out in a parenting plan contained in the final decree of divorce. If you are not familiar with what your possession plans states as far as when your child should be with you during the year you need to become familiar with that. 

you should take out your final decree of divorce sit down and read what the document states your possession order calls for. You may be surprised to learn that there are additional aspects of the order that you were not aware of until now. This is especially true if you just got your divorce finalized prior to the COVID-19 pandemic beginning. Many times, you can avoid mistakes and potential problems just by becoming familiar with the order and clarifying the possession schedule with your ex-spouse in advance. 

The summertime is a season of change is in the possession schedule in that your child is no longer in school. If you are the non-custodial parent of your child you have the opportunity to take advantage of longer periods of possession now that the school calendar is not in effect for instance, many parents have longer periods of possession during the month of July where they are in possession of their child for most of that month. Your circumstances may be similar but without knowing what your family court order states specifically I would not want to say for certain in this blog post. 

Possession of your child- how the COVID-19 pandemic may create problems for you and your family 

Unfortunately, the coronavirus pandemic has created unforeseen problems for families such as yours who alternate possession based on an order that was created long before the pandemic started. I can almost guarantee you that you do not have anything in your family court orders that states what your family will do in the event of a viral pandemic hitting the shores of the United States. 

The Texas Supreme Court has stated multiple times since the beginning of this pandemic that your child's school schedule and the possession order stated in your final decree of divorce will hold until further ordered by the court this means that your possession schedule will remain exactly the same no matter what sort of stay at home orders are laid down by local government officials or what sort of travel restrictions are implemented by the state of Texas. At least in this regard, you will have some consistency to rely upon. That will make this transition into the summertime easier for you your ex-spouse and your family. 

However, if you your ex-spouse or your child were to get sick that may create a problem with possession. For instance, if your child were to get sick while in your ex-spouses’ possession would you be allowed to see him or her. Without consulting with a family court judge it would seem reasonable to expect your child to remain with the parent who is best situated to take care of him or her period moving your child around from house to house while he or she is sick seems like a bad idea in terms of the ability for that child to infect multiple households in multiple families. 

In the meantime, you can take advantage of the different means to communicate and interact with your child using text messages phone calls video conferences and other means. The more flexible your family is in the better you are able to co-parent with your ex-spouse, the more you would be able to interact with your child.  

however, this does not mean that your ex-spouse can deny you custody or possession with your child because he or she is concerned with the cleanliness or safety of your home.  the pandemic does not justify concerns like these that are not based in reality. As I have already mentioned the Supreme Court has stated possession in Visitation orders stated in your final decree of divorce must be followed until further changes are made by the court, if any. 

If your ex-spouse denies you custody or possession of your child during a period of time in which you are ordered to be with your child, you should speak to an experienced family law attorney. A custody enforcement case may be necessary if you all are not able to get past any disagreements on custody possession or Visitation that you may be having. Hopefully, the Co-parenting skills that you have developed during this time. Will serve you well and will help you avoid any problems regarding the subjects we have discussed in today's blog post. 

Questions regarding family law and the COVID-19 pandemic? Contact the Law office of Bryan Fagan 

if you have any questions about the material that we have shared in today's blog post please do not hesitate to contact the law office of Bryan Fagan. Our licensed family law attorneys are available six days a week in person over the phone and via videoconference to meet with you at no charge. These consultations are a great way to learn more about your particular circumstances, as well as the services our office provides to our clients.