A big decision needs to be made early on in a divorce case- who will take care of the kids? Separated or newly divorced parents have to make tough decisions about child care in the best of times, but with the spread of the coronavirus, those choices are harder than ever. As our Texas Governor moves forward with re-opening the economy, more parents are returning to work. This has made child care decisions more urgent -and desperate-for millions of Texans.
Child care options are decreasing
Most single parents with minor children need to work during the day. In the pre-pandemic days, one common option for many was to have grandparents watch the children while the primary care parent works. However, not every parent is blessed with this as an option. And now, with the spread of the Covid-19 virus and it's high death rate among the elderly, many people who did have this option are now not willing to risk the lives of their own parents by exposing them to grandchildren who often do not display symptoms of Covid-19 and can infect their unwitting grandparents with the virus.
The usual option, if relatives are not available, is to rely on private daycare. But many parents are worried that they will be putting their children at risk by taking them to a daycare center during a pandemic. This fear is spurred by news that Texas has just experienced one of it's most infectious and deadly weeks for Covid-19.
State data shows an increase in coronavirus cases stemming from both large gatherings and child care centers. The state reported 576 positive cases of the coronavirus — 382 staff members and 194 children — in child care facilities as of this week. That’s up from 59 cases in mid-May.
Are Daycare Facilities Safe? Little Guidance from the Government.
Of those facilities that remain open, even at limited capacity, the State's response to the fears of contaminating kids in daycare has been muddled, to say the least.
Just two weeks ago, the government surrendered all existing regulation of safety measures at state-licensed child care centers. As of mid-June they were no longer required to comply with a list of safety precautions that had been in effect since mid-April. That meant centers could decide for themselves if they wanted to check staff temperatures, require parents to drop off their children outside or stop serving family-style meals, according to a previous notice from the state Health and Human Services Commission.
Then, in an apparent reversal this week, Gov. Greg Abbott directed a state health agency to enact new safety standards for child care centers during the coronavirus. However those new standards have not yet been published.
To make matters less clear, individual county and municipal authorities in Texas have been sending mixed messages to citizens about how their local government plans to respond to the recent deadly spike in infections. In Harris County, which includes the City of Houston, Judge Lina Hidalgo has announced plans to mandate masks and return to the stay-at-home conditions imposed this Spring. Meanwhile in neighboring Galveston County, which includes more suburban and semi-rural /industrial areas, Judge Mark Henry has defiantly announced that he won't issue any new government restrictions and said people must rely on their own personal responsibility to stay free from infection.
Ultimately, Parents Must Find Daycare Options and Judge Facility Safety On Their Own
Experts say that daycare is a key piece to reopening the U.S. economy. If a single parent must go back to work and has no other child care options, then choosing among the remaining daycare facilities that remain open in the area may be the only choice. But without clear government guidance, selecting the safest daycare facility for your child is a daunting challenge.
That is why we are offering a checklist of the most important, researched questions to ask a daycare facility before you enroll your child. The checklist is based on expert recommendations and can help you determine if a child care, daycare or daycamp facility is coronavirus ready. No facility can guarantee your child will be 100% safe from infection, but download this free checklist and bring it with you when you visit the facility or ask questions from it when on the phone. Researched from the CDC and other experts, this question checklist will help you pick the safest daycare facility. The Palmer Law Firm is offering this checklist as a free public service.
To download the Daycare Safety Checklist. Please click HERE.
Although Texas continues loosening it's restrictions on local business, the state is experiencing it's highest infection rates both in the number of tested cases and in the number of Texans hospitalized due to COVID-19. Many Texas parents are asking - during this crisis do I have to exchange my child for summer visitation?
July 1st- Expanded Summer Possession Order
With talk of a second wave of illnesses across the country, some municipalities are thinking of re-introducing social distancing restrictions. At the same time, July 1 is coming quickly. For thousands of Texans under a Standard Possession Order, this is the first day of the non-custodial parents' time for their expanded summer possession period. The non-custodial parent is the parent who the child or children do not live with on a day to day basis. Under the standard possession order, which is the custody arrangement most Texans have in their court orders, the parent who the child does not live with gets a 30 day period in the summer. Unless a different time frame was communicated back in April, the default period begins July 1 and ending July 30. However, with the ongoing coronavirus threat - which seems to be growing daily- some parents are wondering if they have to exchange the child on July 1.
Violation of Your Order
The answer is, that unless the court has specifically changed your custody order, you still must do what your current visitation order says. Neither the coronavirus threat, nor any shelter-in-place orders by local government will automatically change your custody orders.
In fact, the Texas Supreme Court issued an order (https://www.txcourts.gov/media/1446470/209059.pdf) that expressly states:
"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 the pandemic." (The Supreme Court of Texas, Misc. Docket No. 20-9059, Twelfth Emergency Order Regarding the Covid-10 State of Disaster, dated April 27, 2020).
So, no matter what you hear, or how you feel about the pandemic, if you do not follow your custody order as written, you may face civil or even criminal contempt penalties.
Modify by Agreement
However, if both parents agree that now is not the time to have an extended summer possession period, then in most cases, they can agree to change the possession times this summer. Most standard possession orders allow parents to change visitation by agreement. Just make sure that you review the terms of your order and make sure that any agreement to deviate from the court order that you make with the other parent is documented in writing. This is to protect you by making sure there is no miscommunication or later accusations that there was no agreement.
Modify by Court Order
But what if the other parent does not agree to modify the possession order this summer? The only way to avoid getting yourself into trouble with the law is to file an emergency request with the court to modify the order BEFORE July 1. In it's order, the Texas Supreme Court has stated that this is an option open to parents:
"Nothing herein prevents …courts from modifying their orders on an emergency basis or otherwise." (Id.)
However, if you wait until after June 30 to file your request, you will already be in violation of your custody order at the time you file it, and your chances of it being approved decrease and your chances of being found in contempt of court for violating the existing order increases.
If you are in this situation, you should consult an attorney immediately to file the appropriate paperwork before the June 30 deadline.
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Attorney Sean Y. Palmer has over 20 years of legal experience as a Texas Attorney and over 25 years as a Qualified Mediator in civil, family and CPS cases. Palmer practices exclusively in the area Family Law and handles Divorce, Child Custody, Child Support, Adoptions, and other Family Law Litigation cases. He represents clients throughout the greater Houston Galveston area, including: Clear Lake, NASA, Webster, Friendswood, Seabrook, League City, Galveston, Texas City, Dickinson, La Porte, La Marque, Clear Lake Shores, Bacliff, Kemah, Pasadena, Baytown, Deer Park, Harris County, and Galveston County, Texas.