Doctors, nurses, hospital employees, ambulance personnel, paramedics, firefighters and law enforcement employees have experienced a whole host of consequences as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. They are constantly risking their lives to try to keep us and our families safe. Despite extreme measures, they can become easily exposed or infected. In some areas, extra shifts are being demanded and families are beginning to feel the strain in a lot of areas. Other parents and children fear being exposed or put at risk. Some of these first responders have voluntarily separated in order to protect their families while others come home spent and exhausted and unable to respond to the demands of spouse and family.

First responders in the New York EMS and Fire Department have reported witnessing an unprecedented number of deaths and that they are struggling with hopelessness and fear at the same time. It is like a war zone in many communities throughout the United States and medical personnel are losing sleep, becoming depressed and are drinking more. Psychiatrists and psychologists are warning of an upcoming surge in cases of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The V. A. Hospital System, already stressed at major levels, is having to monitor, assess and treat the mental health care needs of the medical and support staff in their facilities. Personal self-care tends to take a back seat in a crisis. In addition to the physical strain, our COVID-19 first responders are experiencing physical isolation related to restrictions on touching others, even family after working hours and constant pressure as well as worry about patients, themselves and their families. Thankfully, the pandemic does not seem to have hit our area with anything near the intensity of other states but the Houston Chronicle recently reported that Texas ranks 12th among the states with the fastest growing rate of COVID-19 cases. Harris County has just ordered everyone who is public to cover their face and mouth for the next thirty (30) days.

Nevertheless, conflicts are on the rise as the strain on families have become enormous and parents have become more protective in their isolation. When a family crisis gets layered on top of a pandemic that requires extraordinary effort and attention from a first responder, a timely legal assessment may become critically important. Some parents are taking it upon themselves to deny or restrict the possession rights of parents who cannot prove to their satisfaction that the other parent is not contaminated. For these parents, even if the first responder got tested and proved to be negative, they would still have no way to prove that they had not been exposed during the period that the results were pending. It is for this reason that our firm promptly requested guidance from the Texas Supreme Court on parental access in the pandemic. Within hours of our request, the Texas Supreme Court entered an Emergency Order that requires parents to continue to comply with their court ordered periods of possession.

If you are being denied access and possession or if the other parent is restricting your rights, powers and duties without an appropriate Court Order, you should contact an experienced family lawyer and discuss your issues. First Responders that are parents do not lose their rights as a result of being a front line professional in a pandemic. Parents who refuse to comply can be held in contempt, lose primary conservatorship or have their own rights, powers and duties restricted. Some Courts will have little patience or tolerance for a parent that has chosen to defy their court orders and the Texas Supreme Court in order to satisfy their own notions of child safety. In short, front line people who have put their lives and families at risk for the rest of us do not deserve to be mistreated by the other parent.

If you are a first responder and have started experiencing unforeseen family law consequences as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, consider calling us at Connolly & Shireman. Our experienced attorneys are intimately familiar with family law and are ready to discuss your unique circumstances.

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