Odds are that your Parenting Plan and / or Final Judgment establishing the shared time with your children and ex-spouse or other parent does not contain provisions of what do during a pandemic. So:
- What do you do with your timesharing if it is centered around school and work and both of these look very different now?
- How can you best protect your children from exposure to COVID-19 and comply with the court’s order so that you are not held in contempt?
Most of the courts are enforcing the timesharing plan so long as it continues to be in the best interests of the children. The American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers (AAML) recently published the Seven Guidelines for Parents Who Are Divorced / Separated and Sharing Custody of Children During the COVID19 Pandemic.
In said publication, it encourages parents to be creative, mindful and compliant. More importantly, it reminds us that each parent should provide honest information to the co-parent about any suspected or confirmed exposure to the virus, and try to agree on what steps each of you will take to protect the child from exposure. Certainly both parents should be informed at once if the child is exhibiting any possible symptoms of the virus. Communication is incredibly important during these challenging COVID-19 times.
Despite the pandemic, you must be try as much as possible to be compliant. The custody / timesharing agreement or court order exists to prevent endless negotiations over the details of timesharing. In some jurisdictions there are now even standing orders mandating that, if schools are closed, custody agreements should remain in force as though school were still in session. Therefore, if you are able to maintain the schedule without exposing your child to COVID-19, then do so.
The key for the judge will be whether there is a real risk that constitutes the basis or desire to limit timesharing. Recently a Florida judge ruled that an emergency room doctor would lose timesharing on a temporary basis with her daughter because of Coronavirus. There, the judge found that the doctor’s exposure to people infected with COVID-19 posed a real risk for the minor child. It seems unfair, but remember that our courts are always looking for what is in the best interest of the minor children. It is up to the parties to present evidence that supports or contradicts the allegations made to the court regarding the risks to the child.
If you have missed time because of COVID-19, then immediately develop a makeup timesharing schedule to catch up on lost time as soon as it is safe to do so. In the meantime, while we understand it may not be the same, get creative with the “time” spent with your child. Now we have access to in person interaction via electronic means. Zoom, Skype and FaceTime are not only available for office meetings and work related matters. You can use these services to have some creative face to face time with your child.
If you have questions about child custody, visitation, or other family law matters during COVID-19, our team at Robert Sparks Attorneys is available to help. Contact us to speak with a Tampa lawyer about your legal needs and options.