Divorced and single parents are in unchartered waters with parenting time these days. The coronavirus and subsequent social distancing and stay-at-home orders in nearly every state has generated many questions as to how the pandemic impacts parenting time and whether the pandemic is cause to change current parenting time orders.
Some of the questions asked are:
- What if someone in my household has symptoms of the coronavirus but have not been tested? Should I isolate the whole family including keeping the children with me and not letting them go to the other parent?
- Or what if the other parent’s household member has symptoms but has not been tested? Can I make the decision to withhold parenting time?
- What if one parent works in a hospital or is a first responder? Can I keep the children from having contact with that parent until the crisis passes?
- Can I file a motion to restrict a parent’s time with the children if that parent or family member is in a profession that presents a high risk of being infected with the coronavirus?
- What if both parents are now working from home and the children are doing online school, does that mean parenting time should be changed to equal days with each parent?
- If one parent during this crisis has had to work more and cannot parent to the full extent of the parenting time order, should I file a motion to modify child support?
This is an unusual time and the legal answers to all these parenting time questions are not clear. However, the general rule is to follow the court order regarding parenting time. This is true even if your co-parent works in healthcare or is a first responder, or if you suspect they may not be following government or CDC guidance as closely as you are. This is a time for parents to communicate directly with each other on these questions.
Put your children’s health first. Do not use this pandemic against your co-parent to deny parenting time. Every family law judge is keenly aware of this possibility and will likely deal harshly with a parent who unjustifiably keeps a child from the other parent during this anxious time in our country. If your co-parent or someone in his or her household tests positive or has symptoms, or if your child is immunocompromised, this analysis may change. If parenting time needs to change, use virtual options like Skype, Facetime, or Zoom to keep your child connected to your co-parent.
Use this crisis as an opportunity to be flexible and patient with each other as parents. Don’t run to court and file a motion to change parenting time or change child support right now. The courthouses are overwhelmed with having to reschedule hearings. Priority is being given to criminal cases and emergency family law matters such as domestic violence or parenting time matters where safety is at risk. Child support, divorce, and parenting time modifications are not high on the list.
What if I am the parent who has to travel to see my children or my children travel to see me? Can the other parent refuse parenting time because I was on a plane, or refuse to allow the kids to see me?
CO public health order 20-24 part I(D) does prohibit all travel except for “necessary travel” or to perform “critical business.” Part I(B) of the CO public health order defines “necessary travel” as that required by court order.
Minnesota’s Emergency Executive Order 20-20 section 5f, says that people may leave their homes and travel to transport children pursuant to a parenting time order. This means travel across town for parenting time or further.
If a court order says the kids are to travel to see the other parent and have no symptoms or have not tested positive for the virus then the non-traveling parent has no basis to withhold parenting time.
Nonetheless, common sense should prevail. Both parents should consider what is in the best interests of their children. Given that the stay-at-home orders are of limited duration, consider canceling the scheduled travel and rescheduling for a date in the near future. Provide facetime or Zoom video chats in the meantime. Do what you can to work around this interruption in our routine life. This virus outbreak will pass. Parents must be flexible in accommodating each other in order to be fair and also to protect everyone’s health.
Many mediators are doing sessions remotely and via video sessions. If you and your ex-spouse or partner are having conflicts that you can’t work out between yourselves then seek out a mediator at this time.
Perusse Nixon, PLLC www.perussenixon.com is here to assist you in all your family law matters. We offer video and phone conferences and can be reached at 303-228-2285 (for CO clients) and 612-564-2075 (for MN clients).