The COVID-19 public health emergency has sent shockwaves throughout the country, affecting industries, the broader economy, and even the legal system. In Tarrant County, COVID-19 has also caused a wide range of changes in Family Court cases and legal processes.
If you’re expected to see a family court lawyer or be involved in a family court case in the near future, you need to know what to expect. This page will break down recent Tarrant County COVID-19 changes that may affect your case or legal responsibilities.
How COVID-19 Has Impacted Tarrant County Court Proceedings
To protect the public from the spread of COVID-19 in the initial months of the pandemic, Tarrant County’s court system quickly shut down after the declaration of local disaster measures. It ordered all public employees and court participants to stay at home. These rules were sent via emergency orders that Tarrant County judge Glen Whitley has signed to help contain and mitigate COVID-19 in Tarrant County, alongside the governor and other state officials.
That said, many Tarrant County Family Court proceedings continued as usual per instructions listed on the Tarrant County Texas website.
Have Cases Continued Being Seen?
While most individuals were ordered to stay home unless absolutely necessary, the majority of family court cases continued to be seen throughout the pandemic’s worst months. Most of these meetings were held over telecommunications software like Skype and Zoom.
Over time, COVID-19-related restrictions have relaxed as the pandemic has been beaten back. Through the issuing of additional emergency orders, family courts and other court systems throughout Tarrant County have gradually reintroduced in-person cases.
Standing Orders for Family Courts in Tarrant County
At the time of this writing, the relevant emergency order for all family courts in Tarrant County is Emergency Order 43, which was issued on September 21, 2021, and went effective October 1, 2021. This emergency order is in effect until January 1, 2022, unless otherwise extended by the Texas Supreme Court.
- The emergency order’s mandates are as follows:
- All courts can no longer enjoy blanket authority to modify or suspend deadlines and procedures described by Texas statutes, rules, or orders
- All justice and municipal courts still have the authority to modify or suspend any trial-related or pretrial hearing-related deadlines and procedures until April 1, 2022
- All courts may modify procedures and deadlines in CPS cases, even without a participant’s consent
- All courts can continue to use reasonable efforts to hold any deemed proceedings remotely. They may also continue to hold in-person proceedings, including jury trials, if they so choose
- All probate courts, criminal appeals courts, and other courts are encouraged to adopt a certain minimum standard health protocols
- The chief justices for the Courts of Appeals still have authority to mandate compliance with any adopted health standards or protocols
- All courts can hold virtual jury proceedings in cases provided that technology is given to prospective jurors
In a nutshell, it’s business as usual. The emergency order simply states that courts can continue to operate as they see fit based on how the pandemic progresses, the current infected cases number for COVID in Tarrant County, and so on.
The emergency order or certain provisions might be extended in January 2022, or it may be allowed to expire. Should this occur, all Tarrant County family courts and other court systems will likely return to business as it was before the pandemic.
You can review the order on the official Tarrant County website. Keep in mind that the Tarrant County Texas website use supported browsers only, so you may not be able to see this order on certain mobile devices.
Family Law Cases and COVID Restrictions
In Fort Worth, all family court judges currently agree on so-called “standing orders”. These apply to any new or pending divorce cases, as well as new and pending lawsuits that affect the parent-child relationship. These include cases that revolve around conservatorship, possession and access, child support, and similar topics.
In short, temporary restraining orders are not being filed or progressing through the courts, except for child protection cases. Instead, the Tarrant County family court system is focusing on keeping the peace and allowing families to remain intact for the time being.
Those families with children must keep in mind that standard prohibitions still apply. These include prohibitions against hiding or removing children from the access of another party. Parties in a child custody arrangement may not exclude another party from child access unless otherwise ordered by the court.
The same holds true for any other divorce cases, including property. For example, parties should not:
- Interact with bank accounts unduly
- Mess with financial records
- Change utilities, misdirect mail, or incur debts
In other words, many divorce proceedings are “paused” as the court systems reopen. All pending divorce cases are expected to be seen either in person or remotely sometime over the next few months.
In these cases, the details for each unique circumstance will be hashed out depending on case details.
Child Visitation and COVID-19
Although COVID-19 is a public health issue, the Tarrant County Family Court system still allows visitation rights per any standing parenting plans. For example, if you and your partner are currently subject to a 50-50 visitation arrangement for custody of your child(ren), you must abide by that parenting plan arrangement even with COVID.
Because of this, parents are not able to adjust visitation time frames or rights for another party just because of pandemic dangers. The only potential exception to this would be a new order from the court if one party was found to be needlessly endangering their child (i.e. by trying to expose them to COVID-infected patients).
Contact Texas Family Law Attorneys Today
As you can see, the legal situation for Tarrant County family law courts is still evolving, especially as the pandemic progresses. Because of this, it may be a wise idea to see a Texas family law attorney ASAP, especially if you have an upcoming divorce case or child custody meeting.
Maynard Law Firm is dedicated to helping you get the best potential outcome for your upcoming divorce case, no matter your circumstances. We can also help you navigate the legal intricacies set up by COVID-19, including determining whether an in-person or remote meeting is best. Contact us today for more information and a free consultation.