hourglass with background sunsetAs we approach the two-year anniversary COVID-19, the impact it has had on the practice of family law continues to transition. In the beginning of the pandemic, family lawyers quickly jumped into helping their clients deal with possession exchanges during a lock down, negotiating virtual school schedules, and dealing with child support modifications based upon job losses or a pandemic-induced downturn in business.

Our focus was simply putting out fires.

As we enter our third year of pandemic life, the pandemic practice of family law has shifted from emergency triage to a more specific, specialized care. Now, the burning questions we face on a daily basis reflect the transition into a new (hopefully) endemic phase.

Disagreements over vaccination of children and navigating possession schedules when someone in the family has been exposed to COVID has become the “new normal,” and, like every question asked about the pandemic, there are not always easy answers.

The experienced attorneys at Brousseau Naftis & Massingill, P.C. have represented clients in family law matters for decades. For more information, contact us today for a no-obligation consultation.

To Vaccinate or Not to Vaccinate?

Vaccines have obviously become a polarizing issue to an extent that we, as family lawyers, have not really seen before. There have been a few cases here and there in which parents disagree about whether a child should get a vaccine, but it has never been as hot a topic as it is now. At least once a week, we will field the question from a client about whether they have the right to independently take their child to get the COVID vaccine or if they can stop their co-parent from doing it.

As with most matters involving the child after a divorce proceeding has begun, the right to make this decision is governed by the orders in place. At all times, each parent has the right to confer with the other parent to the extent possible before making a decision concerning the health, education, and welfare of the children, but the right to consent to a vaccine is not specifically enumerated in the standard rights and duties awarded to a parent.

Often, the parent resisting the vaccine will rely on a joint right to consent to medical treatment involving invasive procedures as a basis to try to block the vaccination, but for the most part, Courts in Texas have not ruled that a vaccine is an “invasive procedure.” Accordingly, this is not a surefire way to stop it. The best course of action for both parents is to seek the advice of the child’s treating pediatrician on this issue, because whether a parent is “pro” or “against,” hearing the recommendation of a trusted doctor might bring the parents on the same side of the issue for their child, which is best for all.

Post-COVID Exposure Possession

Another question we answer at least once a week is how to handle a possession exchange when someone in the household has been exposed to, or tests positive for, COVID. Due to the variance in vaccination status, prior infection, presence of vulnerable members of the home, and a party’s own personal risk tolerance, there is not one easy “one size fits all” approach here.

The best practice is for the parties to: (1) be honest with each other about exposures and test results; and (2) offer up alternatives so that no one loses time with their children due to exposure. Some parents have used exposure or diagnosis to keep a child with them during the other parent’s possession time, but this could really backfire when the situation is reversed, which is bound to happen. By encouraging our clients to work together with their exes when this inevitable circumstance occurs, they can keep both the virus and bad feelings from spreading between their homes.

These are two of the most common ways COVID has impacted families dealing with divorce, but there are many others. As is the case with most post-divorce issues, they are best resolved by placing the long-term interests of the children front and center — along with healthy doses of patience and empathy.