Susan: Hi, I’m Susan. I’m a board-certified family lawyer here in Houston, Texas. I’ve been practicing for 12 years in the area of family law and have been a member of the Houston Lawyer Referral Service for a year now. And now I’d like to turn it over to my law partner, Aaron, who can tell you a little bit more about himself and our topic for this webinar.
Aaron: Welcome everyone and thank you for joining us. Susan and I have been partners since 2008. We’ve practiced exclusively in the area of family law, but I’m board-certified in family law as well. One of the questions Susan and I have been getting in our practice is related to the COVID pandemic and school resuming or in some cases, a school not resuming, and how that affects their parenting time. Fortunately, the Texas Supreme court has issued some orders. Susan, tell us a little bit about those.
Susan: So, for all you parents out there, the Texas Supreme court has been tuned into what you guys are going through. And thankfully for all of us, including us family law practitioners, have issued emergency orders that require you to follow your current parenting plan, regardless of whether your children are being educated in person or virtually. And obviously, that’s going to be dependent upon your respective independent school district. So my advice to you this evening is to look at your independent school district’s website and determine when the official start date is for your school district so you know when the summer possession ends and the regular school term starts, and that’s when you need to transition back into that regular school time, regardless of whether your kids are showing up to the schoolhouse or they’re staying at home (and God bless you for doing that virtually).
Aaron: Another question Susan and I get is, if my child is not going to be returning to school in person, but it’s instead of going to be using some sort of homebound learning, whether it’s virtual or homeschooling, is school still considered in session for purposes of the pickup and drop off time. And this is important too, perhaps particularly for those of you who have some variation of the standard possession order. During the summer often common for possession to begin and end at 6:00 PM on Fridays and Sundays whereas during the school year, possession will end at the time. School is released on Friday and it will end at the time school resumed on the following Monday. In this case, you should follow the beginning and end times based on the school, even if your child is not physically in school. So for example, if your child was an elementary student in Houston, an independent school district, and their school resumes on Monday at 7:30 AM, then that means your period of possession ends on 7:30 AM on that Monday. That’s not going to be practical for all parents, particularly if you’ve got two working parents. So parents are always able to deviate from the order as long as it’s by mutual agreement between both parents. Susan, if you have parents who are choosing to deviate from the terms of the possession order, what recommendations do you make to that?
Susan: Well, in addition to your point about the start and stop times on school, Aaron, I would also refer the parents to their school district’s website because they are doing staggered in-person learning. So for instance, if you’ve got a kindergartner or first grader, or fifth grader, or ninth grader, they’re going to be staggered times that those kids are going to be showing up and being released. So be mindful of that when it comes to start and stop times on possession. If you are going to deviate from your parenting plan and the current order that you are operating under, then I would highly encourage you to communicate in writing with your co-parent to make sure that there is no miscommunication about how you guys are going to handle this very different learning experience when the fall semester starts and however long this pandemic lasts.
Aaron: If you have parents who are not able to reach an agreement about deviating and one of them is choosing not to follow the order, what recommendations do you have for those parents?
Susan: We have enforcement remedies under the family code and enforcement remedies include violations of possession and access. So in that event, if you’ve got a co-parent who is just blatantly violating any mutual agreements or going outside of the default possession schedule that’s already contained in your order and also violating the provisions that have been set forth on your ISD’s website, then you need to contact an attorney to determine what your needs are concerning enforcement. And that’s one of the reasons why Aaron and I have the pleasure of volunteering and giving our time to Houston Lawyer Referral Service so that folks like you and our community can reach out to a pre-screened qualified attorney who can assist you with your family law issues. Aaron, do you want to give them the information about how they can contact HLRS?
Aaron: Thank you guys for your time and for tuning in today. If you have questions or you’d like to meet with one of the prescreen qualified lawyers, please contact Houston Lawyer Referral Service at www.hlrs.org. Thank you so much. Have a great evening.
Susan: Good evening take care.