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What will the impact of the coronavirus be on Houston family court hearings and trials?

The question on everyone’s mind these days is: when will life get back to normal? We’ve been living under various forms of stay at home, shelter in place, travel restrictions and other limitations to our mobility for the past two months. While everyone understands the reasons why we are undergoing these sacrifices, I think it is natural to be concerned with the other parts of our lives that have been put on hold so that we can focus on the COVID-19 pandemic.

The attorneys at the Law Office of Bryan Fagan are no different than you or your neighbors in that regard. We have been working on managing our client’s family law cases while also caring for our families. It is a difficult balancing act to be sure, but one that we do not shy away from. We will do everything that we can to provide the same tenacious advocacy and fact-based, no nonsense legal advice as we always have. Pandemic or no pandemic, our attorneys and staff are here for you.

One of the questions that we have received with some regularity over the past few weeks has been: what is going on with court dates, hearings and trials during the coronavirus crisis? Is there any chance that a court date that had been set months ago could actually still occur? When governor Greg Abbott declared a state of disaster in Texas did that mean that your family law case would become a disaster, as well? Let’s examine that question more closely in today’s blog post.

First things first: how will your parenting change over the course of this pandemic?

Before we can get into changes to the family courts during this pandemic, we should first take a look at whether or not your style or manner of parenting will or should change as a result of the pandemic. The Texas Supreme Court has not said much of anything on this specific subject. You should refer to your county for guidance on how to proceed with visitation and possession if you believe that you are ill, for example. Honestly, these are precautions that we always should have been taking as far as protecting our health and others while we are ill. It seems that it has taken a viral pandemic for the lessons to truly hit home.

It would make sense to contact your child’s other parent if and when you become ill. This is true whether your child is currently in your possession at that time or if he or she is with the other parent. At that point you all should work together, as best you can, on steps to keep all parties healthy. Speaking with your ex-spouse may be unpleasant for you, but the lessons you learned (or were supposed to learn) about co-parenting during the divorce will hopefully pay dividends at this time.

Talking to your doctor is the next step that you should take. Getting a coronavirus test and determining your risk of passing the virus on to others (if you test positive) should ultimately be your most significant concern. Testing is widely available across our area and results can be had in only a matter of days after your test. You can put your mind and that of your child’s other parent at ease if you make an effort to get tested.

The other thing that I will mention to you at this point is that you and your child’s other parent are free to work with one another to come up with visitation arrangements that can better suit your child. What is stated in your court orders do not necessarily need to be followed- especially if the arrangement set forth in the order does not work for your family currently. However, there needs to be an agreement in place prior to changing the structure of the possession schedule.

Co-parent to avoid getting your child sick

If you have reason to believe that you are ill (with coronavirus or any other sickness) then you should do whatever you can to notify the other parent and let him or her know about your current health status. It would be inappropriate to allow your child to come to see you or to allow your child to continue to be in your home if you are ill. If your child had no other choice (such as for a child whose parents live in the same home) then that is a different story. However, your child has an entirely different household that he or she can live in.

Once you inform your child’s other parent of your illness then you all need to determine between yourselves how to proceed as far as the possession schedule for your child is concerned. You may need to change things on the fly and have the non-sick parent come and pick up the sick child to remove him or her from the home. Or, you all should discuss whether to leave your child with the sick parent for an extended period of time in order to reduce the chances of the child spreading germs.

This would be a great time for you all to reach out to your primary care doctor and/or the pediatrician for your child to determine what the best course of action is. If your child has to leave your home due to your getting sick then you should do everything you can to communicate with him or her via the internet and to work with your ex-spouse on make-up visitation for when you regain your health.

Remember, also, that co-parenting is not easy. You likely were introduced to co-parenting in your child custody or divorce case. A lot of people do not take co-parenting seriously or do not consider co-parenting because your relationship with your child’s other parent is so bad. However if you are ever going to give it a try, now would be a great time to start. Remember that all things, good and bad, come to an end at a certain point. Be flexible and smart now so that you can resume seeing your child when you are feeling better.

If you are not able to work any arrangements out with your child’s other parent as far as possession orders are concerned, I recommend that you keep track of your conversations and diligent attempts to arrange visitation. Creating a paper trail of your attempts to work out revised possession arrangements with your ex-spouse can help you to cover your backside in the event that this matter lands you in front of a family court judge.

What to do about your child’s schooling?

Odds are at this stage in the game, you and your child’s other parent have figured out how to work around the schools not being open and your child not being on a set school for education. Coordinating with each other on lesson planning and things of that nature would be a great benefit for your child. You do not want to be doing things that work against each other as far as educational issues are concerned. Work together to make sure your child has an opportunity to continue learning over the next few weeks and into the summer months.

What I have found with my own kids, and what I am willing to bet works best with your own kids, is that they do well when they are on a set, predictable schedule. So, if you can work with your child’s other parent to make sure that he or she is starting their days at the same time, going about the lessons in the same way and have similar expectations as far as performance, and discipline are concerned can be very good things.

Remember that even though the courts are essentially closed right now, if you choose to not have your child complete their online lessons (if any) then this can be an issue that is brought up in subsequent family lawsuits when the courts re-open for regular business.

What will happen with summer possession?

With the schools all having closed down for the summer, many parents are curious to see what will happen with summer possession. Will the school year’s closing mean that summer vacation will also be in flux? From what we can tell at this moment, summer vacation will not be impacted by the virus. Possession schedules will continue as if the school year had ended at the normal time.

Does child support have to be paid even during the pandemic?

Here is a topic that is contentious even during the best of times. Child support is something that parents of all sorts in family law cases have an opinion on. If you are the parent with whom your child resides with primarily, I’m willing to bet that the child support that you receive is not as much as you think you deserve. On the other hand, if you are the parent who pays child support you likely struggle to pay that monthly obligation, financially speaking.

Now, take those concerns and compound them during an economic and health crisis. On the one hand, if you have lost your job due to the economic shutdown then it’s incredibly likely that you don’t have much more than a month’s savings in the bank- if that. On the other, if you do have money set aside it may need to go into your business or to help your own living situation if you are running low on income. A tricky position to put yourself in.

If you are in a position where you are unable to pay your child support obligation for May or June then you need to know that the requirement to pay child support does not go away automatically. Until a court order tells you that the obligation changes you need to plan on paying the child support. Filing a modification to the child support order is likely what an attorney would recommend that you do in your position. Based on that modification petition a judge would issue a ruling as to whether or not the modification were justified.

Do not sit around and worry about the child support coming due and then do nothing about it. You should file your child support modification petition and even before that you should contact your ex-spouse and notify him or her of the circumstances that you have going on. You may be able to work out a repayment schedule or a temporary period of time where your ex-spouse will allow you to not pay support while you look for a new job.

Whatever particular situation you find yourself in, you should pay the child support as ordered as long as possible. Afterwards, inform your ex-spouse and the Office of the Attorney General of your circumstances. Then you can file your modification attempt with the court and see if a hearing can be granted sometime in the near future.

Do not let fear creep into your strategic planning on this subject. Fear turns into desperation very quickly. If you keep your wits about you, control the things that you can control, and work with your ex-spouse on issues that come up you will be in good shape. Learn as much as you can, also, so that if one of these circumstances arise in your life you will be well prepared.

Questions about family law matters in Texas? Contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan

If you have any questions about the material that we presented in today’s blog post please do not hesitate to contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan. Our attorneys and staff are working virtually, around the clock to help our clients and their families. A free of charge consultation with one of our licensed family law attorneys is only a phone call away. We appreciate your joining us today on the blog and hope to see you again tomorrow.

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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, KingwoodTomballThe Woodlands, the FM 1960 area, or surrounding areas, including Harris CountyMontgomery CountyLiberty County, Chambers CountyGalveston CountyBrazoria CountyFort Bend County and Waller County.

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