The Common Law

Child custody & COVID-19

"The Common Law" continues to address your COVID-19 legal questions. You ask. We'll do our best to answer for as long as we remain in a period of uncertainty. Here are more questions and quick answers:

I share custody of my daughter. I'm concerned for her safety as I don't think her mom is following proper COVID-19 safety and social distancing protocols. Given the current stay-at-home order, can I keep my daughter with me for the next few weeks even though our custody order says that her mom should have her?

The Texas Supreme Court has ordered that all existing court orders concerning custody and possession will continue to control in all instances, including during stay-at-home orders. The Court's order also stated that the original published school schedule will continue to control the custody exchanges, even if the school is closed. Simply put, Texas courts have ruled that COVID-19 and any associated governmental regulations will not impact existing child custody and possession orders.

If a parent believes the child's safety and well-being is at risk, the parent has the right to file a Petition to Modify the Parent-Child Relationship. The parent requesting the change would have to show a material and substantial change in circumstances and that the newly requested schedule is in the child's best interest. The safety concerns, if legitimate, would be one factor that the court could consider. Any parent who withholds the child from the other parent in violation of a court order could be found in contempt of court.

I got laid off from work because of COVID-19 and can't pay my child support. What can I do?

Child support is still owed, even if you were let go from your job due to COVID-19. A court order is the only thing that can revise the terms of your child support obligations. Contact the Texas Office of the Attorney General to notify them of the employment status change and request a review of your child support order. Look to the Texas Attorney General's website for child support issues (https://www.texasattorneygeneral.gov/child-support). You may also want to contact a lawyer (or legal aid group) to assist in submitting paperwork to the court that seeks to modify the court-ordered amount of child support.

I'm totally confused. Are restaurants and bars allowed to be open or did Governor Abbott just shut them down?

Confused about current status of bars and restaurants? You aren't alone. It's hard to keep up with all the orders and revisions to orders.

On June 27, 2020, Governor Abbott issued a new executive order that required bars to close by noon on June 26. Starting June 29, restaurants are required to limit capacity to 50%. One positive, if you like the occasional cocktail with dinner, is that the new order allows restaurants to prepare alcoholic drinks and sell them to go along with food.

Please submit column suggestions, questions, and comments to thecommonlaw@austinchronicle.com. Submission of potential topics does not create an attorney-client relationship, and any information submitted is subject to being included in future columns.

Marrs, Ellis & Hodge LLP, www.jmehlaw.com.

The material in this column is for informational purposes only. It does not constitute, nor is it a substitute for, legal advice. For advice on your specific facts and circumstances, consult a licensed attorney. You may wish to contact the Lawyer Referral Service of Central Texas, a non-profit public service of the Austin Bar Association, at 512-472-8303 or www.austinlrs.com.

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