Parenting Time During COVID-19
During the months of uncertainty and shutdowns that have accompanied COVID-19 many parents have faced significant challenges regarding parenting time and childcare. Even during the best of times co-parenting can be difficult, but COVID-19, the risks, the guidelines, and the widely differing opinions on it all make for a particularly thorny issue when sharing custody of children is involved. Here we’ll discuss some of the basics about whether and how parenting time can change during COVID-19 and what you can do if you feel another parent is acting in a unsafe manner or failing to abide by court orders.
The most important thing to remember is that court orders remain in effect until a court says otherwise, even during a crisis like this one. If you have a parenting time agreement or a child support order that is no longer workable for one or both parties, whoever wants the change needs to ask for the court overseeing your case to change the order. One parent cannot, on their own, decide to change parenting time without order of a court because their new work schedule or available childcare has changed, even if it is due to an emergency like COVID-19. In a situation where both parties agree on the change, you should seriously consider making an agreed modification to the court’s order establishing parenting time because an informal agreement can easily be rescinded and is not enforceable in court.
If one parent is engaged in dangerous or unsafe activity regarding COVID-19, can the other parent force them to follow guidelines or take safety precautions? The answer to this question varies from situation to situation and judge to judge. In most circumstances you will need to request the court to order the other parent to take the precautions you believe are needed, and you cannot deny them parenting time without a court order simply because they aren’t wearing masks or observing social distancing. The court may or may not grant your request, but by filing a request for modification with the court you can avoid the consequences of unilaterally withholding parenting time. If another parent is requesting parenting time even though they or a household member have been diagnosed with or tested positive for COVID-19, you may need to file an emergency order with the court to modify parenting time to avoid any potential liability or consequences for denying them parenting time.
These are complex issues in a quickly changing environment. As always, the best course of action is to have an experienced attorney evaluate your specific situation and advise you as to the best course of action for you individually.