How the Coronavirus Pandemic Has Affected Custody and Visitation Schedules

On June 26, 2020, the Preeminent Court of Texas collectively endorsed the constitutional privileges of fit guardians by a ruling giving a biological father custody of his 5-year-old daughter. This ruling overturned a previous Denton County ruling giving partial custody to the fiancé to the child’s deceased mother. 

This decision by the Texas Supreme Court is seen as a win for parents and guardians in Texas. In finding that the preliminary court judge abused the dad’s established rights when she granted partial custody care to a non-parent despite the dad’s objections, it reaffirmed the privileges of a fit parent to parent without government intervention. Now, in the state of Texas, if a fit parent’s privileges for care or access to their child are questioned by a non-parent, the best interest analysis of the court must incorporate the assumption that a fit parent acts only in the best interest of their child.

This case began in 2018 when the mother of the child lost her life in an automobile accident. The maternal grandparents, as well as her fiancé of three months, then went to court to seek joint custody with the child’s biological father. The Denton County Judge, however, granted partial custody and possession of the child to the woman’s fiancé and dismissed the grandparents’ case.

This case was only the beginning. Many other lives have been disrupted due to the onset of the pandemic, with family law attorneys overwhelmed by child custody agreement calls. The unprecedented nature of the situation led the Texas Supreme Court to weigh in on the predicament that families with shared custody agreements shared. 

How has the pandemic affected visitations and custody schedules?

With normal routines disrupted, how are divorced parents seeing their children? For those who live close to each other, they may see their children while enforcing safety guidelines such as social distancing.

What about those who live in separate towns? How can you ensure safety while still maintaining the requirements of the custody agreement?

Keep in mind, many judges may be inclined to reduce custody and visitation rights for parents who interfere with their former partner’s custodial rights. So, what do you do when you would like to see your children but don’t want to risk losing future visitations with them? You wait.

Yes, it might be hard to sit around and worry about the safety of your child, given the uncertainty of these times, but that’s no reason to violate the agreement and jeopardize not seeing them again. As long as your child is safe right now, that is what counts.

Established Custody Schedules Remain in Effect  

With many county family and state courts closed, many parents have no avenue to formally modify already existing custody agreements. Furthermore, most courts have ruled that the existing custody agreements should be followed. In other words, families with established custody agreements should continue their court-ordered schedules, despite any shelter in place orders that would be issued by various cities. 

Many attorneys advise that you embrace flexibility on both sides. Try scheduling virtual meetups on Zoom, FaceTime, or Skype for parents with non-custodial parents.  

Negotiating with your former partner

Since you can’t modify any agreements due to the closure of the courts, you should do your best to negotiate with your former partner through a mediator.

In normal circumstances, courts do not rule in favor of a spouse who violated a visitation or custody agreement. Mediation is a good way for you and your co-parent to create a roadmap that shows where each parent stands. This will also be useful in helping judges resolve specifics in terms of custody changes that may happen in the future.

Notarized temporary modification agreements can also provide solutions for temporary issues, such as the pandemic.  

If you’d prefer to wait for a formal court judge to change your custody orders, many courts have begun using videoconferencing as a way of addressing issues during the pandemic. Regardless of your situation, it’s a good idea to reach out to a legal professional if you and your former partner can no longer reach an agreement.