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Handling Joint Custody Arrangements in the COVID-19 Pandemic

Handling Joint Custody Arrangements in the COVID-19 Pandemic

Joint custody can become more complicated during the COVID-19 pandemic. Both parents should be flexible and prioritize their child’s well-being ahead of their own needs and any animosity they may feel toward the other parent. If you are having conflicts over child custody, Evans & Herlihy is here to help.

Physical and legal custody (or “conservatorship” as Texas law calls it) describes your legal relationship with your child if there’s a court order. Most orders have both parents as Joint Managing Conservators (JMCs). A court will go this route unless there’s a reason not to (such as domestic violence, drug use, mental illness). In this situation, both parents make decisions about their child’s education, medical treatment, and other vital issues. The parent with whom the child is living at the time normally handles routine matters.

Most custody orders have a Standard Possession Order (SPO) setting a schedule for each parent’s time with the child. It can also include details on when and where parents will meet or go to transport the child from one home to another.

There are No Specific Laws on How to Handle Child Custody Visitation During COVID-19

No new Texas child custody laws specifically address COVID-19. Though your court order was probably created before COVID-19 hit, read it to see how it may apply to the issue you’re facing. Though there’s likely nothing in it that’s specifically COVID-19-related, it sets the rules that can guide what should happen next.

The Texas Supreme Court has stated that the child’s school schedule and the child possession order will hold until a court changes it. Your plan will be the same no matter what public health orders state or local governments implement. Who can drop off and pick up children during the pandemic should be unchanged.

If COVID-19 becomes an issue in your family’s life and it’s impacting custody issues, the best option is to work with the other parent and agree on how to handle it. That may mean both of you decide to deviate from what’s in the court order.

Document what you’ve agreed to and that both of you concur. This could get you through the problem you’re facing, but if one of you changes your mind, this “handshake agreement” isn’t enforceable. The change would need to be part of a court order first.

Handling Joint Custody Arrangements in the COVID-19 Pandemic When Someone is Infected

If you, the other parent, or your child becomes ill, you’ll need to make the best decision for your child’s interests and work out the situation with the other parent. If one parent is infected, but not the other, it may be in your child’s best interests to be cared for by the healthy parent.

If your child is infected with COVID-19, unless there’s a good reason, the joint custody schedule should remain the same, but there are many variables. If one parent works full-time, but not the other, the parent working less might be the better option. If a parent works in a job that’s highly sensitive to the disease, like in healthcare, it may be best for the other parent to take charge of your child.

Issues Impacting How You Might Handle Child Custody Visitation During COVID-19

If the two parents share the power to make healthcare decisions for your infected child, you will have to agree on what to do, or the issue could go to court. This route could take time and be expensive. If you are frustrated by the difficult custody issues the pandemic can create, the team at Evans & Herlihy is here to help if this is an issue you’re facing.

You might feel the other parent is endangering your child’s health due to COVID-19. He or she may work in a position with heavy exposure to the public or work in healthcare with those infected by the virus. A parent may not take the infection seriously and disregard public health limitations set down by government.

If the other parent is unwilling or unable to change the situation or to allow you to care for your child, this may be a situation where attorneys may need to get involved. If a custody order needs to be modified, you would have to show:

  • The situation has changed in a material and substantial way.
  • The order or the part of it to be modified has become unworkable or inappropriate under the circumstances.
  • Your proposed change is in the best interests of your child.

Whether you’re trying to handle child custody visitation during COVID-19 or not, if one parent doesn’t allow a child to see the other during their court-ordered time, there’s a risk the other will go to court to enforce the SPO.

The party not allowing the parental time may be held in contempt of court. That person could be fined or sent to the county jail. If you’re the one being denied time with your child, document the incident, including the date, time, place, witnesses, and whether the police were called. Write down any relevant verbal communications with the other parent and keep texts and emails written about the conflict.

Get Help so You Can Handle Child Custody Visitation During COVID-19

The lawyers at Evans & Herlihy understand there’s nothing more important to you than your child and resolving your custody issues. We will give you the personal attention you deserve and the advice you need. No concern or question is too small to be addressed.

Our family law attorneys will try to work out an agreement with the other parent, but we will be ready and able to go to court and aggressively fight for you and your child if necessary. You can have a free initial consultation so we can discuss your situation, Texas law, and help you understand your options.

Waiting could make your situation worse. Call our child custody lawyer in Austin at (512) 732-2727 today to start getting the help and advice you need.