Family Law Update and the Pandemic

Possession & Access (visitation) –

  1. Spring Break - Some conservators subject to Possession & Access Orders are confused about when a child should be returned after spring break since school is not resuming. The Texas Supreme Court's Second Emergency Order* dated March 17, 2020 states** “the ‘original published school schedule’ shall control regarding the possession and access provisions in all instances.” A child should be returned as if school is in session at the end of Spring Break.
  2. Visitation is per Court Orders - The Texas Supreme Court's Seventh Emergency Order dated March 24, 2020 states* “3. For purposes of determining a person’s right to possession of and access to a child under a court-ordered possession schedule, the existing trial court order shall control in all instances. Possession of and access to a child shall not be affect by an shelter-in-place order or other order restricting movement issued by a governmental entity that arises from an epidemic or pandemic, including what is commonly referred to as the COVID-19 pandemic. 4. Nothing herein prevents parties from altering a possession schedule by agreement if allowed by their court order(s) or courts from modifying their orders on an emergency basis or otherwise.”

Modified Court procedures and dockets – The Texas Supreme Court issued a Third Emergency Order Regarding the COVID-19 State of Disaster dated March 18, 2020 states*“These orders are effective immediately and shall remain in effect until May 8, 2020 or until further order of the Court.” Family Court’s responses vary but the crux of effects of the changes follow:

Agreed Orders - Courts are doing “prove-ups” (evidence given to the Court before temporary, ancillary or final orders are signed) by submission with sworn affidavits and using Virtual courtroom platforms, depending on the Court. This means if you have an Agreed Order you can get a divorce and finalize orders in a Suit Affecting the Parent Child Relationship (Modifications, Adjudication of Parentage, etc.)

Standing Orders – New filings are to include “Standing Temporary Mutual Injunctions” in a form promulgated by the specific county and must be attached to all new filings. Standing Orders are orders that can protect your assets and help to maintain the status quo for a child until you and the opposite party can reach an agreement or there are additional Court orders regarding these issues in your case. Sites for Standing Orders and other pertinent Orders for Ft. Bend and Harris Counties can be found at:

https://www.fortbendcountytx.gov/home/showdocument?id=53521

https://www.justex.net/JustexDocuments/57/Family%20Courts%20Joint%20TRO.pdf

Procedure Changes and Zoom - You can also check a court’s website many of which are changing frequently due to this evolving and extraordinary situation. If your case is deemed “essential” it might proceed, if it is “non-essential” it might not proceed, however, some Courts are allowing non-essential hearings only if both parties agreed to proceed and the hearing is via virtual Courtroom (using Zoom (Zoom.us) which is the preferred video conferencing platform for many Courts and attorneys) but must be scheduled in advanced with the Court. The following are valuable resources regarding ZOOM. “How to use Zoom – Free Video Conferencing & Virtual Meetings” – U Tube and an article written by Prof. Craig Ball at Univ of Texas, titled “Zoom “Cheat Sheet’” that is worth the read.

This article does not take the place of consulting with a family law attorney regarding your specific situation due to variations of facts in individual circumstances.

Alternative Dispute Resolution - Due to the limitations and backlog in the dockets, many parties are turning to mediation, collaborative law and arbitration, all of which are well suited for virtual mediation using Zoom. These methods can be an excellent, efficient and cost effective way to move your case forward. I recently did mediation using Zoom and it was great!

*These Order expires May 8, 2020 unless extended by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court

**in relevant part

Conservators should work diligently to co-parent and put the child’s needs first.

“Co-parenting is not a competition but requires two Conservators putting their child’s needs above their own”