The Effect of COVID-19 on Court Operations and Child Conservatorships

As 2019 drew to a close, new reports regarding an outbreak of novel Coronavirus affecting mainland China began dominating news reports. In a matter of weeks, the world learned about the devastating effectiveness and efficiency of this disease, which prompted the People’s Republic of China to institute drastic safety measures to impede the progression of infection to prevent a global outbreak.

While the levels of isolation and restrictions on freedom that several countries across the world resorted to in response to the outbreak sounded distant and alien, it was not long before people in Europe and the United States found themselves sharing the experience.

Since the beginning of March, there has been a concerted effort between local, state, and federal government agencies to slow the spread of COVID-19 infections. As a result, public areas have closed down, except for those marked as essential services or activities.

Court Closures Throughout the U.S.

Among the places that scaled back operations were our courts serving the justice system. On March 16, 2020, the Supreme Court of the United States announced that it would be closed to the public for in-person matters.

However, this doesn’t mean that the gears of justice have grinded to a halt. Although federal and state courts have scaled back public access as a precaution to combat the spread of COVID-19, most courts have generally preserved operations for certain proceedings and official business, including e-filing and the use of telecommunications, now familiarly known as Zoom conferencing, to facilitate judicial proceedings in light of recent social distancing precautions.

North Texas Counties Family Courts

On March 22, 2020 along with Denton, Collin, and Tarrant Counties, the Dallas County Family District Courts issued a Joint Statement regarding possession and access cases, consistent with Governor Gregory Wayne Abbott’s state of disaster declaration. Gov. Abbott implemented a shelter in place order for all 254 counties in response to public health concerns associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, with exceptions to essential activities

Under the Joint Statement, “exchanges relating to the possession and access to children are considered ‘essential activities.’” The order also states that “nothing herein prevents parties from altering a possession schedule by agreement, if allowed by their court orders, or courts from modifying their orders.”

Simply put, the joint statement excepts the transfer and exchange of possession—widely known as child custody—between parents who are subject to court orders regarding the care and possession of children. This allows families involving joint managing conservators to continue their parenting schedules without worrying about violating the Governor’s shelter in place orders.

Additionally, the joint statement recognizes the right for parents and appointed nonparental conservators to modify the terms of their parenting schedule if necessary, was authorized by the terms of the court’s existing orders in that regard.

Contact Coker, Robb & Cannon, Family Lawyers

If you are concerned about the legal interests of you and your family amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, you should reach out to an experienced attorney at Coker, Robb & Cannon, Family Lawyers for sound advice and counsel. We offer phone consultations with members of our dedicated legal team who are ready to advise you about your legal rights and options.

To schedule a consultation, call us at (940) 293-2313 or contact our office online today.

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