by Alexandra Geczi and James V. Esh

Yesterday, the Dallas County Judge extended the emergency order and issued updated guidelines regarding Shelter-in-Place in Dallas County restricting travel to essential activities.  The latest order will go into effect at 11:59p.m. March 23, 2020.  

Shortly after the issuance of the Shelter-in-Place order by the Dallas County Judge, the Dallas County Family Law Judges issued their own Shelter in Place Standing Order. In it, the Dallas County Family Courts:

  1. Define possession and visitation exchanges as an “essential activity”. 
  2. Clarify that this new order, in and of itself, does not modify existing orders regarding possession and access. 
  3. Listed factors that may affect possession and access, including: 
    1. The child’s best interest;
    2. A material and substantial change of the circumstances of the child, parent or conservator;
    3. The child’s physical health;
    4. The physical needs of the child;
    5. The physical dangers to the child; and
    6. The ability of the parents to care for the child. 
  4. The Courts further ordered that: 
    1. If a parent or conservator has been diagnosed with, or has reason to believe they or have been exposed to the COVID-19 virus, that person SHALL notify the other parent of the diagnosis or exposure. 
    2. If a parent or conservator knows that a child has been diagnosed with or has reason to believe that a child has been exposed to COVID-19, that person SHALL notify the other parent or conservator of the diagnosis or exposure.
    3. If a parent, conservator or child has been diagnosed with or if a parent or conservator has reason to believe that they or the child have been exposed to COVID-19, the parents and/or conservators shall confer to discuss actions necessary to protect the child’s safety and welfare. 
    4. Unless there are governmental instructions otherwise, nothing herein prevents parties from altering a possession schedule by agreement and coparenting during this crisis, if allowed by their court orders to do so. 
    5. This Order is effective as of March 22, 2020, and expires upon the termination of the Dallas County Shelter in Place Order.

As of the posting of this blog, other family law courts in other counties have not issued a general order regarding this issue. If the past few weeks has been an indication on what we can expect, we would expect guidance from those counties soon (or perhaps from the Texas Supreme Court).  If you feel there should be an exception in your case, you are encouraged to speak with an attorney about any potential legal options you may have.