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Child Custody and Visitation during the COVID-19 (Corona Virus) Pandemic

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Due to the increasing risk of exposure to COVID-19 (Corona Virus), many parents across the state of Texas are wondering how to handle school schedules regarding holidays such as Spring Break and Summer Vacation. Most courts and judges have begun to weigh in on the issue and the general consensus is to go based off of the original school schedule. Meaning, if a parent has possession of the child during the Spring break vacation, they must surrender the child back to the other parent after the original (not extended) Spring Break vacation was to end. Keep in mind, this is only a general consensus that I have been seeing among the different courts in South-Central Texas, but you should check with a local attorney to discuss this issue.

How can I proceed with a family lawsuit during the COVID-19 (Corona Virus) Pandemic?

            This question is a bit more difficult in that each county in Texas is choosing to handle their dockets in different ways. The situation is fluid and we keep hearing different orders from the Courts on a day to day basis. The Texas Supreme Court and Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has shed some light on the subject. As of March 13, 2020, the Courts have provided the following order:

“2. Subject only to constitutional limitations, all courts in Texas may in any case, civil or criminal—and must to avoid risk to court staff, parties, attorneys, jurors, and the public—without a participant’s consent:

 a. Modify or suspend any and all deadlines and procedures, whether prescribed by statute, rule, or order, for a stated period ending no later than 30 days after the Governor’s state of disaster has been lifted;

 b. Allow or require anyone involved in any hearing, deposition, or other proceeding of any kind—including but not limited to a party, attorney, witness, or court reporter, but not including a juror—to participate remotely, such as by teleconferencing, videoconferencing, or other means;

 c. Consider as evidence sworn statements made out of court or sworn testimony given remotely, out of court, such as by teleconferencing, videoconferencing, or other means;

 d. Conduct proceedings away from the court’s usual location, but in the county of venue, and only with reasonable notice and access to the participants and the public;

 e. Require every participant in a proceeding to alert the court if the participant has, or knows of another participant who has, COVID-19 or flu-like symptoms, or a fever, cough or sneezing;

 f. Take any other reasonable action to avoid exposing court proceedings to the threat of COVID-19.

3. All courts in Texas may extend the statute of limitations in any civil case for a stated period ending no later than 30 days after the Governor’s state of disaster has been lifted.

4. This Order is effective as of March 13, 2020, and expires May 8, 2020, unless extended by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.

5. The Clerk of the Supreme Court is directed to:

a. post a copy of this Order on www.txcourts.gov;

b. file a copy of this Order with the Secretary of State; and

c. send a copy of this Order to the Governor, the Attorney General, and each

    member of the Legislature.

6. The State Bar of Texas is directed to take all reasonable steps to notify members of

    the Texas bar of this Order.”

            What all this means is that child custody cases in San Antonio and around Texas are going to take longer unless the parties can reach an agreement. As usual, it is always best to check with your local courthouse or attorney to verify what the official order is for your county. For example, in Bexar County, the civil district courts have postponed all non-essential hearings. Essential hearings include protective orders, temporary restraining orders, or other emergency orders for the welfare a of a child or individual. The best thing to do in the current situation is to try and work things out as much as possible with the other parent, because the courts are less likely to be accepting cases that do not deal with emergency matters.

Alternatives to Court for Texas Child Custody

Although Texas courts are slowing down, parents may be able to work out visitation problems using alternatives. For example, mediation is a process that helps parents agree on changes to visitation schedules and other matters without going to court. Parents may also agree to arbitration, which is like a private court. The best alternative is to use experienced family lawyers who can help negotiate a settlement or find a way to get into court, if necessary. Coronavirus means that Texas courts may not be able to handle your case as fast as your family needs. So, ask for help from a family lawyer now to avoid delays and find solutions for your family. Everyone is facing the same problem and, working together, we’ll find a way to move forward.

Marco Cepeda is the Lead Family Law Attorney for Hoelscher Gebbia Cepeda PLLC, a San Antonio law firm. In addition to being an award-winning family lawyer, Marco is an Adjunct Professor of Legal Studies at Our Lady of the Lake University. He is a husband and father who understands the challenges of marriage and parenthood and has dedicated himself to helping clients navigate the changing family dynamics of our modern society. To set up a consultation with Marco, or any of our award-winning attorneys, call 210-222-9132 today.