The attorneys and staff with the Law Office of Bryan Fagan hope that you and your family have been healthy and safe during the coronavirus crisis. While many businesses are opening themselves back up and people are beginning to return to their normal schedules, some people are still dealing with the effects of the shutdown. For instance, if you work for a government office it is likely that you are still working remotely. The legal community is well aware that the courts are for the most part closed to the public pending further notice. It has not been easy to make this transition and into life living alongside COVID-19 but I think most people that I have come into contact with are handling it well.
If we can think back to early March before all of the shutdowns and worry about the virus started to occur, I think most of us would have been surprised to have seen our lives as impacted as they have been in response to the virus. Our families our jobs and our health have all been called into question. Our ability to move about freely and even shop at the grocery store had been impeded by the virus and our government’s reaction to it. Whether or not the response we have chosen will be shown to be the correct one is anyone's guess at this point. For now, all we can do is move forward with the information we have to make decisions that are the best for ourselves and our families.
For those of you dealing with a family law related matter within your household we understand how difficult this time period has been for you. You may have been starting a divorce or child custody case only to have seen the courts close. Or, your divorce or child custody case may have been farther along and as you neared a settlement or trial the world shut down in response to the virus. You and your family are now wondering how to proceed next, what you can do to alleviate the problems in your home and whether or not you should even proceed with your case at this point.
Without a doubt the COVID-19 pandemic has made it more difficult for family law parties to be able to continue on with their case. It is especially difficult for those of us in the family law community because the issues that we tackle each and every day relate to the most intimate and important problems facing you and your family. These are not business disputes that you can leave at work and return home to a happy household. It is the household that is in question during all of these family law cases.
School's out for summer….in March?
I think for most of us, the thing that made us aware that this situation was going to be different from any other that we've ever faced was that the schools closed down in March for the week after spring break. While many expected the schools to be out for a week or two and then to return to classes before Easter, the schools never ended up opening again. This left mothers and fathers across our region and state to become home schooling teachers, while the parents themselves had to juggle work life as well. Many parents (myself included) became fully aware of just how hard a job it is to manage children, educate them, and do so in a fun environment.
As the months of April and May seemingly dragged on and on our kids, schedules were thrown into the air and we were left to figure out a way to create some degree of normalcy for them. If you and your children are used to being on a possession schedule where the kid’s alternate weekends between parents, Go to dinners during the week with the non-custodial parent and generally have a fair amount of structure to their lives then these months were difficult for you. I know from having spoken with clients at our office this you would not be alone in feeling that way.
We are now moving towards the middle of June. Most every school in our area is out for the summer. This means that your court orders in regard to summer Visitation are now going into effect. Visitation will not change just because the summer falls during a time where a pandemic is occurring. The Supreme Court of Texas has indicated that prior court orders should be followed as much as possible despite any travel restrictions or stay at home orders which may be in place. Hopefully you have been keeping up with these updates provided by our blog and any other trusted source on family law related information.
Read your court orders if you have not done so in some time
One of the things that I recommend to clients with great frequency is to read your court orders every so often. Many times, you will confuse or forget information that is contained in the court orders and that can create problems. This is especially true when your family finds itself trying to navigate Visitation and possession during a viral pandemic. You could avoid a lot of problems and miscommunication by regularly reviewing your court orders. This way, you will become familiar with what your responsibilities are and those of your ex-spouse.
Most final decrees of divorce and suits affecting the parent child relationship have sections devoted to a parenting plan or possession order. You do not have to read the entire T of your court orders to learn what is expected of you during these summer months. If you have recently gone to court and received these orders this may be your first summer where you have had to balance Visitation and possession with an ex-spouse. There is no harm in double checking what you think that you know and asking questions to gain knowledge of your particular circumstances.
Do not assume that your Visitation schedule will remain exactly the same during the summer as it did during the school year. In fact, this is almost certainly not the case. The summertime means parents have more flexibility to see their children because school is no longer in session. Many children spend time with their parents on a week on week off basis during the summer. This means less travel less logistical problems and more quality time with each parent as a result. However, you need to be aware of what your specific court orders call for before you make assumptions or rely on your memory.
Will anything be different this summer because of COVID-19?
The biggest difference between this summer and any other summer for you and your children will probably relate to the uncertainty about when a new school year will begin. as far as I know, no school district has made a statement regarding whether or not classes will resume on time, as scheduled. My optimistic belief is that they will. Whether or not classrooms or student interaction is exactly the same as it always has been is another question. However, it looks like children are generally speaking less susceptible to infection and death as a result of the virus. This is terrific news it was an issue that many school districts battled with and ultimately decided to close their doors to be on the safe side.
Now that we're getting into the middle of summer, I wanted to share with you some advice on how to handle Visitation and possession during these extraordinary times. For one, if your child were to get sick, he or she would need to remain at home. Consult with your child's pediatrician before making decisions about what sort of treatment should be pursued. In an effort to keep as many people healthy as possible, I imagine that your child should be kept away from family members who have not had contact yet with him or her.
This means that summer trips, vacations or even regularly scheduled weekends of possession may have to be put on hold until your child gets better. This is a short-term sacrifice but one that should be made by consulting with your child's other parent. You can clear up a lot of problems in the short term and also contribute positively to your co-parenting relationship with him or her. You may not be looking forward to speaking with your ex-spouse on a regular basis, but extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures.
What you can do with your ex-spouse is work out a plan where any time that either of you miss with your child due to sickness can be made up in the future. You could create a schedule where all of the make-up days are done in a row consecutively or they could be done over a period of time stretching into the new school year. Either way, it is better that you address these issues early in this process rather than to wait until the new school year. Waiting decreases the likelihood of a good outcome and increases the chances of your having to end up in court to address these problems.
What should you do if you are denied possession time by your ex-spouse?
This is an issue that has arisen during this time of pandemic. Some parents are legitimately worried about the conditions that their children may face in the other parent’s household. These may have been longstanding concerns that are now rearing their head during a time when children and adults are both susceptible to becoming ill. In other cases, a parent may attempt to use this pandemic as an excuse to deny Visitation to an ex-spouse out of spite, anger, or for any other reason.
Again, I would point you towards the Texas Supreme Court and their clarification on possession and Visitation. You cannot use the COVID-19 pandemic as an excuse to deny Visitation or possession of your child to your ex-spouse. This violates your court order in disrupts the possession schedule that your child is accustomed to. If you have legitimate concerns about your ex spouse’s household, please address those with him or her. You may be surprised to find that your ex-spouse is willing to work with you on solving these problems rather than letting them simmer for the entirety of the summer.
A good faith effort to Co parent with your ex-spouse during the summer can go a long way towards building goodwill between each of you. This would make changes in the schedule moving forward a lot simpler to achieve given that you'll have built up some trust from this summer by working together to manage your child's possession and Visitation schedules as a team.
If you are wrongly denied Visitation by an ex-spouse, you have the ability to pursue legal action against him or her. This should not be the first option that you choose but it is available to you if your circumstances merit it. Experienced family law attorney kid walkie through the process, attempt to mitigate the situation without going to court and ultimately file a lawsuit on your behalf if it comes to that.
Questions about family law during the COVID-19 pandemic? Contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan
The attorneys and staff with the Law Office of Bryan Fagan appreciate you're having spent time reading today's blog post. If you have any questions about what we discussed, please feel free to contact our office today. Our licensed family law attorneys offer free of charge consultations in person, over the phone, and via video.
We would be honored too talk to you about your circumstances and to walk you through how our office can best serve you and your family. From Galveston to Baytown and up to The Woodlands we serve southeast Texans with a great deal of pride. Please join us again tomorrow as we share additional information on Texas family law.