COVID-19 has turned our worlds upside down and with the start of school, dinner tables have become classrooms and parents have become teachers. When it comes to child custody and the court system, COVID has created lots of questions. Our attorneys at Genesis practice in the Dallas County Family Courts exclusively, so please be advised that article may not be applicable to other jurisdictions or non-family law matters. We also recognize that each person’s situation and safety concerns are different, so this article cannot and does not cover each individual situation and is not to be construed as legal advice.
Here are some of the most frequently asked questions regarding COVID and child custody:
What if I exchange with the other parent “at the time school begins and ends” at my child’s school?
The Dallas County Family Courts have clarified that exchanges of children are to continue to occur at the times as ordered. Therefore, if school starts at 7:30 a.m. and ends at 3:30 p.m., that is the time you will continue to exchange. We would encourage you to first try reach an agreement for an alternative time with the other parent if these times are unworkable. We also encourage any agreed changes to be done in writing. (A text message between you and other parent will satisfy as “in writing.”)
If your child is attending school virtually, you may need to find an alternative location to exchange. If it is safe for the other parent to come to your home, you can agree to exchange at your respective homes or alternatively a public location or police station. If you cannot reach an agreement or the other parent is non responsive, bring the children to the front doors of their respective school(s) and notify the other parent in writing you are there to exchange the child/children. Wait at least 30 minutes before leaving and notify the other parent in writing that you are leaving with the children because they failed to arrive.
What if the other parent does not pick up the children at the correct time?
The unwritten expectation is that you allow a 30 minute “grace” period for the other parent to pick up/drop off the child. So, if you typically exchange at 3:30 p.m., give the other parent until at least 4:00 p.m. for pick up. After 30 minutes, message the other parent that you are assuming they are relinquishing that period of possession because they have not arrived timely. A period of possession is each block of time outlined in the order: it could be a day, a weekend or longer. For example, most non-custodial parents have some visitation on each Thursday during the school year, and then again on the 1st, 3rd, and 5th weekends starting on Friday.
In this example, the Thursday period is separate from the weekend period. This means that if the other parent doesn’t arrive timely on Thursday, they have given up their time on Thursday but not the weekend. He/she may still appear timely for the weekend period the next Friday. But unlike Thursday, if he/she does not appear timely on time Friday, they relinquish the whole weekend versus just the Thursday.
What if the other parents’ visitation is supervised and the supervisor or supervision location is not available due to COVID?
Most supervised visitation centers in Dallas are now operating with some precautions, like temperature checks. If this is not available to you, try to work with the other parent to come up with an alternative such as ZOOM or virtual visitation. The Court will not look favorably on a parent that uses this as an excuse to not facilitate visitation. Alternatively, do not allow unsupervised visitation by the other parent if supervised has been ordered.
Are the family courts open?
Yes, all of the family courts in Dallas are conducting hearing remotely via ZOOM or TEAMS. Courts are also available for in person hearings in some limited situations.
What if I suspect that the other parent has COVID?
Suspicion alone is not an acceptable reason to deny visitation. If other parent tells you that they or someone in their household has tested positive for COVID, try to work with the other parent to and come up with a make-up visitation schedule after they or the family members has properly quarantined for two weeks, per CDC recommendations. If the other parent is still insisting on exercising visitation, you may want to explore filing an emergency motion with the court.
What if my child has COVID?
If your child has tested positive for COVID, immediately convey that information to the other parent. Try to work out an alternative schedule so that the child can be quarantined and not further spread the virus. If the other parent is unwilling to agree, you should exchange the child as ordered.
What if I don’t have any court orders?
If you do not have any court orders, know that in Texas, the parent in possession is the parent entitled to possession. If you do not feel your child is safe in the other parents’ care or the other parent may not return the child, you are not obligated to turn the child over to the other parent. Please reach out to Genesis advocates at 214.389.7700 to schedule an appointment to discuss your legal options with an attorney.
Written by Sara Barnett, senior director of legal services at Genesis Women’s Shelter & Support.