During the month of April 2020, Governor Abbott made the announcement that all Texas schools will remain closed until the end of the school year to protect children and their families from COVID-19. Distance learning through video conferencing, online lecturing, and self-learning have been adopted across the state – and in many other states across the country. Luckily, many schools have opted to continue providing food and curbside meal services for families in need.
With this new remote learning structure in place, many separated or divorced parents found themselves grappling with uncertainty in the face of a “new normal.” What would child custody and co-parenting look like with school closures and a pandemic? To help parents spinning plates as they balance work, life, home-schooling, and shared custody of their child, we have compiled a list of parenting plan tips you can refer to whenever you need them.
Step One: Develop a Parental Plan
Ensuring children have adequate time with each parent and sticking to a consistent schedule is key to maintaining the best interests of the child standard in Texas during COVID-19. The first step to accomplish this is to create a parental plan with your ex-spouse. The actions you can take to create this parental plan might include:
- Creating a home-school schedule – you might want to include set times for breaks and meals as well
- Establishing clear boundaries between school and play time
- Brainstorming and planning ideas for spring and summer break activities
- Making up parenting time – in the event that parenting time is missed due to COVID-19
- Practicing safe exchanges – establishing protocols to follow when exchanging the child
Step Two: Understand How Custody Will Be Affected by COVID-19
In Texas, the state’s Supreme Court issued an order on March 17 declaring that parents should follow their normal parenting schedules and that “possession and access shall not be affected by the school’s closure that arises from an epidemic or pandemic.” Despite this order, many families have struggled to stick to their child custody orders due to issues like:
- Being unable to exchange a child in a public space
- Stay-at-home orders keeping families apart
- Transporting a child between homes as it might increase exposure to the virus
There is not a road map out there for how to handle these types of situations but understanding how custody and parenting might be affected by COVID-19 is a start.
Step 3: Learn from FAQs Regarding Co-Parenting and Child Custody
Can my Ex-Spouse Deny Parenting Time?
You cannot deny your ex-spouse parenting time, even during a pandemic. If you feel that your child’s life may be at risk, you can consult with a lawyer to learn more about filing an emergency child custody order modification.
It makes sense why you might be afraid to share custody of your child during this time. Do your best to follow your County’s public health directives regarding social distancing protocols and sanitation-related measures and communicate these directives with your child and ex-spouse so you are all following the same rules.
How Can I Have Parenting Time in a Public Place Under Stay-At-Home Orders?
Public spaces that are open, including parks and some outdoor areas, can be used for parenting time. Follow Texas’ health and safety guidelines and use your discretion during parenting time if you are going to meet in public. You can also refer to San Antonio’s park and recreation page to determine which public outdoor spaces are currently open.
If you and your ex-spouse have agreed that it is not safe to meet in public yet, you can establish parenting time virtually via videoconferencing or over the phone.
What to Do if Unsupervised Parenting Time Cannot Happen?
If your parenting time must be supervised and your supervisor cannot attend a meeting due to COVID-19, you and your ex-spouse should collaborate to find an alternative supervisor. Consult with your lawyers if you want additional support from a third-party.
How Can I Safely Exchange my Child?
Follow the Center for Disease Control’s protocols on how to protect you and your loved ones from contracting the coronavirus. Be transparent with your ex-spouse and child about maintaining the same health and safety standards across both households.
Can I Make Up Parenting Time?
Parents are encouraged to work together to reschedule makeup parenting time in the event one parent missed out due to a COVID-19-related issue or government order.