In Texas, if your child is under the age of three, there is no presumed possession schedule that is in the child’s best interest. The standard possession order set forth in the Texas Family Code that is often discussed is the presumed possession schedule once a child is three-years-old or older. What does that mean for you as the parent?

If the parents agree on the possession schedule, the Court will most likely approve and adopt the proposed schedule as an order of the Court citing that the order is in your child best interest. If you and the other parent (or party to the lawsuit) do not agree on the possession schedule, then you will appear in court in front of a Judge with each party proposing a preferred possession schedule. It’s critical to be able to articulate to the other party as well as the Court the possession schedule that you believe is in your child’s best interest and why. You know the child best. Assuming the Judge will order a schedule that you agree with can be a costly mistake. The judge may simply check the box marked “Standard Possession Order” even if your child is under the age of three.

If a weekend from Friday to Monday is too long, then suggest the length of time that would be appropriate. A custom possession schedule may be best if you are breastfeeding. A parent’s work schedule due to working nights, traveling for work, and/or varying work days are additional reasons to propose a custom possession schedule. Other reasons could include special medical needs of the child or distance between the residences of the parties.

If you are opposed to the other parent having the child overnights, then we recommend proposing more frequent visits that are not overnight. Possession schedules are subject to change and modification. So, the best schedule for your young tender-aged child is a schedule that gradually changes based on the needs of your child. The graduated schedule could change based on the child’s age, number of periods of possession exercised, milestone, and/or other term or condition. In absence of an agreement, if a court case is pending a possession schedule for your child will be determined at a temporary orders’ hearing or final trial. Be proactive in determining the possession schedule that you believe is in your child’s best interest.

One consequence of COVID-19 is that many people have lost their jobs. According to the Texas Workforce Commission, over 1 million Texans have filed for unemployment. If you’ve lost your job or are on reduced hours, where does that leave your child support obligation? The short answer is you still owe the full amount ordered each month.

You don’t have the same income so why do you have to pay the same child support? Because a court order is a court order. Thankfully, the Texas Legislators anticipated that a parent’s income would fluctuate before a child turned 18 and codified the grounds for modification. One ground to modify child support under Texas Family Code § 156.401 is when the circumstances of the child or a person affected by the order have materially and substantially changed. Losing your job or receiving significantly less income is generally a material and substantial change.

What Steps Do You Need to Take?

The first step is you need to notify the obligee (the person receiving the child support). Most final orders have a notification requirement that the obligor (the person paying child support) must notify the court and the obligee via U.S. certified mail, return receipt requested, of any termination of employment. This notice must be given no later than seven days after the termination of employment. If you’ve started a new job already, the notice should also provide the name and address of your current employer. The purpose of providing address information is because most people have a wage withholding order in place. You must notify the obligee so he or she knows where to send a new wage withholding order for child support.

The second step is you need to file a new suit to modify child support. Unless you file a suit to modify, the court will have not be able change your child support amount. If your child support is modified, the court can make the decrease retroactive to the earlier of the time you served the obligee with citation or the obligee made an appearance in the modification.

Third, pay what you can. Arrearages accrue for any amount less than the full amount owed. If you owe $500 a month, are fully up to date on prior child support, and only pay $250, you will accrue an arrearage of $250. If you pay only $250 the next month, your arrearage will then equal $500. Having an arrearage of $500 is definitely better than having an arrearage of $1000 though. This is especially true because interest accrues on the past due child support at a rate of 6% per year. Another reason to pay what you can is because a judge will see that you are trying to follow the order. Child support is for the benefit of the child and any amount you can pay to support your child is better than nothing.

If you’ve lost your job and can’t make your child support payment, you are not alone. Take the proper steps to address your child support obligation and don’t just ignore it. Getting ahead of the child support issue now will help you in the long run.

 

Most of the country is under a lockdown due to the Coronavirus pandemic. A lot of people are out of work, barely making ends meet, and are struggling to collect unemployment. There was a great relief when the President announced that every tax-paying citizen would receive a stimulus check in this time of crisis. However, with that sigh of relief, some of us also received potentially heartbreaking news – we may not receive a stimulus check at all.

If you or your spouse are currently behind on child support, your stimulus check could be affected. Whereas the CARES Act suspends certain debts – such as student loans or back taxes – it does not currently apply to delinquent child support payments. Since the check amount is based on your most recent tax filing, if you filed jointly with a spouse that owes child support, you may receive a reduced amount from the stimulus, or no check at all.

Even if you filed for injured spouse relief when you filed your tax return, you may still find that your stimulus check is garnished or reduced dramatically. Typically, the IRS works with the Office of Child Support Enforcement. The amount garnished or withheld because of back child support, the money will get intercepted by the appropriate collecting office and be distributed to the custodial parent, the one that is owed child support. The time it takes for this money to arrive will vary, depending on that state’s collecting office.

If you are behind on child support payments, and are out of work due to the pandemic, your unemployment checks could also be affected. If you claim unemployment and there is a child support order in place, you can have support payments withheld from your unemployment check. A few states have limited the amount to 50% of each check, so that people who owe child support can still collect their unemployment money. Other states may garnish wages differently for back child support amounts.

If you are having trouble paying your child support, get a request on file with the court that issued the child support order seeking time to catch up based on your situation. Delaying taking action will only make matters worse!

In the context of a custody case, drug tests are court-ordered to protect the safety and well-being of the child or children the subject of the suit. The need or requirement for drug testing doesn’t change just because there is a pandemic. Yes, you or someone you know can currently submit to a drug test even though there are stay-at-home orders in effect.

There are testing facilities that are still open, practicing social distancing and taking other precautions as they continue to operate. Consult with an attorney to see if you reside in a county that has an emergency order in place that might prevent testing. Most likely, the emergency order does not prohibit an individual from submitting to a test. You or your attorney can contact a drug-testing facility to ensure they can administer the test that you want, confirm the cost of the test, as well as the expected turnaround time for the results.

If there is not a court order for drug testing, there is still the option to request an individual (or for you) to voluntarily submit to a test.

If you suspect substance abuse is an issue, be sure to address it. Even if you are not able to require an individual get tested right away, keep in mind that different tests can detect substances for longer periods of time. In other words, just because a urinalysis test may not detect usage, a nail or hair test may have a different result. The frequency and amount of usage may also be a factor in whether a test comes back positive for a particular substance.

Yes, I know we are all still worried about homeschooling, homecooking, and home cleaning while we are social-distancing and staying at home to avoid the Covid corona virus. However, April 15th is an important day for primary parents if you are operating under the Texas Standard Possession Schedule. In Texas April 15th is a deadline for primary conservators to designate their summer weekend possession time with the children.

In a Texas Standard Possession Order, the non-primary parent is awarded the 1st, 3rd, and 5th weekends of the summer months as well as 30 days extended summer possession. The primary parent in turn gets to pick one weekend, which occurs during the non-primary parent’s 30 day extended summer possession, to have the children. This election must be made in writing by April 15th or the primary parent loses the ability to have a weekend period of possession during the other parent’s 30 day extended summer possession.

Additionally, the primary parent gets to pick one of the 1st, 3rd, and 5th weekends during the summer months which would have been the non-primary parent’s weekend, to have possession of the children. The primary parent must elect in writing by April 15th or no later than fourteen days prior to the elected 1st, 3rd, and 5th summer weekend. This weekend period of possession cannot occur during the 30 day extended summer possession of the non-primary parent.

So, even though you can barely see to tomorrow right now, it is important to go ahead and designate your summer periods so you don’t lose them. Go ahead and get out your order and make sure you send that email with your dates by the end of the day on April 15th.

We are all social-distancing from each other and trying to stay home. We are home schooling, cooking at home, and watching Tiger King. Mostly we are just trying to co-exist in our own homes today. We aren’t thinking of what to do about summer, are we?

Well April 1st signals the day when parents under the Texas Standard Possession Schedule should start thinking about summertime. Even now, when the summertime seems so far away and we most likely will not be able to go much of anywhere out of the house much less on vacation for any period of time this summer, you still need to think about designating your summer period of possession.

April 1st is the deadline for the non-primary parent to designate your intended 30 days of extended summer possession is April 1stThe designation has to be in writing (email is fine). These 30 days can only be exercised in two periods of possession and each period of possession must be at least seven consecutive days.  Additionally, a parent’s extended summer possession can begin once school is dismissed and must end at least seven days before school resumes at the end of the summer.

The Texas Standard Possession Order awards a non-primary parent the 1st, 3rd, and 5th weekends of the summer months as well as 30 days extended summer possession in the summer.  The primary parent in turn gets to pick one of the 1st, 3rd, and 5th weekends, which would have been the non-primary parent’s weekend, to have possession of the children as well as one weekend during the non-primary parent’s 30 days of extended summer possession.

What happens if you miss the April 1st deadline? Should you not designate any extended summer possession dates by April 1st, generally the standard order provides the non-primary parent will automatically be entitled to July 1 – 31st that summer.

A question that is frequently asked is “can I use a weekend of summer possession in addition to my extended summer possession to make my time with the children 32 days?”  The answer is yes, you can.  However, keep in mind that the primary parent has until April 15th each year to designate a weekend period of possession that will occur during your regular 1st, 3rd, and 5th weekend as well as a weekend during your extended summer possession.

Another question that is often asked is, “Does the primary conservator have the ability to disagree with the dates that I have designated for my periods of summer possession and require that I select different dates?” No, the other parent doesn’t get to tell you to pick different dates (unless the dates designated improperly include Mother’s Day/Father’s Day weekend). It doesn’t work that way. The non-primary parent gets to designate first. Keep in mind that the primary conservator can select 1 weekend during this 30-day period to exercise his or her extended summer possession as discussed above.  Therefore, regardless of whether you are the primary or non-primary conservator, you should always wait until after the April 1 and April 15 designation deadlines to plan those summer vacations to make sure each parent has designated their periods.

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

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

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.

Tarrant County

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.

 

Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins
Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins press conference
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.

 

We’ve seen many changes in our courts over the past week including limiting in-person hearings to essential matters only. Over the past two days, many courts have issued Emergency Standing Orders regarding possession for both the “extended Spring Break” period  and recent school closures.

Supreme Court of Texas

The Supreme Court of Texas just issued a Second Emergency Order Regarding the COVID-19 State of Disaster which states in part: “This order applies to and clarifies possession schedules in Suits Affecting the Parent-Child Relationship. For purposes of determining a person’s right to possession of and access to a child under a court-ordered possession schedule, the original published school schedule shall control in all instances. Possession and access shall not be affected by the school’s closure that arises from an epidemic or pandemic, including what is commonly referred to as the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Dallas County

On March 17th, Dallas County issued a Dallas County Family District Court Emergency Standing Order titled Dallas County Standing Order Regarding Possession Schedule During School ClosuresDallas County District Court Judges state: “For purposes of determining a person’s right to possession and access to a child under a court-ordered possession schedule, the original published school schedule shall control in all instances.” The order goes on to give examples regarding Spring Break, Thursday possession, and school closure.

Collin County

Collin County also issued a Collin County District Courts Emergency Standing Order on March 17th titled Collin County District Courts Emergency Standing Order Regarding Possession Schedule During School Closures. The Collin County District Court Judges also state: “For purposes of determining a person’s right to possession and access to a child under a court-ordered possession schedule, the original published school schedule shall control in all instances.”

Denton County

Denton County has not yet issued a standing order for school closures because Denton ISD is currently only closed through March 22nd. However, the District Court Judges have released the Denton County District Courts Joint Statement Regarding Spring Break Possession which states: “The Denton County District Judges take the position that any school district’s additional school closure following the week of Spring Break (whether the district calls it an extension of Spring Break or not) does not  extend a parent’s period of possession beyond the week designated for spring break according to the school’s academic calendar and the possession schedule in the final order.”

Bexar County

Bexar County issued a Revised Statement Regarding Standard Possession Order for Spring Break on March 16th which states any delay in the resumption of classes for public health purposes is not an extension of a vacation period. The judges went on to say that “this Statement does not limit the ability of the court to hear and address emergency matters on a case-by-case basis.”

 

Galveston County

On March 16th, Galveston County took the step of issuing a Standing Order and Notice to All Galveston County Families with Court Orders Regarding Visitation for Spring Break stating: “For Parents who have NOT returned the children by Monday, March 16, 2020: YOU MUST RETURN THE CHILDREN IMMEDIATELY OR YOU WILL BE FOUND IN CONTEMPT OF COURT AND WILL BE FINED AND SANCTIONED.” This Order was signed by Judge Judge Anne B. Darring of the 306th District Court, Judge John Grady of County Court at Law #1; Judge Kerri Foley of County Court at Law #2; and Judge Jack D. Ewing of County Court at Law #3. No additional orders have been issued at this time.

As the Coronavirus continues to spread and more schools begin to close, it is expected that additional counties will issue Emergency Standing Orders. While courts certainly have the authority to issue standing orders, the impact of these possession specific standing orders is developing. Courts’ standing orders previously limited orders regarding possession to not disrupting the child. The importance of addressing children’s best interest is clear though given that the Texas Supreme Court and multiple counties have now issued emergency orders. The closure of schools on a widespread basis is new territory for parents, conservators, attorneys, and courts. The hope is that the best interest of the child will always be considered as we navigate these new emergency orders together.

 

One thing we know about COVID-19 (Coronavirus) is that new information develops on a daily basis. The court system had to respond to the situation to resolve many issues that have arisen.

Will there still be family court hearings and trials in Dallas area courts in the state of disaster?

The Texas Supreme Court issued guidance on non-essential matters for the court system on March 12, 2020:

  • If a court deems that non-essential (see below), in-person proceedings may pose an unnecessary or unreasonable risk to participants, court staff, or the public, the court should avoid that risk, when possible, by simple delay or by a telephone or video remote appearance. Our suggestion is that you follow this practice until at least April 1.
  • Essential proceedings include, but are not limited to, criminal magistration proceedings, CPS removal hearings, temporary restraining orders / temporary injunctions, juvenile detention hearings, family violence protective orders, and certain mental health proceedings.
  • Courts should schedule or suspend proceedings to avoid the gathering of large groups of people until at least April 1, including jury trials and large docket calls.
  • Courts should publicly encourage persons with COVID-19 or flu-like symptoms, a fever, or who are coughing or sneezing, to contact the court before appearing. Courts should also publicly encourage attorneys who know that clients, witnesses, or others have such a condition to alert the court in advance. The court should make reasonable accommodations and reschedule appearances and hearings as needed.
  • You may wish to consult with your local health authority for additional guidance on the timing of the suspension of proceedings as conditions in the local community may vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.
  • Courts should implement telephonic or video remote appearances for all proceedings which may occur remotely.
  • Please be aware that the Open Courts provision of the Constitution will generally require that the public have access to proceedings. If you hold telephonic or video remote hearings, you should consider a method by which the public can have access.

Then on March 13, the two highest courts in Texas issued joint guidelines for the Texas court system to handle the current situation. The Texas Supreme Court and Texas Court of Criminal Appeals FIRST EMERGENCY ORDER REGARDING THE COVID-19 STATE OF DISASTER is intended to provide consistency and stability among the courts during this time of national disaster. In light of Governor Abbott’s declaration of a state of disaster for all counties in Texas, the Courts direct as follows:

Subject only to constitutional limitations, all courts in Texas may in any case, civil or criminal—and must to avoid risk to court staff, parties, attorneys, jurors, and the public— without a participant’s consent:
a. Modify or suspend any and all deadlines and procedures, whether prescribed by statute, rule, or order, for a stated period ending no later than 30 days after the Governor’s state of disaster has been lifted;
b. Allow or require anyone involved in any hearing, deposition, or other proceeding of any kind—including but not limited to a party, attorney, witness, or court reporter, but not including a juror—to participate remotely, such as by teleconferencing, videoconferencing, or other means;
c. Consider as evidence sworn statements made out of court or sworn testimony given remotely, out of court, such as by teleconferencing, videoconferencing, or other means;
d. Conduct proceedings away from the court’s usual location, but in the county of venue, and only with reasonable notice and access to the participants and the public;
e. Require every participant in a proceeding to alert the court if the participant has, or knows of another participant who has, COVID-19 or flu-like symptoms, or a fever, cough or sneezing;
f. Take any other reasonable action to avoid exposing court proceedings to the threat of COVID-19.

The order took effect March 13, 2020 and remains in effect until May 8, 2020.

Additionally, the area courts have specifically begun canceling dockets and moving to handling only essential matters. Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins cancelled all jury trials until April 13th (in other words, there will be a jury called on April 13th, as of now).

The Collin .County District Courts also released a statement cancelling all non-essential matters, leaving only emergency matters to be heard between now and April 1st.

Tarrant County has cancelled jury service until April 17th according to an article in the Star Telegram.

But what do we do about exchanging our children under a Texas standard possession order because of the change in school schedules?

In response to the coronavirus (Covid-19) outbreak, schools began to halt in-person classes to contain the spread of the contagious germs. As a result, school officials and their lawyers used imprecise and inexact language regarding the extension. Most school districts called the time off “extended Spring Break” instead of disaster break or whatever. This imprecise language has caused a great deal of confusion among parents as to interpretation of the Texas standard possession schedule. As a result, the area state district courts began responding to the question: “When does Spring Break possession end?”

Judge Dennise Garcia of the 303rd District Court in Dallas County posted on social media: “7 out of 7 Dallas County Family Court District Judges agree that the Standard Possession Schedule follows the originally published school calendar. (No extensions due only to recent changes in the school shutdowns).” In other words, whatever the original school calendar provided is the governing rules for the parents to go by. Dallas is not recognizing any extension of Spring Break just because the schools extended the time period.

The Collin County District Courts also released a statement on Facebook stating: “Some school districts are talking about “extending” spring break, but we believe a Standard Possession Order under the Texas Family Code follows the originally-published school calendar.” Further, they have directed that parents should follow the original schedule as if school remains in session (in other words, the time for exchange should be according to the schedule as if school were in session. Dallas family court judge Dennise Garcia “liked” the post by the Collin County judge, indicating her approval of the statement.

Collin County District Courts directive regarding exchange of children during state of disaster

Following suit, Tarrant County District Courts issued a new policy on March 13th: “It is also the policy of the above courts that even though some school districts are “extending” spring breaks because of COVID-19, spring break possession ends according to the previously scheduled spring break as set forth in the school calendar for the applicable school district.”

Tarrant County judges position on spring break access.

Judge Sherry Shipman in Denton County released a similar statement: “The Denton County District Judges take the position that any school district’s additional school closure following the week of Spring Break (whether the district calls it an extension of Spring Break or not) does not extend a parent’s period of possession beyond the week designated for spring break according to the school’s academic calendar and the possession schedule in the final order.”

Denton County Judges position on spring break

In Rockwall County, the 382nd and 439th District Courts posted the following on the Rockwall County websites: “TO ALL ATTORNEYS AND/OR PARENTS: It is the Court’s policy to follow the originally published school calendar regarding access and possession of children during Spring Break for the purposes of interpretation and enforcement of Court Orders.”

In Kaufman County, Judge Casey Blair of the 86th District Court indicated that Kaufman County Courts would also be following the originally printed school calendar to determine Spring Break possession.

On March 16th, Galveston County took the step of issuing a “Standing Order and Notice to All Galveston County Families with Court Orders Regarding Visitation for Spring Break” stating: “For Parents who have NOT returned the children by Monday, March 16, 2020: YOU MUST RETURN THE CHILDREN IMMEDIATELY OR YOU WILL BE FOUND IN CONTEMPT OF COURT AND WILL BE FINED AND SANCTIONED.” This Order was signed by Judge Judge Anne B. Darring of the 306th District Court, Judge John Grady of County Court at Law #1; Judge Kerri Foley of County Court at Law #2; and Judge Jack D. Ewing of County Court at Law #3.

The effect the Coronavirus is having on our courts is unprecedented. Never before have we seen courts limit in-person hearings to essential and emergency matters only. With the release of new court policies over the past two days, however, it is clear the courts are trying to give parents guidance prior to the previously calendared Standard Spring Break possession ending on Sunday, March 15th at 6:00 p.m. Of course, common sense and co-parenting should prevail. Working things out between two reasonable parents is the best action. Asking which parent is working and which can take off to care for the children would be the most logical thing to do under the circumstances. Unfortunately, many parents are unable to reason with each other, necessitating the courts to provide guidance in this unprecedented time.