The month of April saw changes occur to our daily lives that many of us (myself included) would have thought to be impossible had it not actually happened. The way we make a living, the activities we participate in for creation and even the food that we eat- everything changed at the drop of a hat due to the COVID-19 virus pandemic. What we were left with were various stay at home orders the intent of which were to protect us from getting sick.
While we can debate whether or not these “stay home, stay safe” orders were necessary the end result was that many of you reading this blog post had your visitation and possession arrangements disrupted with your children during April. By now you have probably made adjustments in your life to counterbalance these stay at home orders. If you haven’t, then you probably will need a court date to have a judge settle any problems you have been experiencing. Either way, the possession exchanges with your child hopefully went smoothly.
In the event that you still have questions about how possession exchanges have been impacted by the stay at home orders, today’s blog post from the Law Office of Bryan Fagan is for you. Say, for instance, that you have been ill for the better part of April and your ex-husband has had possession of your son for the entire month of April. Since you are now on the mend and able to see your child you may need a refresher or explanation as to how things are different now than they were in earlier months this year.
Stay at home orders make possession exchanges more challenging
Whatever your perspective on these various stay at home orders is, I think it is tough to argue that they have not made possession exchanges more challenging. Simply going up to your ex-spouse’s home with your car door open and waiting for your child to jump in is not possible right now. Your ex-spouse may be ill, you may be ill or your child may even be ill. You may need to work more during this time period because you are an employee of a business or government entity that is “essential.” As a result, the manner in which you exchange possession of your child (either pick up or drop off) will have changed.
Another way in which your life will probably change as a result of this pandemic status is that you are having to co-parent more with your ex-spouse. Going on auto-pilot as far as communication is concerned with the other parent may have worked before, but as the situations have changed for Texas families it has become more important for us to coordinate with the other parent on updates, changes and other circumstances.
The point that I would make to you is that you can always make changes to possession schedules later. There is no reason to risk anyone’s health or safety in the short term just to ensure that a drop off/pick up of your child occurs on the date and time stated in your family court order. Obviously it is a smart idea to communicate with your child’s other parent and to make sure he or she is aware if you are feeling under the weather, but if you cannot be there to pick up your child due to an illness then that is hardly a good reason for a lawsuit to be filed against you.
While you cannot make permanent changes to your family court order without approval and signature from a judge, you can make changes that can temporarily alter court orders to better suit you and your family for the time being. This pandemic will come to an end at some point. When that happens any time that you have missed with your child can be made up. Staying flexible in the short term may provide you with long term benefits.
Patience is key when co-parenting and working with your child’s other parent. Everyone is at least a little stressed right now and could use a little bit of grace when it comes to withholding anger and judgment. Communication is more important in this scenario as changes to your routine schedule may change at the drop of a hat. You do not want to put yourself in a position where something comes up and you are not able to work out a change in your schedule with your ex-spouse. Pride and ego can get in the way of what is best for your child.
Remember to continue to follow the possession order for your child
Just because everything is in flux around you and your child does not mean that your court orders are going to change along with them. In fact, I can just about promise you that there is no clause in the possession orders that states your court orders become null and void the second that a pandemic is declared. Rather, your orders are there as a guidepost for you and your ex-spouse even when times are tough and uncertain.
When the schools in our area stay closed past Spring Break and businesses and government buildings followed suit, it may have felt to you like the world as we knew it was not the same as before. This may be true on some levels, but the reality is that your court orders do not care if it is a pandemic. While you and your ex-spouse can alter those orders if you can agreed to do so, otherwise the court orders would stay in effect.
The school calendar that operates for your child will continue to provide instruction as to when pick up/drop offs should occur. Essentially, we have been told to act as if school hadn’t been cancelled for the rest of the year. Act as if school was in session and work your periods of possession into the calendar.
Odds are good that you and your ex-spouse have some sort of possession plan in place that deviates slightly from a standard possession order. That is the right that you and your child’s other parent have, namely, to create a possession schedule that works best for your child and their needs. Think back to your divorce or child custody case and whether or not you spent time in mediation negotiating on how pick ups/drop offs of your child will occur.
The irony of all this is that you likely negotiated a flexible possession schedule because your life and that of your ex-spouse were very busy with activities and work commitments. Now that most of our lives have grinded to a screeching halt we are seeing that there are benefits to a parenting plan that allows for flexibility. Working with your ex-spouse to coordinate these activities will serve everyone well right now- especially your child. When you need help with some time to get better from being ill, or time to spend helping your business recover you should be honest with your ex-spouse. That way you can return the favor when and if the time comes. Most importantly- you can always make up the time when you are feeling better and your work situation has been smoothed out.
How to coordinate travel in between homes during the coronavirus pandemic
If you are just now being forced to confront the issue of traveling during the time of stay at home orders, then you undoubtedly understand that while travel is necessary it can be more complicated now than in prior months or years. Look at your final decree of divorce to confirm that you know exactly what the expectations are for you as far as picking up and dropping off your child. You and your ex-spouse may have gotten casual with this arrangement before the virus, but you should familiarize yourself with the language in your order so that there are no misunderstandings.
While being mindful of the stay at home orders is important, do not assume that you cannot go and see your child while various orders are in place that restrict our abilities to leave the home. Allowing your child to see the other parent is an essential activity. Another thing to keep in mind is that the degree to which law enforcement is actually enforcing these orders may vary from location to location. You are very unlikely to be pulled over and questioned as to where you are going during this time.
As with everything else associated with parenting in this time period, it is crucial that you are patient with your ex-spouse. This can be difficult especially if you and your ex-spouse are on difficult terms in the aftermath of a tricky/painful divorce. Your attitude will determine how well you and your ex-spouse are able to co-parent during this time. Do not assume that your ex-spouse is going to make your life difficult. He or she may be more willing to coordinate with you on necessary changes to your order than you would have assumed previously.
What to do if your child gets sick during this time period
If worse comes to worse and your child does get sick with the coronavirus or any other sickness while the stay at home orders are in place you should reach out to your pediatrician before anything else. He or she can instruct you on additional steps to take as far as getting your child tested for the virus and any other steps that you all should take while your child gets better.
When it comes to possession and visitation with your child while he or she is sick, you will need to work out details of what to do with your child’s other parent. The parenting plan and orders contained in your final decree of divorce would still be in place. You all would likely choose to keep your child in one place for the duration of his or her sickness. That would create stability for your child and minimize the exposure that other people have to your child (and vice versa).
Ultimately, I would treat the visitation and possession like you would if your child were to get the flu or any other sickness. While we are focusing exclusively on coronavirus in our world right now it is entirely possible that your child could get sick with another type of illness. Think back to last year or two years ago when your child got the flu. What did you do then? How did you handle that scenario? What would you do now to change how you approach this issue?
How you handle this scenario is unique to you and your family. Don’t rely on the advice of people who don’t know your child, your ex-spouse or your circumstances. This is not a one size fits all world that we live in when it comes to advice. Seeking perspective in places like our blog is a good starting point, but you should go further if you are running into issues and problems associated with possession/visitation orders.
It is a good idea to try and work problems out directly with your ex-spouse before turning to other avenues- including the courts. Most courts are not up and running right now but many individual courts can issue emergency orders and some may even allow for hearings by video. Talk to a trustworthy family law attorney to find out more information.
Questions about family law in Texas? Contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan
If you have any questions about how family law matters are being handled during the coronavirus pandemic please do not hesitate to contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan. Our licensed family law attorneys offer free of charge consultations six days a week over the phone or via video. We are ready and equipped to help you and your family sort out whatever problems that you are facing. Thank you for choosing to spend part of your day with us on our blog.
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Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC | Houston, Texas Divorce Lawyers
The Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC routinely handles matters that affect children and families. If you have questions regarding divorce, it's important to speak with one of our Houston, TX Divorce Lawyers right away to protect your rights.
Our divorce lawyers in Houston TX are skilled at listening to your goals during this trying process and developing a strategy to meet those goals. Contact Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC by calling (281) 810-9760 or submit your contact information in our online form. The Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC handles Divorce cases in Houston, Texas, Cypress, Klein, Humble, Kingwood, Tomball, The Woodlands, the FM 1960 area, or surrounding areas, including Harris County, Montgomery County, Liberty County, Chambers County, Galveston County, Brazoria County, Fort Bend County and Waller County.