The COVID-19 pandemic has caused many people a lot of anxiety, particularly for those of us concerned about the health of our family members. For parents, this concern also comes with a high degree of responsibility to keep their children safe from this disease. If you are a parent sharing rights over your child or children, it is important to know how recent events may affect your legal rights when it comes to visitation or custody arrangements.
What Effect do “Shelter-In-Place” Orders Have on Child Visitation or Custody Orders?
On March 19, 2020, Texas Governor Greg Abbot declared that Texas was in a state of emergency due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Soon after, counties and municipalities across Texas began issuing “shelter-in-place” orders, directing citizens to stay inside except for in certain circumstances. It is important to know that these orders, by themselves, do not impact visitation or custody rights in the State of Texas. The Texas Supreme Court has unambiguously stated that child visitation or custody arrangements are not affected by shelter-in-place orders. Therefore, the existing child custody or visitation order in your case is still legally binding.
What If It’s Too Unsafe to Adhere to the Court Order?
If you believe complying with a visitation of custody order would put your child at unreasonable risk (or if the other parent is raising this concern), the best option it to work out a temporary arrangement with the other parent. Make sure you get any agreement in writing. Be aware that if you decide not to adhere to a court order, but the other parent has not agreed to that in writing, you may be held in contempt of court. In some circumstances violating a court order may be defensible, but always discuss the issue with your attorney before deciding to do anything that goes against a court order.
What if Someone in the Family is Sick with COVID-19?
If anyone in your household has tested positive for COVID-19, you have a responsibility to notify the other parent of your child. Although, as discussed, any court order currently in place remains effective, it is important to talk to the other parent to work out a written alternative temporary arrangement that keeps your child safe if you can.