How does COVID-19 affect my case or court order?
Updated March 24, 2020 with new Collin County Order
Updated March 25, 2020 with new Supreme Court of Texas Order
As of March 23, 2020, there have been several emergency orders issued by the Collin County District Courts, Dallas County District Courts, Denton County Districts, Tarrant County Districts, and the Supreme Court of Texas. For a full list of those emergency orders affecting Collin County, Texas, please visit Judge Emily Miskel’s website here: https://www.judgeemily.com/emergency-orders/.
Collin County District Courts have removed all non-essential hearings that were scheduled with a court through May 8, 2020. Your attorneys and the staff at the Law Office of Natalie Gregg are diligently working to get new hearing dates set on all cases that this affects. An “essential” hearing consists of: Emergency protective orders, Temporary Restraining Orders, CPS removal hearings, and any other matter as designated by the Court. This last one is solely at the discretion of your judge. If you’re unsure of the status of your case, please contact your attorney.
Dallas County District Courts have not unilaterally removed any hearings and you need to assume that your hearing is still moving forward unless advised differently by your attorney or the Court.
Denton County District Courts have removed all non-essential hearings that were scheduled through April 1, 2020. Your attorneys and the staff at the Law Office of Natalie Gregg are diligently working to get new hearing dates set on all cases that this affects. An “essential” hearing consists of: Emergency protective orders; Temporary Restraining Orders (or other emergent issues); Habeas Corpus and Writs of Attachment regarding children; CPS cases; enforcements, but only if a respondent is currently in custody; and any other matter as designate by the Court. Similar to Collin County, this last one is solely at the discretion of your judge. If you’re unsure of the status of your case, please contact your attorney.
Tarrant County District Courts (for non-360th District Courts) have cancelled all dockets through April 1, 2020. The only items being heard are extraordinary relief TROs, protective orders, CPS hearings, writs of habeas corpus and/or attachment of children, adoptions, and child support bond releases. For the 360th District Court only, the Court will continue hearing her docket absent unforeseen circumstances.
How do I interpret my possession schedule in light of everything?
Fortunately, we have had some direction from the courts. First and foremost, Supreme Court of Texas, Collin County, and Dallas County have specifically addressed not only the spring break issue, but the ongoing possession schedule parties should follow while schools are shut down. These courts have stated that parties shall continue a possession schedule that presumes school is still in session and to not default to a possession schedule as if there is no school in session. The Courts that we have spoken about this with have interpreted this to include that all exchange periods shall continue as if school is in session. Therefore, if possession changes at the time school is regularly dismissed, then you will follow the school’s normal daily schedule.
On March 22, 2020, Judge Jenkins in Dallas County issued his “shelter in place” order. Almost immediately thereafter, the Family Court Judges of Dallas County issued an order that specifically states that “exchanges relating to the possession and access to children are considered ‘essential activities’” and that Judge Jenkins’s order “does not modify current Orders regarding possession and access.” Therefore, despite a shelter in place order taking effect in your county, continue to abide by the possession order you have in place. Should you have any questions about this, please contact your attorney.
On March 24, 2020, Judge Hill in Collin County issued his most recent order regarding parameters the County and its citizens shall take. This order requires anyone who believes they are at a higher risk for severe illness and may be compromised from exposure to COVID-19 to remain at home until such time that person no longer believes they are at a higher risk. As of now, this appears to have no effect on exchanges of children or periods of possession.
On March 24, 2020, the Supreme Court of Texas issued its Seventh Emergency Order which specifically states that all existing court orders shall control and that the possession schedule shall not be affected by a shelter-in-lace order. However, as always, parties are allowed to make agreements to alter possession schedules, and, of course, if an emergency arises, then parties can address this with their trial court.
What if my ex has been exposed to or diagnosed with COVID-19?
In Dallas County, the Family Court judges have given the following parameters in the event anyone affected by a possession order is exposed to or diagnosed with COVID-19: 1) notify the other parent as soon as you have reason to believe of the exposure/diagnosis; and 2) discuss the best path forward for all parties involved. If no agreement can be reached, the Courts have stated during this pandemic, factors that may exists that affect possession and access include: 1) child’s best interest, 2) material and substantial change of the circumstances of a party or child, 3) child’s physical health, 4) physical needs of the child, 5) physical dangers to the child, and 6) the ability of the parties to care for the child.
Help, I’m stuck at home and want a hearing!
We completely understand! Know that there are other ways to be able to handle a divorce or temporary orders on a child custody case. Several mediators around the state are now offering virtual mediations. This is a great tool to use to get a resolution on temporary issues while we’re awaiting the Courts to reopen to non-essential hearings. Further, former judges are allowed to act as private judges at all times. Many former judges have made their availability known to attorneys in the event any parties do not want to wait or where mediation would not be helpful. Contact the Law Office of Natalie Gregg to schedule a consult and discuss your options during this time. We’re here to help!
Please check back, as we will continue to update this as new emergency orders are issued by the Supreme Court of Texas or our local county judges.