Can You Pause Child Visitation During COVID-19?

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Woman welcoming ex-husband when he brings the children for their visit.
If your ex isn’t keeping your kids safe from COIVD-19, contact your attorney.

You’ve seen pictures of your ex on social media living it up with friends, not wearing a mask, and making careless decisions as though we’re not in a pandemic. The safety of your children is the first thought that pops into your head. If your ex contracts COVID-19, it puts your children and everyone they contact at risk. That includes your extended family and grandparents. There’s nothing you can do to stop your ex’s behavior, but there may be a way to pause child visitation during COVID-19.

Modifying Child Visitation Possession Orders in Texas

In our new complicated age, judges have begun to side more often with parents who are concerned about their ex putting the kids in danger and not following rules. Before you reach that point, you first have to know how the rules work so you can use them in your favor.

When you go through a child custody dispute in Texas, you will get a court-endorsed plan called a possession order. This tells the parents when they have the right to see their children. There are two types of possession orders, the standard possession order, and the modified possession order. 

The Standard Possession Order allows parents to figure out what child visitation times are best for them. This only works if the parents or guardians can agree. If they can not agree, then the law outlines when the noncustodial parent can see the children. Standard possession orders say that if the parents don’t agree, the noncustodial parent has the right to possession of the child at specific times.

If you and your ex want to arrange a visitation that is not included in the standard possession order, then you will need a modified possession order. If you can agree on this change, then the process is as easy. Yyou and your attorney simply need to fill out a form. In cases when couples can’t agree, then you would need a judge to rule on the proposed changes. Increasingly, Texas judges are helping people with an ex that refuses to practice social distancing.

Covid-19 Emergency Orders

The Texas Supreme Court’s recently enacted emergency orders for Covid-19 including shelter-in-place orders. Unfortunately, these orders do not change the rights of a parent who might feel that their child’s health is a risk. All existing possession orders still remain despite shelter-in-place provisions.

Many parenting plans include visitation for split families on Thursday evenings from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. These still apply. Shelter-in-place provisions also do not affect summer visitation. You should not stop following your child custody agreement.

This means that you will still need to get a modified possession order if you wish to change your child visitation schedule during COVID-19.

Alternative Visitation Arrangements

You and your co-parent may be able to work together and come to an agreement on alternative visitation methods. This includes switching to phone calls or virtual visitation over video conferences like Zoom. Virtual visitation has been available in the state of Texas for some time. This is especially if one parent or the child is at high risk for suffering complications from the coronavirus. Parents may also want to make changes to parenting plans if any one of them is working in a job with a high risk of exposure.

Sometimes you may agree to temporarily suspend visitation as part of your parenting plan. This usually comes with an agreement to provide make-up parenting time to the other parent after the COVID-19 health crisis has passed. The first step is to read your court-approved parenting plan carefully. There may be legal language that provides some flexibility in parenting plan changes, especially during an unprecedented time such as the coronavirus pandemic. Your lawyer may also be able to help you carefully review your custody agreement.

Otherwise, you may need to ask the court to help approve your proposed temporary changes.

Temporary Changes To Custody Orders

The family law courts are approving temporary legal modifications to child custody and visitation orders during the time of the COVID-19 pandemic. This is even though courthouses are physically closed. Some courts are offering virtual hearings to speed up the hearing of cases that have accumulated during COVID-19. This also allows them to process emergency family law requests during this time.

Problems could arise when co-parents are not in agreement on the appropriate measures to keep the child safe during the pandemic and on temporary visitation schedules. You might be unwilling to give up parenting time if you’re afraid of facing a permanent reduction in custody and visitation time, even after stay-at-home restrictions are lifted and the COVID-19 crisis has passed.

Alternatively, you might fear changes in child support requirements as a result of the parenting plan modifications. But don’t worry, the emergency orders help in one area. They establish to judges that there is an identified dangerous situation for children in our society.

If you are worried that your ex is refusing to wear a mask or socially distance in public that puts your child at high risk, contact your attorney immediately for legal advice. Do not stop your child from seeing your co-parent or going to their home until you talk to your attorney. Otherwise, the other parent can take you to court. You might be held in contempt of your child custody order.

Gather evidence of written communication, like text messages or emails, that show that you did take steps to explain your concerns to the other parent and why it’s in the child’s best interests. Your lawyer can provide legal advice on how to build your case. The state court could have significant discretion on the level of risk you need to show to modify your child custody agreement during COVID-19.

Texas takes child welfare very seriously. You should get your visitation orders modified by a judge as soon as possible. The family law court is typically willing to grant permanent modifications to child custody and visitation orders if the best interests of the child are at risk. You must have evidence to show your child is at high risk in their current situation.

If you have reason to believe that your child is in immediate danger, your lawyer may be able to ask the courts for an immediate temporary child custody order. Seek legal advice on the options available to you.

At Sean Lynch law firm, we have decades of family law experience. We can help with custody, visitation, and child support cases in the state of Texas. COVID-19 has led to temporary closures of courthouses and you may need to seek more support from your lawyer. We are ready to help and at a price you can afford to modify child visitation during COVID-19. Contact us for a no-cost case review and we are happy to answer your questions.

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