As a parent who has gone through or is going through a family law case in Texas, you are aware of the difficulties associated with taking advantage of every opportunity available to you for spending time with your child. Gone are the days when you could see your son or daughter whenever and wherever you wanted. Living under a possession schedule means that you now have to abide by pre-determined schedules when you can exercise visitation. While you may never fully get used to things being this way, you have to adjust your life, at least to this extent.
Further adjustments had to be made to your life due to the coronavirus pandemic, as well. Traveling freely has to this point in time, been against the mandates of local and state officials. Today, May 1, Texas Governor Greg Abbott has let the Stay at Home Order he implemented in early April expire. With that said, you may have questions about your situation involving a possession schedule, your children, and dealing with these situations in light of the pandemic.
Differences of opinion on how to proceed are to be expected.
If you haven’t noticed, people in our city, state, and country can have very different opinions on how to proceed in May regarding possession, visitation, and other issues related to their children. You and your child’s other parent may have different perspectives and tolerances regarding your child being exposed to other people right now.
It could be that you agreed with the government’s plans to close schools and businesses. Or, you may have thought the decision to do so was shortsighted and heavy-handed.
The courts have been closed virtually since the middle of March. The Supreme Court of Texas, local courts, and the bar associations that support attorneys have attempted to issue clarifying orders and guidance to help attorneys and families like yours during this time. Essentially, the Supreme Court has said that we all should act, regarding visitation and possession, as if the school year had continued as usual. Allow the school calendar to dictate custody and visitation, in other words.
What is suitable for you and your family when it comes to possession?
It is all well and good for the courts to tell you to defer to your regular possession schedule as laid out in your court orders, but what if your circumstances require additional thought and planning? For instance, what if you or your child have a particular health condition that makes continuing visitation as ordered very dangerous. If one of you has a compromised immune system, it won’t make much sense to expose yourself or your child to any degree of contact during this time.
Usually, your family law attorney would never tell you to disobey a court order. We still wouldn’t advise you to do so. There are risks associated with that type of behavior that can impact your life for months and years to come, such as being fined or sanctioned by the court. However, there is an excellent discussion to have as to how to balance adherence to your court orders and maintain the health and safety of your family. At a certain point, you need to make a decision that is best for you all. However, it would help if you did not make that decision alone.
Work with your child’s other parent (co-parent, in other words) to determine if you all can reach a consensus on how to proceed with visitation and possession. For example, if your child is not exhibiting any virus symptoms, has been isolated to environments with your family, and has been practicing social distancing. It is possible that you all can practice visitation exchanges as usual.
What difficulties exist regarding travel during this period?
Flights internationally have been curtailed to a great extent. Airlines are canceling domestic flights due to a lack of demand. Even travel by car between states (such as Louisiana-Texas) are seeing self-quarantine orders in response to the fear of transmitting the virus across state lines. For much of April, the local government frowned upon simply traveling across the city to pick up your child or pick up groceries.
If you do not live near your child, that would be a circumstance that would further complicate visitation orders with them. Jumping in the car and driving an hour to pick your child up may not have been a challenge previously, but in the age of lockdowns and self-quarantining, this behavior may expose you and your child to sickness. If you are the caretaker for an elderly relative, then you have even more of a reason not to expose yourself to any risk of catching the virus.
If any of these circumstances are relevant to you and your family, then you all need to get together to work out a plan for the next few weeks. If you cannot exercise your regular visitation periods, you may elect to have virtual visitation with your child through Skype or FaceTime calls. If it is your child’s other parent who has come to you with requests for not exercising possession, then you should be flexible in the face of entirely unprecedented circumstances.
An ill person should not travel unless to seek medical care. There is no doubt that you want to see your child and spend time with them. However, this is no excuse further to compromise your health or that of your child. I think we all know that person in the workplace who would choose to go to work no matter how sick they were. In that person’s mind, they’re a hero. What they’re doing is dangerous and can lead to sickness for the people around him or them.
Co-parenting through difficulties associated with travel and visitation
The first thing I would do in your position would be to talk to your child’s other parent. Even if there are no current problems with travel schedules or health, I will work to establish with them what should happen if someone begins to show signs of illness during this month. While the “curve” that we hear so much about certainly seems to have flattened, there is no doubt that many of us are still concerned about the effects of this virus. Since we cannot predict when or if we will get ill, it is essential to work out contingency plans with your child’s other parent before illness strikes.
Hold on a second, you may be saying. What if you haven’t spoken to your ex-spouse in years? What if you still hold a grudge for any number of reasons associated with the divorce? That alone does not absolve you from the responsibility of working out a plan directly with your child’s other parent. This could mean speaking over the phone, in person, or via text messages or email. Either way, you need to have a concrete plan in mind for figuring out what to do with visitation during these strange times.
If you or your ex-spouse begin to show symptoms of the virus, then you should talk through that situation and determine how you are going to responsibly act to slow the spread of that virus and others that you may come into contact with. Traveling a distance to see your child means getting in your vehicle, stopping at gas stations, restaurants, stores, and other places along the way to pick up your child. These people should be considered when determining whether or not to allow visitation to proceed.
After displaying symptoms, if you were to test positive for the virus, then I don’t see any reason to continue in-person visitation with your child. The Law Office of Bryan Fagan is not a medical practice, nor do we provide medical advice. However, given what we know about the virus and how it is transmitted to other people, common sense should dictate that you isolate yourself after speaking to your doctor or seeking additional medical care.
Being cleared by your doctors to see other people, including your children, and taking any other preventative steps to stop the spread of the virus should be undertaken as well. It is also essential that you and your child’s other parent keep your children up to date with what is going on with visitation during these times. Keeping things at an age-appropriate level is a smart thing for you to do. You wouldn’t want to scare a young child with information that would be entirely appropriate for an older teenage child.
What if problems arise with your custody/visitation/possession orders?
Of course, you and your family may run into actual problems associated with visitation and possession during this period, independent of the coronavirus or related to it, as well. The problem with these disputes right now is that the courthouses in southeast Texas are pretty much closed for business for the time being. That’s not to say that you and your ex-spouse can’t work through problems on your own or with the assistance of a mediator. But, if you have tried those avenues and now need to seek the help of a judge, that may be difficult, at least for the time being.
If you have an emergency on your hands, such as one involving violence, abuse, or neglect, then hearings regarding those types of circumstances are likely to be held more quickly than others. For more “run of the mill” custody disputes, such as if your ex-spouse has violated your court orders, it will probably take you all long to get to go before a judge.
Our attorneys have counseling clients on during this time because now is as good a time as ever to work with your ex-spouse on figuring out solutions that are best for your child. So much of the time, we may lose track of what is essential in these situations- the well-being of our children. Ego, pride, past issues, and plain old dislike of a former partner can sometimes cloud our judgment and cause us to make decisions that may not be the most suitable for our kids.
However, with the time you have on your hands, you and your child’s other parent have ample opportunity to work out alternative orders for this month. If your current possession schedule would work better with more extended visits with each parent (since school is out until the fall), then that may be a change you all are willing to make. Or, if you lost your job due to the oil and gas crisis, then you may be able to work out a payment plan to allow you to pay that money back over time without your ex-spouse immediately filing an enforcement lawsuit. My point is that you all have options at your disposal. Just because the economy is still under lockdown and the courts are closed does not mean that your child has to suffer as a result.
Questions about travel problems during the coronavirus? Contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan
If you have any questions about the information contained 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 by phone and video. Our physical office location is closed to protect your health and ours, but our office is very much up and running right now. To talk to us about your case or reach out with a question, simply give us a call or contact us today.