The impacts of the coronavirus or COVID-19 are far reaching beyond public health. Every area of our lives has been impacted by either the virus itself or our government-led response to the virus. At this stage in the game it is difficult to differentiate between the two. However we view this situation and our response to the virus, the fact is that the world of family law has seen changes occur in fairly short order.
Child custody is an area of family law that gets a great deal of attention due to the contentious nature of co-parenting, shared parenting time and following court orders. Throw in a coronavirus and you have all the making for a nasty situation involving families and their ability to make it through this tough time period.
In today’s blog from the Law Office of Bryan Fagan I wanted to share with you all some information and perspective on just how COVID-19 has impacted the world of child custody in Texas. Whether or not the laws themselves have been changed (they haven’t) or whether your court orders have been changed (they haven’t unless you’ve gone to see a judge in the past two months), the reality is that the world is different right now than it was two months ago or it will be two months from now. Let’s examine how our lives differ in the area of child custody in the age of coronavirus.
Goal #1: Keep your child safe
I am not a medical doctor, nor am I an epidemiologist. I am probably a lot like you- someone who wants to learn as much as is tolerable about the virus in order to keep myself and my family safe. There is a lot of information on the internet and elsewhere to satisfy your need to learn. There is also a lot of information that can distort your view of this situation. Accessing factual information and setting aside un-factual information is what we should be working towards at this stage.
If you are a person who is going through a child custody matter then I know that you are in need of information that is reliable right now. Here is what you can do to increase likelihood that your child custody matter in Texas is resolved without the need to involve attorneys of a court system that is largely shutdown at the moment.
Many parents are concerned about exchanging possession of their children due to the risk of their child possibly becoming ill. Whether or not children are more or less susceptible to contracting the virus or passing it along is a topic for another blog post on another website. However, your immediate concern is whether or not it is safe to conduct possession exchanges in the age of coronavirus.
You should be aware of social distancing guidelines, face mask recommendations and the like to keep your children safe. Large crowds and public places in general may need to be avoided for the time being but you should think about the risks and decide whether or not you are going to venture out with your children during this time. I’m sure your county or city health officials have recommendations as well if you would like additional information to consider. The simple act of considering your options and gauging risk for you, your family and your circumstances can avoid a great deal of problems in your particular child custody situation.
What you can do after that is to take the recommendations for safe practices during this time (social distancing, mask wearing, etc.) and then figure out how to apply those to your life. The actions that you take in your home can impact your child’s other parent in their home. Remember, though, that your circumstances are not identical to those of your child’s other parent. Just because their methods for keeping your child healthy are not identical to yours does not mean he or she is wrong. Remember that we are all trying to adapt to these changes and that nobody knows what best at this moment in time.
Finally, you should talk to your child about what is going on in the world around them. Keep in mind the age of your child when you have these conversations and make them appropriate for their age and maturity level. Many times you may have to reassure your child that he or she will be safe away from you and that their other parent is doing as much as he or she can to ensure their safety. Other times, your child may be unaware of the coronavirus based on their age. At that point it would be wise for you to take whatever steps you need to in order to ensure your child’s safety but to not worry him or her unnecessarily.
Consider how possession exchanges occur between you and the other parent
If you do not have to come within six feet or so of your ex-spouse to conduct your possession exchanges then that may be for the best. Typically possession exchanges occur outdoors and that may need to continue for the time being if it is shown that being outdoors is better for people in regard to decreasing their likelihood of catching COVID-19. These changes do not need to be dramatic or debated with your ex-spouse. Implement those changes that you think will be effective and practical. Then move on to spending time with your child.
Consider that this pandemic may be something that is useful and beneficial for your family
I know that this may strike you as being something impossible at the moment, but the COVID-19 pandemic may actually work to benefit your child custody circumstances. If we can get beyond the concerns about health and safety and just consider the child custody component to the changes in our lives, you could be able to co-parent more effectively with your ex-spouse due to the virus and its impact.
For instance, think about all of the “petty” concerns that you have had with your ex-spouse’s ability to parent your child over the course of the past years. How many of those concerns, in light of the serious health and safety threats posed by the virus and the subsequent lockdowns, pale in comparison to what we are now facing? Maybe you will be in a position where you are once again able to consider giving co-parenting a real shot rather than paying it lip service.
Remember also that your own ability to parent your child is not dependent on anyone other than yourself. When your child is with you there is no sense to going over the details of what is happening at the other parent’s home. If your child is healthy and is not reporting abnormal events at the other parent’s home then you may as well leave the subject alone. There is a lot about this pandemic that is out of your immediate control. This is one of those things. Focus on keeping your own parenting up to whatever standards you set for yourself.
Think about also projecting whatever your own concerns are onto your child and your child’s other parent. It is understandable to be worried about the state of the world right now. However, it is something different entirely for you to take your concerns and push them on your child as if your child should share every worry that you have. That is unfair and counter productive to good parenting. What you can do is think about what actual concerns you can do something about and then take concrete steps to ensure your child’s safety.
Think about the time that you have off from work now or have at home. Fill up that time with your child to do things that you otherwise may not normally do. Going outside, enjoying activities together in the house and just generally taking a break from the normal routine of electronic entertainment is a good place to start in my opinion. Taking up your time with activities like this may actually cause you to feel more at ease about the circumstances that you find yourself in currently.
Remember to follow the orders in your child custody parenting plan
It could be lost in the shuffle, but it is important to follow the parenting plan as outlined in the orders from your child custody case. This may seem like a no-brainer to some of you reading this, but I could see these orders sort of getting pushed to the background due to all of the hysteria that is ongoing surrounding the Coronavirus. There isn’t a provision in the parenting plan that would allow for the orders to be set aside in case of a virus.
What you should do is review the orders and then take note of any parts of them that do not work well during this time. You should then speak directly to your child’s other parent about possible modifications that can be made for the near future that would work better considering the change in circumstances that we have experienced due to the pandemic. This is another example of how a pandemic could create an atmosphere where co-parenting is more possible between you and your child’s other parent.
You may also want to consider how you can still be in touch with your child during this time if you or your child gets sick. Utilizing video phone calls, regular phone calls, text messaging, and any other digital resources in order to maintain your relationship with your child would be good ideas. Remember- you should rely first on your common sense as a parent when trying to figure out how to parent during this time period.
While the family courts may not be open to much business right now, keep in mind that once the courts do open up anything that you do (or don’t do) right now can potentially be brought up to a judge. If you fail to return to your child to your ex-spouse, she can file an enforcement lawsuit to have your misdeeds brought before a judge. Your actions have consequences even though they may not be immediate due to the coronavirus.
Mediation is a potential avenue you can choose in order to resolve parenting disputes
The courts will likely not be open for hearings for at least a few more weeks, but it is likely that mediators in our area would be willing to help you and your child’s other parent resolve your issues electronically. If you need a temporary agreement to help you all get through these tough times it is almost certainly the case that a mediator would be of more assistance to you than would a family court judge.
Remember to care for yourself while you are caring for your child
Do not mistake overactive parenting for good parenting. Sometimes we can get so caught up in our kids’ lives that we forget to take care of ourselves. Getting enough sleep for ourselves, eating well and finding opportunities for self-care during the quarantine is incredibly important during this time. I have found that many parenting disputes in child custody cases boils down to a parent feeling disrespected in some way. If you can slow down, take care of yourself and consider how the other parent views your actions then you can likely avoid most of the parenting problems that could arise in your life.
Questions about the pandemic and its impact on child custody matters? Contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan
If you have any questions about the material that we have discussed in today’s blog post 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 via video or phone. These consultations are a great way for you to learn more about the law, your case and how an experience group of attorneys like ours can assist you and your family during this time.