Fighting over child custody and visitation is painful under even the best of circumstances, but attorneys and parents say the coronavirus pandemic has brought more stress, more fear, and more "live ammunition" to the battlefield.
That has certainly been true for divorced Austin dad, "M," who asked that his real name not be used to protect his son's privacy.
M dropped his preteen off at the boy's mother's house after a regularly scheduled visit in March. Then M didn't get to see his son again until Independence Day.
Instead of returning the son to his dad two weeks later, as agreed in a hard-fought custody order, M's ex-wife refused to release the child, who has a medical condition that puts him at risk if he catches COVID.
"She said, 'You can't see your kid because of COVID. I'm not going to let you have him at all," said M. "The pandemic helped her use his health against me."
A high level of fear
Austin family attorney Robert Luther said situations like M's have become a regular occurrence.
"There's a lot of acrimony out there, caused by the philosophical and political positions relative to the pandemic," said Luther. "Everybody's fear level is super high, or their defensiveness is super high. It's one or the other."
And if it was bad in the beginning, when canceled schools in March threw custody agreements into chaos, then it's even worse now with the latest surge in numbers, Luther said.
Arrangements between parents who disagree on how to handle the pandemic—or who just don't trust each other—were uncomfortable, but the parents had resigned themselves to it for a few months, he said.
Now trust is eroding, he said.
"This new level of long-term fear has affected a whole different round of people, I think, who thought they were being optimistic," he said. "And now being optimistic is really hard to do."
Help from the courts
In April, the Texas Supreme Court ruled that— without hearings—custody agreements must be honored, regardless of pandemic orders or school calendars.
It helped M, whose relationship with his son had been relegated to texting and Zoom. In June, a judge threatened to hold his ex-wife in contempt if she tried it again, and said M could make up the lost time, according to court records.
The judge also directed him to have a COVID-19 test before another overnight visit with his son.
An uneasy arrangement
Austin mom Jodi has been uncomfortable for months about sending her two young kids to spend time with her estranged husband, who she believes is too cavalier about the virus.
As the numbers have spiked, so have her fears. But there is no written visitation agreement, and the uneasy cooperation that allows them fairly equal time with the kids is precarious. A custody agreement is likely in the future, when a divorce gets filed, and it's vital to her that they stay on good terms.
"I don't agree with how he's handling it, but I don't want to fight," said Jodi, who also asked that her full name not be used to protect her children.
New lines of communication
Some divorced parents have found a way through years of anger and hurt, finding that the pandemic has opened up new lines of communication that benefit the kids.
Anthony and My-Cherie Haley have worked hard to make things easy during this uncertain time, they said. A birthday party and a Pre-K graduation spent together with the kids during lockdown would have been unheard of in the five years since the divorce.
"It's not been bad for us, interestingly," Anthony Haley said. "All that's just been put aside, and we're just working together on all of it. It's the only way to make it through this."
Said My-Cherie Haley with a laugh: "Was it always hunky-dory? No. But we've been really flexible with each other because of this pandemic."
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So you want to buy a house?
To anyone trying to get on the "housing ladder," it's been a discouraging couple of years as prices skyrocketed in a market crowded with buyers bidding against each other for just about any available home.
Things may be calming down, with the Austin Board of REALTORS reporting fewer sales and more available homes this summer.
Mortgage rates have more than doubled in the last year, from around 3% to well over 6% on a 30-year fixed rate loan, getting even more of a bump this week after the Federal Reserve raised bank rates on Wednesday.
So how affordable are homes right now? That, of course, depends on what you want and how much you're able or willing to pay, but here are some rough estimates of what a typical buyer would pay to buy a $650,000 home, which would be considered "mid-price" in today's market.
Mortgage banker Chris Holland (NMLS 211033) of Austin's Sente Mortgage ran some numbers for Austonia to illustrate a typical purchase.
Holland says that while the 30-year fixed rate mortgage is often mentioned in the media, the most popular loan that he's seeing now is a 7/1 adjustable rate mortgage, which has a fixed rate for 7 years and then adjusts every year based on market rates, with a limit on how much it can increase each year. The interest is amortized over a 30-year period. Adjustable Rate Mortgages (ARMs) offer lower rates than fixed rate loans.
Here are the numbers, which are examples. In practice, exact numbers vary with a buyer's credit rating and overall financial situation, and with the rate, which can move up or down at any time.
- $650,000 home purchase price
- 7/1 ARM at 5.875%
- 5% down payment, equals $32,500
- 95% financed, equals $617,500
- $4,990 payment, including principle and interest (P&I), insurance, and property tax
- Typically, a borrower's debt to income ratio needs to be at or below 45%. So for this mortgage, a borrower, or borrowers, would need income of roughly $11,100/month, or $133,200/year. That number could be higher, depending on the buyer's outstanding credit balances on things like credit cards and car loans.
Holland says he's had a lot of clients approved for loans who were house hunting but have put that on hold, hoping prices come down.
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Fall promises to be a one-of-a-kind camping experience. From Sept. 16 to Nov. 24, weekends will be packed with fall-themed activities, including special Halloween weekends in October. Campers can enjoy activities like fall crafts, campground trick-or-treating, costume contests, site decorating, outdoor movie nights, and more!
Packages and Ways to Stay
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Located just 5 miles from McLane Stadium, Camp Fimfo Waco is the perfect place to stay during home game weekends. Skip the stuffy hotel room and embrace the great outdoors before cheering on the Baylor Bears! Campers can purchase a Baylor Tailgating Package that includes a pre-game meal from Executive Chef Sean Kelley and transportation to and from the game! Chef Kelley will also be cooking up delicious, elevated tailgating meals near the stadium so make sure to check out The Plaid Plate food truck before the game.
Stay in style and comfort, no matter your camping preference! At Camp Fimfo Waco, there are multiple ways to stay. Red Carpet RV sites come with a concrete pad and patio, full hook-ups, cable hook-up, a charcoal grill, fire ring and fire pit. Back-in or pull-thru options are available, as well as coveted spots tucked along the Bosque River!
Don’t have an RV? Not a problem, Camp Fimfo Waco has cabins too! Book a Riverview Firewheel Cabin if you’re looking for an air-conditioned oasis for the whole family. Complete with a kitchen and private bathroom, this cabin can fit up to 10 people. Elevate your stay by adding on a golf cart or snag a private cabana by the pool for guaranteed shade. With wifi available throughout the park, you can stay connected during your stay!
Amenities and Activities
Camp Fimfo Waco
Camp Fimfo Waco features lots of amenities to fill your days with fun, whether you’re a kid or kid at heart. After challenging your friends to a game of pickleball, basketball, or mini golf, go for a dip in the resort-style, heated pool - open daily through October! Stay on the weekends through October to enjoy the interactive splash playground. With plenty of ways to burn off energy, like the jumping pillow or playground, you can be sure to end the day with a peaceful night around the campfire!
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