Updated: March 23, 2020 at 10:56 am
March 22, 2020 is a day many Texans and residents of Dallas County will not forget. Shortly after a press conference by Governor Greg Abbott, Dallas County County Judge Clay Jenkins issued his Amended Order of County Judge Clay Jenkins titled “Stay Home Stay Safe” which states in part:
All individuals currently living within Dallas County are ordered to shelter at their place of residence. . . All persons may leave their residences only for Essential Activities, or to provide or perform Essential Governmental Functions, or to operate Essential Businesses. . . .”
The new order takes effect at 11:59 p.m. on Monday, March 23rd.
How does the Stay Home Stay Safe order affect possession exchanges?
The short answer, as it relates to the 301st Judicial District Court of Dallas County at least, is that it does not. Following a tumultuous week last week which saw courts issue multiple Emergency Standing Orders, including five separate Texas Supreme Court Emergency Orders, Judge Mary Brown of the 301st was prepared. By 7:00 p..m. Sunday night, Judge Brown issued her Standing Order Governing Possession and Access During the Amended Order of Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins Stay Home Stay Safe Order signed March 22, 2020.
This order applies to all possession orders in Suits Affecting the Parent-Child Relationship in the 301st District Court. For purposes of the Dallas County Shelter in Place Order, exchanges relating to the possession and access of children are considered Essential Activities and shall continue as set out in this Court’s current orders. Parties shall follow the provisions of their orders unless specifically modified by further order of this Court.”
Judge Brown does specify that if a person has been diagnosed with the COVID-19 virus, “that person shall communicate with other parent or conservator(s) to discuss actions necessary to protect the safety and welfare of the child(ren).” She also reiterates that this new Standing Order does not prevent parties from altering their possession schedule by agreement, if their court order allows.
Dallas County Family Courts – Joint Statement
On March 23rd, the seven Dallas County Family Court Judges issued a Dallas County Family District Courts’ Joint Statement regarding possession and access during the Dallas County Stay Home Stay Safe Order.
3. For purposes of the Dallas County Shelter in Place Order, exchanges relating to the possession and access to children are considered “essential activities.”
4. The Dallas County Shelter in place order, standing alone, does not modify current Orders regarding possession and access.”
Parents and conservators have had to make significant adjustments over the past 12 days. Not only are parents and conservators having to precisely follow their own court ordered possession schedules, but they are having to make adjustments for circumstances for which they have no control. With schools now closed, work schedules being changed, and the issuance of County Judge Clay Jenkins’ Stay Home Stay Safe Order, parents and conservators are having to make even more adjustments.
Dallas County Family Courts have now made it explicitly clear that possession and exchanges of children are to occur as originally ordered. The Judges have stated that exchanging children is an “essential activity”. The Dallas County Shelter in Place order does not modify or trump current court orders. Even with new emergency orders being issued on an almost daily basis, the courts are communicating that parents and conservators are expected to exchange children pursuant to the orders of the court.