As counties began issuing “Shelter-in-Place” or “Stay-at-Home” orders on March 23rd and 24th, the Texas Supreme Court issued its Seventh Emergency Order.
For purposes of determining a person’s right to possession of and access to a child under a court-ordered possession schedule, the existing trial court order shall control in all instances. Possession of and access to a child shall not be affected by any shelter-in-place order. . . .”
Earlier in the day, the District Courts in the DFW Metroplex responded to newly issued “Shelter-in-Place” or “Stay-at-Home” orders.
Collin County County Judge Chris Hill issued a Shelter-in-Place Order on Tuesday, March 24th. In response, Collin County District Courts issued a Second Emergency Standing Order which is consistent with the Dallas County Family District Courts’ Joint Statement released on March 23rd.
1. The Collin County shelter-in-place order, standing alone, does not modify current court orders regarding possession and access. Conservators shall pick up and deliver the child pursuant to the court order and the school’s original schedule.
Collin County District Courts also issued an Emergency Standing Order Regarding Visits in Child Protection Cases which states in part: “All in-person visits by parents, siblings, attorneys ad litem, guardian ad litem, and the Department of Family and Protective Services are suspended and shall be replaced by remote visits.” These remote visits may occur by telephone or video conference. Collin County has put extensive measures in place to ensure court hearings, and now CPS visitations, can still move forward in light of the COVID-19 crisis.
Denton County County Judge Andy Eads also issued a Stay-at-Home Order on March 24th. Denton County District Courts issued a Temporary Standing Order Regarding Parent-Child Visitation and Other In-Person Visits In All Child Protection Cases which suspends all previously ordered in-person parent-child visitations, sibling visitations, Attorney Ad Litem and/or Guardian Ad Litem visits, and DFPS visits scheduled to take place March 24th – May 1st. At the time of this post, Denton County had not yet issued an emergency standing order specifically addressing the Stay-at-Home order.
On March 24th, Tarrant County County Judge B. Glen Whitley issued an Executive Stay-at-Home Order which was announced by Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price. Just one day prior, Tarrant County Family District Courts, for the first time, issued a Temporary Emergency Standing Order.
Tarrant County has not had a standing order previously. This Standing Order is very similar to the previously existing Collin County Standing Order on Children, Property & Conduct of Parties; Dallas County Standing Order Regarding Children, Pets, Property and Conduct of the Parties; and Denton County Standing Order Regarding Children, Property and Conduct of the Parties. Interestingly, the Tarrant County Emergency Standing Order is only effective until May 31, 2020 which suggests that Tarrant County Family District Courts intend to return to not having a general standing order.
District Court Judges throughout Texas have moved quickly to address possible conflicts by issuing emergency orders as needed. Families, attorneys, and courts are all navigating these new Stay-at-Home orders at the same time. Thankfully, the courts have attempted to head off major conflicts by giving families and attorneys guidance that possession and access shall continue as ordered by the court.