Coronavirus has swept the entire planet, affecting more than 3 million people around the world, with 1 million+ in the United States alone. In Texas, there have been more than 28,000 confirmed cases as well as nearly 800 deaths.
People who share children with an ex-spouse or ex-partner may be worried about whether or not their children are in danger when they’re with the other parent. What if the other parent is not wearing a mask in public? What if they’re still gathering in groups and refuse to adhere to social distancing guidelines? Or even worse, what if they had or currently have Coronavirus? The whole situation is terrifying.
Courts in Texas were closed throughout the Coronavirus shutdown, except for emergency and essential hearings, and aren’t set to reopen until at least the middle of May. Even when they reopen, they may be flooded with cases, so it could be difficult to get a hearing. Some courts in Texas are doing virtual hearings, but they may not be available for your child custody case. Across the nation, courts are upholding regular child custody orders and only dealing with extreme cases of abuse or endangerment at this moment in time.
The Texas Supreme Court ruled that parents should follow their current custody arrangements that they were following prior to the shutdown, and said that stay-at-home orders did not interfere with the visitation schedule.
The answer as to whether or not you can deny visitation because of COVID-19 concerns is murky, but here’s where the law currently stands.
If you want to deny visitation, you should first get in touch with your ex-spouse and see if you can come to some sort of agreement. After all, any responsible and levelheaded parent would not want to be in physical contact with their child and risk getting them sick.
However, you should be willing to work out some sort of schedule where your child can at least Zoom or Facetime with the sick parent or talk to them on the phone on a regular basis while they are recovering… as long as it’s healthy and safe for the child to interact with that parent. Perhaps after your ex is better and receives confirmation from the doctor that everything is fine, you can resume your normal child custody schedule.
But let’s say your ex is unwilling to talk to you and still wants to see your child. Then, it’s time to go to your family law attorney and ask them what to do. You should not take any steps without first consulting your attorney, because after the shutdown is over, it could negatively affect your side of the arrangement. For instance, it could be against the rules to deny visitation, and when this is all over, a judge may not look favorably upon you and change your agreement. At the very worst, it could look like you were attempting to alienate your child from the other parent.
Your attorney may ask you to gather evidence that your ex-spouse has Coronavirus, such as text messages between the two of you or social media posts. You should use whatever you have to make your case stronger to prove to the judge that your child is at risk. If there are any witnesses who can attest to the fact that your ex-spouse has Coronavirus, their testimonies could also help your case.
When you can finally get back into court, the judge is going to look at whether or not you were looking out for your child’s health and safety first and foremost, and what kind of arrangement you tried to agree on with your ex-spouse. If you didn’t attempt to communicate with your ex-spouse but instead simply withheld your child from them, the judge may not take your side. That could be seen as being an unreasonable parent.
However, your child’s health and safety are the most important things in a child custody case. If you did all you could to come to an agreement with your spouse, including consulting an attorney for help, then let the judge know that when court is back in session, and make sure you have the evidence to prove it. Still – don’t act without speaking to a lawyer first.
Right now, the whole country is struggling with figuring out how to navigate COVID-19. This is completely uncharted territory. It also seems difficult to keep up with child custody when you’re told not to leave the house – isn’t that putting you, your child and your ex-spouse in danger?
Above all else, don’t act without legal guidance, preferably from the family law attorney who handled your child custody proceedings in the first case. If they are not available or responsive, you can always find another experienced family law attorney in Houston, Texas who is ready to answer all your COVID-19 child custody questions.
You can also ask other questions related to COVID-19 such as, “Does child custody change if schools are closed?” or “What should I do if my ex-spouse doesn’t believe in COVID-19 restrictions?”
Right now is a scary time, and you need a great lawyer on your side to help you get through this crisis and come out of it on the other side with a healthy, happy child and a good relationship with your ex-spouse, as much as it’s possible.
If you know your ex-spouse had or has Coronavirus and you’re navigating child custody issues, then one of the experienced attorneys at Boudreaux Hunter & Associates, LLC is here to help. Contact us today to schedule your consultation and figure out how to deal with Coronavirus and child custody at this time.
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