Many schools have closed their doors, at least temporarily, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. You may be wondering how this affects your possession schedule with your children. The Texas Supreme Court and counties throughout Texas have issued orders to let parents and attorneys know the courts’ position on possession. According to these orders, parents should be following the terms for possession in their existing orders.
The Texas Supreme Court issued its Seventh Emergency Order Regarding the Covid-19 State of Disaster on March 24, 2020, and stated as follows:
This order applies to and clarifies possession schedules in Suits Affecting the Parent-Child Relationship. 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 affected by any 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.
On March 17, 2020, Judges Tim Sulak and Amy Clark Meachum in Travis County signed an order making it clear that school closings due to COVID-19 “do not alone modify existing court ordered periods of possession of children. Parties should continue to follow the originally published school calendar as if school were resuming and dismissing on that schedule.”
On this same date, Judge Emily Miskel, a District Court Judge for Collin County, and Judge Mary Brown, a District Court Judge for Dallas County, signed orders for their respective counties stating:
For purposes of determining a person’s right to possession and access to a child under a court-ordered possession schedule, the original published school schedule shall control in all instances. Possession and access shall not be affected by the school’s closure that arises from an epidemic or pandemic, including but not limited to, what is commonly referred to as the COVID-19 pandemic. A person currently in possession of the child who is not entitled to possession of the child under the original published school schedule SHALL immediately return the child to the person entitled to possession under that schedule.
Judge Miskel signed another order on March 24, 2020 extending Collin County’s March 17th order to clarify that the Collin County shelter-in-place order does not modify an existing court order regarding possession and that parents must pick-up and return their children for possession pursuant to their existing court order and the school’s original schedule.
Denton County District Court Judge Brody Shanklin signed a similar order on March 24, 2020 stating Denton County’s position that “Shelter in Place” or “Stay at Home” Orders do not modify existing orders regarding possession. This order further made clear that exchanges related to possession of children are considered an “essential activity.”
Please keep in mind that you and the other parent have the freedom to agree to a possession arrangement you feel best meets the needs of your child and each other. If reaching such an agreement is not an option, you must follow the terms in your existing order. This may be easier said than done. Even though your existing order may have possession terms in black and white, those terms may be as confusing and difficult to understand as the times we are facing with the COVID-19 pandemic. If you have any question as to what the possession terms in your existing order mean, please consult with a family law attorney for further guidance.
You can view the entirety of the above-referenced orders, along with other Texas orders regarding COVID-19, using the following links:
- Texas Supreme Court: https://www.txcourts.gov/media/coronavirus-covid-19-emergency-orders/
- Collin County District Courts, under Links & Resources: https://www.collincountytx.gov/district_courts/Pages/default.aspx
- Dallas County Family District Courts: https://www.dallascounty.org/government/courts/family_district/
- Denton County District and Family Courts: https://dentoncounty.gov/Departments/District-Courts
- Tarrant County District Clerk COVID-19 Update: https://www.tarrantcounty.com/en/district-clerk/district-clerk-covid-19-update.html
- Travis County Civil and Family Courts, under Travis County Office Closures and Limited Operations: https://www.traviscountytx.gov/news/2020/1945-novel-coronavirus-covid-19-information
*This blog does not constitute legal advice. The information above is public information received from the quoted or paraphrased authority. For legal advice, consult with a family law attorney at GoransonBain Ausley.