Parents in Collin County and Denton County and throughout the state of Texas have concerns about child custody during the coronavirus pandemic.
According to the Star-Telegram, Governor Greg Abbott said school closures do not give parents the right to extend custody schedules. Schools in Texas are closed through April 3rd at the earliest. Parents with the child during spring break should not assume the closure means they keep the child through that period. Rather, as Abbott clarified, parents should abide by the existing custody arrangement. For most parents, this means sharing custody with the other parent as ordered. Joint managing conservators in Texas cannot keep their child simply because schools have closed.
However, parents may have concerns about returning the child to the other parent due to coronavirus exposure.
For example, the other parent may have been exposed to the novel coronavirus or may have tested positive. In such scenarios, the other parent may have concerns about abiding by the custody arrangement. Parents might even worry about the other parent having the child if that parent is not careful about public health. This concern can be magnified if the parents live in different Texas counties with differing stay-home orders. For example, many North Texas counties have issued stay-home orders and have urged non-essential businesses to close. However, Collin County, as of March 27, 2020, has not issued a stay-home order. Accordingly, parents in Collin County are not required to stay home. Abbott has not yet issued a stay-home or shelter-in-place order for the entire state.
To be sure, Dallas County, for example, has a stay-home order in place while Collin County does not.
If one parent lives in Dallas County and the other in Collin County, child custody arrangements may be complicated. The Dallas County parent might have concerns about the child’s exposure to coronavirus in Collin County with the other parent. Yet such concerns do not give the Dallas County parent a right to violate the custody arrangement, according to Abbott. Under normal circumstances, the Dallas County parent might seek a modification. However, modifications are difficult given that many Texas courts closed due to coronavirus risks. Yet in certain situations, parents may be able to have a virtual hearing.
As Collin and Denton County family lawyer Lauren Cain explained, “the Texas Supreme Court clarified that parents should observe existing custody orders.”
Yet, as Cain clarified, “in an emergency situation, courts will hear essential ‘emergency’ matters by video appearance or in the courtroom, as long as social distancing is observed and less than 10 people are involved. ” Until at least May 8, physical courtrooms are largely closed.