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March 26, 2020

How Does Austin’s Stay-At-Home Order Affect Exchanges And Child Custody

How Does Austin's Stay-At-Home Order Affect Exchanges And Child Custody


Mayor Steve Adler issued a Stay-At-Home Order that went into effect on Tuesday, March 24, 2020. The order applies to all people of Travis and Williamson County and orders such residents to stay home, with exceptions for essential activities. Many parents may be looking for guidance on how that order affects parenting-time exchanges.

We recommend that you read the actual Stay-at-Home Order, which can be found here. Page 7 of the order allows “essential travel,” which is defined to include “travel to care for elderly, minors, dependents, persons with disabilities, or other vulnerable persons.” It also includes “travel required by law enforcement or court order.” That language strongly suggests that travel to facilitate exchanges is still allowed. Many court orders regarding exchanges also include some language requiring the parents to pick up the children, drop of the children, or meet and exchange the children at a specific location, which should help you explain why you are traveling, if necessary.

Additionally, many Texas shelter-in-place orders specifically state that traveling to exchange the children is not a violation of the orders. For example, Dallas County issued a shelter-in-place order on March 23, 2020. Dallas family courts stated that exchanging children is an essential activity under the Dallas shelter-in-place orders. That means you would not likely be violating the shelter-in-place order if you can show that you are exchanging a child.

However, if you cannot exchange your children safely, consider ways the children can stay in touch with loved ones, such as using our phones, computers, and other means.

Child Custody

The Texas Supreme Court issued a “Seventh Emergency Order Regarding the Covid-19 State of Disaster” which addressed specific issue as it pertains to prior Emergency Orders and Standard Possession Orders. The Texas Supreme Court ordered that:

  1. Governor Abbott has declared a state of disaster in all 254 counties in the State of Texas in response to the imminent threat of the COVID-19 pandemic. This order is issues pursuant to Section 22.0035(b) of the Texas Government Code.
  2. This Order supplements and does not replace or amend prior Emergency Orders Regarding the COVID-19 State of Disaster.
  3. This order applies to and clarifiespossessionschedules 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 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 or other order restricting movement issues by a governmental entity that arises from an epidemic or pandemic, including what is commonly referred to as the COVID19 pandemic.
  4. Nothing herein prevents parties from altering a possession schedule by agreement if allowed by their court order(s), or courts from modifying their orders.
  5. This Order is effective as of March 24, 2020, and expires May 8, 2020, unless extended by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.”
For your convenience, you can download the actual Order here.

The order clarifies that the Stay-At-Home Order does not modify existing possession schedules. Meaning, despite the Stay-At-Home Order, parents have to abide by the possession schedule set forth in their existing orders. Moreover, since we are still considered to be in the regular school year, normal school year periods of possession remain in effect.

We encourage you to use this opportunity to co-parent and show your children that even in unprecedented and uncertain times like this, their parents are able to work together and act in their child’s best interest. As stated by the Supreme Court, you are both free to come up with any agreement that works best, but absent an agreement then follow the original schedule set forth in your current Orders.

Your best option is to work out an agreement with the other parent. If you are having trouble working things out in your own case, please contact us to discuss your options.

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