Visitation and Custody with COVID/Corona concerns

Parents sharing custody have questions about how Corona Virus/COVID-19 affects their possession and access (custody) order. If there is a shelter-in-place order do the child(ren) still have to go with the other parent or should they stay in one parent’s house? If a school district “extends” spring break, or cancels the school year and now deems it “Summer break” for the students, does that mean a parent’s spring break holiday possession is also extended?

Shelter in place orders being issued by the larger Cities and Counties should not be used to deny custody to one parent. The Texas Supreme Court has issued an Opinion , their seventh opinion during the Corona/Covid crisis, specifically saying any shelter in place order shall not affect a Court-Order possession and access schedule. Parents are free to alter the possession schedule of both parents are in agreement.

Extensions of Spring Break, or cancellation of the school year, by a school district shall not mean a parent who has possession over the holiday then has an extended possession time with the children. Parents should continue to follow the same schedule as before. The Texas Supreme Court has issued a Opinion, their second opinion during the Corona/Covid crisis, specifically saying the school’s original published school schedule shall control. Possession and access shall not be affected by the school’s closure or change in holiday schedule due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Parents are still free to agree to an alternative schedule.

In short, do not deny a parent their time with the children using any COVID-19 or Corona panic. Do not deny a parent their time with the children because of a convenient school schedule change. Follow the same schedule as before. Naturally, on a case-by-case basis, if a confirmed COVID diagnosis has occurred in one parent’s house then denial of custody may be warranted. Fear of “possible” exposure or one parents perception of the other parent’s poor social distancing standards is not enough.

Emergency Motions can be filed requesting changes to the custody schedule, but extreme caution should be taken as Courts have limited availability during this time period. A consultation with a local family law attorney in your area will help you make the determination on whether a visitation schedule change may be warranted in your case.

Stalking and Harassment in Custody/Divorce cases

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What constitutes Stalking and/or Harassment in divorce or custody cases? Stalking and Harassment are both criminal acts, defined in the Texas Penal Code sections 42.07 and 42.072. B

Stalking is defined as when a person, on more than one occasion, knowingly engages in conduct that they know the other party will regard as threatening injury to the person or a member of their family, household, pets, or property. A reasonable person standard is applied, meaning that a reasonable person would need to feel harassed, annoyed, alarmed, embarrassed, or offended.

Harassment is defined as when a person, with the intent to harass, annoy, alarm, torment, or embarrass another, they: made obscene comments; threats of violence; give false details to another of the party’s serious injury; repeated calls/texts/messages that are harassing or annoying; or directs others to repeatedly call/text/message in a harassing or annoying manner. Intent of the perpetrator is the focus, and it can be inferred from their actions alone.

Note: Courts have found social media posts, even though not addressed directly at the other party, to be sufficient to violate these statutes.

Engaging in these activities is usually enough to warrant a police report, possible criminal punishments, and/or protective orders. Those who feel they might be receiving such communications should first warn the offending party that you will report their actions to police. If that does not end the harassing behavior then police, County Attorney’s office, or other law enforcement should be contacted to file a report. These crimes are some of the harder ones to prosecute, so unfortunately it takes a lot or actions that are particularly egregious to warrant more than a report being taken. Document as much as possible, and report as much as possible so the activities will eventually be seen as going to far with local law enforcement. A private Protective Order can also be requested through a private attorney if you feel law enforcement officers are not handling the problem. A Judge may feel a Protective Order is justified, and if that is violated much harsher punishments are levied against the perpetrator.