By Alexandra M. Geczi and James V. Esh on March 16, 2020
On Thursday evening last week, after a state of emergency had been declared, a fire storm began brewing among Texas and Dallas family law attorneys regarding the Coronavirus (COVID-19) and how it will affect visitation schedules in Texas, particularly Spring Break. The visitation schedule in most Texas court orders designates that the “non-custodial” parent can pick up the children from school on the day the child(ren) is released for Spring Break and is required to return the child at 6:00 p.m. the day before school resumes. With the Coronavirus shutting down school districts all over Texas and in the Dallas metroplex, the questions we are hearing are, “When exactly does school resume?”, and “How long can I or my ex (or soon to be ex) keep my child?”.
While we wish we could tell you that the family law legal community came to a harmonious agreement, they did not. Amongst the family law lawyers, one group of attorneys takes the position that a strict reading of the language means that Spring Break is extended until the kids come back to school. Another group of attorneys urges that such a reading leads to a slippery slope, asking “What if school never resumes this year? Are kids effectively on Spring Break until the next school year?” A third group of attorneys champions a position that the school calendar that was originally created at the beginning of the school year defines Spring Break.
In an effort to clarify the issue, the Texas Supreme Court issued guidance and procedures on non-essential matters for the court system on March 12, 2020. Following suit, several Texas family law courts, including those in Dallas county, Collin county, and Denton county, issued informal opinions on the issue. The general consensus is that non-emergency court matters will be postponed for at least the next two weeks.
What does that mean for you? What do you do if you find yourself in this situation? The short answer is that it is not clear and it is too soon to tell at this time. However, we can offer some guidance based on our own experience and interpretation of the situation. First, parents should make extra efforts to try to work out these differences without resorting to costly and time-consuming measures that involve the courts. If a parent is withholding a child, keep in mind that there will be consequences later after the dust settles. For those who are not able to co-parent during this pandemic, click here to read specific questions that we address about this issue.
In the meantime, the best advice is to stay calm and focus on the long-term. This storm shall pass. And remember, there are silver linings even in the worst situations. Times like this remind us about the importance of family and teach us about perseverance. Our offices will remain open during this pandemic, and we welcome anyone who needs to speak with an experienced family law attorney about questions they may have.