Texas Gov. Greg Abbott issued an executive order Mar. 18 temporarily closing all schools at least through April 3 due to concerns over COVID-19. Some districts had already acted independently by extending spring break vacations or closing buildings until further notice and shifting instruction online. With the President’s extension of social distancing guidelines through April 30, it is certain that school closures will continue.
It’s a scenario that many parents with child custody arrangements would likely never have anticipated, and some may be confused about the potential effects on court-ordered child visitation agreements, specifically on when they must return children to the other parent.
Texas Supreme Court issues Order over custody schedules
Both the Frisco and McKinney Independent School Districts canceled classes prior to the governor’s order affecting childcare schedules for thousands of families. Some parents wonder if closures will have any effect on their visitation schedules.
While it’s difficult to gauge whether school closures have led to custody disputes in family courts, there has been enough confusion for the state Supreme Court to weigh in on how custody orders should be interpreted during this time. The high court’s emergency order states that parents must observe original custody schedules and school calendars and that shelter-in-place orders do not affect child possession. In other words, the exchange of children during possession times under a custody order is an essential activity.
The goal is to limit potential exposure to COVID-19
One state judge says it’s important to provide this information early on and keep people from coming to court to settle custody disputes. That follows a Texas Supreme Court directive issued Mar. 19 urging courts to follow local, state and federal restrictions when scheduling non-essential hearings. Most courts are currently scheduling hearings, allowing appearance by remote access such as Zoom for essential hearings.
However, for those who believe the other parent is not acting in good faith by keeping children longer than is outlined in their custody arrangement, or refusing to return children at all, it may be advisable to learn about available legal options for obtaining a court ordered return of children.