How Does COVID-19 Affect Child Custody and Visitation?

The world has been turned on its head by the coronavirus. The incidence of infections and the number of deaths are accelerating. Inevitably, COVID-19 is affecting child custody and visitation. In this post, the experienced child custody attorneys of Boudreaux | Hunter & Associates, L.L.C., offer their thoughts about child custody and visitation issues during the pandemic.

Shannon Boudreaux and Kevin Hunter, the firm’s founding partners, head up a highly qualified team to help the firm’s clients. Ms. Boudreaux has earned a perfect “10” rating on the lawyer-rating service Avvo.com. Her academic background includes a Master’s degree in Criminal Justice plus psychology and sociology as undergraduate majors. Mr. Hunter, who oversees the firm’s appellate practice, competed in numerous moot court competitions during law school. Mr. Hunter served our country in the United States Air Force before becoming an attorney.

How Did Things Work Before COVID-19?

We’ve written before to outline Texas child custody law and what the court takes into account when deciding to grant joint or sole custody and visitation. By statute, Texas’ policy is to place the best interest of the child above all other considerations when deciding child custody and visitation issues. Unless the parents agree otherwise, courts usually apply the Standard Possession Order. But COVID-19 has changed much about how the courts and parents can implement custody and visitation.

Dangers Posed by COVID-19

COVID-19 can make a person very sick. Some even die from the disease. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there is a wide range of possible symptoms – or an infected person might have no symptoms at all. Like the flu, the disease spreads when a sick person spreads tiny, infected respiratory droplets.

The CDC recommends taking these steps to avoid COVID-19 spread:

  • Wash your hands often
  • Avoid close contact with others
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a mask when around others
  • Cover coughs and sneezes
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces daily
  • Monitor your health daily

We can enforce these COVID-19 protective measures. But how can we be sure that the other parent will enforce them?

The Holiday Season is Worrisome

During normal times, a parent with whom a child lives or is visiting goes to work, takes the child places to eat or buy clothes, attends school functions and otherwise interacts with many people. By government order or voluntary action, much of this contact has been curtailed. Further, many children engage in partial or total online learning instead of going to school, minimizing COVID-19 risk.

But suppose under the Standard Possession Order the other parent has the child for Thanksgiving this year. The other parent also will have either the first half or the second half of the winter holiday, too. You know, from past experience and from what the other parent has said, that the other parent will have many relatives over for the holiday. Some of them live nearby, but others don’t. Some might live in other states. If they all congregate for several days, the holiday gathering could turn into a “superspreader” COVID-19 event.

You don’t want the other parent to expose your child to COVID-19. What are your options? The Texas Supreme Court has stated that the existing trial court order shall control in all instances. Possession of and access to a child shall not be affected by any shelter-in-place order or other order restricting movement issued by a governmental entity that arises from the pandemic.

In other words, if the other parent insists on going forward with dangerous holiday plans, your option is to file an emergency request with the trial court that ordered the Standard Possession Order. This will be difficult to do quickly given that the holidays are upon us.

A Difficult Choice

If you send your child over, the child might catch COVID-19. If you don’t send the child over, then you have violated a court order. An attorney is not allowed to advise you to violate a court order. But, an attorney can advise you of the consequences of violating it, which can include a fine and even jail time. What it comes down to is that if you decide to violate a court order, you’d better have a very good reason.

Would a court accept your explanation for refusing visitation because of the coronavirus? Only an experienced child custody attorney can advise you on that subject. If you find yourself in this position, the experienced Houston child custody attorneys of Boudreaux | Hunter & Associates, L.L.C., can help you. Please call (713) 333-4430 or visit the Contact Us page.

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