As novel Coronavirus cases go up, non-custodial parenting time goes down. A shelter-in-place order does not mean that your children cannot see the other parent in person when they live close by. However, parents if you are living far apart and are under a stay-home order now is the time to come up with alternative parenting time methods so you can stay engaged and increase your interaction with your child. I have compiled some best practices to help you encourage the other parent to include you in your child’s daily activities. As the away parent, you might have to spend more time with your children online. After researching the options and advice coming out of the states, I list 5 ways you can spend more time with your children as well as some homeschooling ideas to help non-custodial parents get time with their children right away instead of waiting on court orders that could be delayed for months. You can do all of these despite living in a SARS-C0V-2 transitioning world.
It is inevitable that many of the other states will follow California with the shelter-in-place orders. So far New York, Illinois, Texas and many others have some cities shuttering in already. If your state does not yet, it is projected that our medical systems will get overwhelmed and there will be more deaths. There is a debate going on right now whether to open the country back up because crashing the economy can cause deaths as well. But that has not happened yet. So while the government is deciding what needs to be done and things are changing daily and sometimes hourly, there you are sitting in limbo being denied your parenting time and not knowing when you will get to see your child again. This means that you are going to have to get creative in order to stay engaged and involved with your children when it grows increasingly likely that even parents who live close by could start to see disruption in their possession time.
How Can I Get More Time with My Child When the Other Parent Says COVID-19 Does not Allow My Parenting Time?
Here are some solutions the Non-custodial parent, or away parent, could do with the children to stay engaged and continue to get parenting time during this COVID-19 outbreak, even if your ex thinks this is an apocalyptic world, and even if the other parent treats you like you are just a visitor.
How Can I Participate in My Child’s Homeschooling?
Just because you are a noncustodial parent, that does not make you a visiting parent. You are a critical part of your child’s life and this means that your child needs your involvement. Here are five tips for how you can participate in your child’s homeschooling and education:
- You can watch shows and movies together on Netflix Party for FREE (as long as you have Netflix). You can stream shows together, watch movies, and interact, chat at the same time. How cool is that!
Here is how to Install Netflix Party
- 01 Install Netflix Party
To install Netflix Party, start off by clicking the “Install Netflix Party” button on this page. Once you are redirected to the Chrome Web Store, click “Add to Chrome” to finish installing Netflix Party.
- 02 Open a Video in Netflix
Go to Netflix’s website. Choose any show you would like to watch and start playing the video.
- 03 Create your party
To create your party, click on the red “NP” icon located next to the address bar. (It’s not red on my bar by the way, it’s gray.) Then click “Start Party” to get the party started, and share the party URL to invite friends.
- 04 Join a Netflix Party
To join a party click on the party URL, which will redirect to Netflix’s website. Then click on the “NP” button next to the address bar, and you should automatically join the party.
Looks like both sides need to have the add-on extension to join the party, so you might have to walk your child through the setup or have the other parent help the child install the chrome extension. This only works from devices that have Chrome, Chromebooks, laptops, computers, IPads, and other tablets.
- You can play games together. Find out what games your children play and play with them on some of those games. Children forge long-term friendships playing those games, my daughter did, and some of the people she has spent time gaming with even came to her wedding. She started playing those games in her teens.
There are also educational games that you could suggest with your child, brain games, strategy games, and other mind stimulating games you could engage with your child even if they are not multi-person platforms. You could challenge them through score and level comparisons.
You can also use Discord to chat and stream games with your child too. Discord is a FREE voice and text chat for gamers. But you can use it for just regular video chatting too. You can just voice chat or you can also see the game while you are each playing. You can even have video of yourself and they can too so it can be an all immersive experience, but you might need another screen to capture that all together.
3. You can video call your children rather than just regular phone calls. You can even Zoom call them too if they each have their own smart phones and computers. You can also use Google Hangout, Facebook Messenger, and if you have an IPhone Facetime them if they have one too.
4. You can help homeschool your child. Get with the other parent and find out what subjects you can teach your child and what subjects they want to teach. If you know how to read music and the other parent doesn’t then get online at set times and teach the children music. If you are into dance, even if you are not a professional, dance with your child online.
This would give the other parent a break from doing all of the homeschooling and also give them some work time as well. Or you two could alternate days of teaching too. Even if the children are in a structured program that is run online by another private school or public school, you could still talk with the other parent and set up times when you do homework with them and still teach whatever you are talented in, in addition to their other structured curriculum.
Your children are not getting to go to their sports practices and don’t have gymnastics or music lessons, and you are probably working from home too, so take that time and plug in time to teach your child something yourself. If the activity that they were in has online lessons for them already you could still practice with them or ask that coach, dance, or music instructor if you could also attend since it is all video so that you can practice with your child too.
5. Read to your child either over video chat or you could record your voice and then put your files on a Google Drive and share those with your child. You could hold a listen or watch party so if your child has questions about what you are reading as they are listening they can chat with you about it too. You could also read live to them but having something you record is kind of nice too because they can listen anytime. They might want to listen to you when they go to bed or when they are in the shower, or just chilling. You might even consider reading their textbook for them so they can relax and listen to their textbooks. Just don’t post that publicly anywhere, books are copyrighted.
So What do I do if We Signed a Wait Until 8th Agreement?
A Wait Until 8th Agreement means you have decided not to give your child a smartphone until 8th grade. If this is the case, then have the child use a computer. These apps work on both smartphones and computers. And although your pledge is to reduce the amount of screen time your children uses, this is a temporary situation and this may be the only way your child can stay in touch with you and other friends and relatives.
If you have other suggestions for parents to help them spend more time with their children during this crisis, please post them in the comments below.
What if My Child is Being Denied to Me Because the Other Parent Thinks I have been exposed to the new coronavirus?
In an effort to keep children safe some parents are afraid that letting the child go to see the other parent is going to cause their risk of being infected by the novel coronavirus to increase. The government has contributed to this fear calling for shelter-in-place orders and to stay home. But most governors or state supreme courts have issued orders or statements as guidance to parents to clear up any confusion about whether or not you need to follow your orders.
Do I have to follow the child custody orders right now?
If the other parent isn’t allowing the children to come and see you because they think that they are automatically exempted because of the stay-at-home orders, shelter-in-place orders, or because the schools extended Spring Break, or because of the school closures, they are not. The Texas Supreme Court has issued several orders addressing child custody possession schedules under the coronavirus emergency orders.
The Ramos Law Group suggests that you take a copy of your court order with you when you go to pick up your child during the shelter-in-place restrictions. Also print a copy of your state’s guidance and email it to the other parent as well as take a copy with you along with your court orders.
The Supreme Court stepped in to provide guidance during this time of chaos and confusion. For example, Texas noncustodial parents had possession of their children during the Spring Break Vacation and when the schools extended the closure of the schools during this vacation time these parents refused to return the children to the other parent stating that their orders say they don’t return the child until 6 P.M. the day before school resumes. Dallas and Collin Counties responded first with judges in those counties clarifying and stating that the regular school calendar is controlling for all child custody orders that follow the standard possession order (SPO). The Texas Supreme Court quickly followed with a miscellaneous docket order 20-9043 stating that the judiciary “clarifies possession schedules in Suits Affecting the
Parent–Child Relationship. For purposes of determining a person’s right to possession of and
access to a child under a court-ordered possession schedule, the original published school schedule
shall control in all instances. Possession and access shall not be affected by the school’s closure
that arises from an epidemic or pandemic, including what is commonly referred to as the COVID-19 pandemic.” This was done to settle the uncertainty, confusion, or absurd results created by parents interpreting their orders to mean that they got to keep the children indefinitely until school resumed. Texas Family Code Section 153.312 and Sec. 153.313 reads that in alternating years the other parent “and the managing conservator shall have possession for the same period in odd-numbered years.” How would that work exactly if the parent this year kept the child for two, three, four weeks or more this year? And now the Texas Supreme Court has resolved questions that parents have regarding the rest of the year and their possession time. It is settled, custodial parents cannot deny the noncustodial parent their possession time without getting a new order.
In order to prevent chaos and confusion Governors, family court judges, and Supreme courts all over the United States are stepping in and issuing emergency orders to help parents and children avoid conflict, chaos, and confusion, to keep the peace and continue continuity and certainty about your possession schedule the children are to follow to ensure that the children continue to get to see both of their parents. Before you contact an attorney or your family court scroll down to the bottom of this page and click on your state to see if any orders have been created by your Governor, your court, or your state Supreme Court.
A little extra advice about communication and sharing the child with the other parent.
All states have to allow you to make your own agreements with the other parent even if these arrangements are different than what is in your current order, with the exception of course if there is a Protective Order or Restraining Order.
So all parents are being encouraged to not get picky about technicalities in their orders right now and to work with the other parent to ensure the child’s safety and security during these uncertain times, to be reasonable and to work with the other parent and ensure that the parent and child are getting lots of interaction together including online access.* For instance, each of you might be working from home right now and perhaps don’t want to send your child to daycare or don’t have daycare or daycare might be an added expense because maybe you didn’t need it when the child was in school. So why not share the child equally with the other parent and get a week of not having noisy kids in the house giving you a break to have your online meetings and get things done that you might not otherwise be able to get done when the kids are home all of the time. (Naturally this does not apply to parents who have Restraining Orders or Protective Orders or Supervised Visitation Orders that prohibit this extra contact with the child.)
This is a time of great stress and uncertainty, so custodial parents, primary residential parent, managing conservators and noncustodial parents, standard possession order parents, now is not the time to use this situation to take a jab at the other parent or take advantage of the situation. If you need to go to court later being able to show that you worked in good faith with the other parent can go a long way. Let this time be an exercise in working together better. Who knows you might find that you don’t need to wait on the courts anymore to resolve your conflicts. When people face imminent danger like this it can change them, sometimes for the better. Other things can take on a whole different perspective. We understand that there are some parents that you are not going to be able to get to budge no matter what you try. But try, try things you haven’t tried. Take time to review how you are responding, reacting, initiating communications. Try and see yourself in all of this, not blame yourself, but just recognize what you can control and what responses, reactions, interactions you are inviting. Yes, we know that some of you are suffering abusive communications from the other parent and you are sick of being treated this way. But also check yourself and make sure that you are not making the other parent feel shut out and un-important. Have you gotten primary control over your child because you were feeling bullied or had trouble resisting and were giving in so you sought the courts help to get control so you didn’t have to deal with the other parent? If this is the case, you have control and you may be able to calm the other parent by letting them know that you will be sharing the child equally and that you just want them to not interfere with your parenting decisions and not try to push you into doing things their way. Agree that each of you will do things your own way and neither of you try to change, fix, or control the other parent. The goal right now is to make the best decisions you can and to communicate in ways that do not contribute to the resistance, retaliation, or frustration of the other parent. You don’t want to start a war of wills right now because you might have to wait a long time to see your child as most courts are not hearing enforcement of custodial time as an emergency. (If you believe that your child has been abducted or is in danger, get the attention of your court as best you can and other law enforcement agencies, know your custodial interference laws and bring those to the attention of the police department as well as to your district attorney.) And if you do need to go to court later and litigate interference with child custody, enforcement, and to get a modification of your orders and need more on protecting your rights, you know where to find us. While we are not attorneys, we provide additional information that helps you work with your attorney find creative solutions and apply the protections they may not be telling you about. We are not a substitute for an attorney either.
What do I do if the other parent says they think that I’m infected so they don’t have to follow the child custody order?
If the other parents says that they think you are infected or that you might expose the child because of your work activities, you should discuss what measures you have been taking to ensure that you are not a risk to the child. Just recently a mother had the police show up at her door at 10 p.m. in the evening and separate the parent from her children because the father complained that she is a nurse and therefore posed high risk and potential imminent danger of infecting the children. Now is not the time to flex your muscle just because you are entitled to the child at that time. The entire world is worried about infection so it is not unreasonable to want some assurance. Communicating is extra critical at this point in time right now. If you would like some help with this you can contact a professional to help you with ways to de-escalate the communications between you and the ex. This will resolve a whole lot of the conflict and get better results faster than waiting on the courts.
Additionally, if you are concerned that you or your child might have been exposed to the novel Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 that leads to COVID-19, there is a new test that can produce results in less than 45 minutes that should be available beginning March 30, 2020 from Cepheid. But until then consider quarantining yourself for 14 days and then resume the child exchanges after you are sure that you are well and clear of any possibility of infection.
Has the coronavirus suspended my child custody orders?
If your state has not issued guidance you could look to other states who have. It seems to be a consensus that every state that has passed an Executive Order or a Statement concurs that Essential Travel includes “Travel required by law enforcement or court order, including to transport children pursuant to a custody agreement.” So yes, you can travel to pick up and drop off your child for your possession time. “[A]ll court orders for a child’s custody, parenting time and support are still in force. Only a new court order can change that. Parents should continue to follow their court order. If future government decisions restrict travel or, if a child’s safety is an issue, parents should work together to keep the child’s access to both parents as close to the normal arrangement as possible. Remember that children might also be nervous about current events and need reassurance from parents. If it is necessary to share parental responsibilities in ways different than the court order provides, parents should cooperate with each other to further the child’s best interests. If parents are not able to agree between themselves how to do this, their court order continues to control what they should do.” [Excerpt taken from A Statement from the Michigan Supreme Court on Matters Concerning Children published on March 16, 2020.]
The following is a combination of suggestions made by attorneys from multiple states. Click on your state below if you would like a copy of the orders and attorney suggestions from your state. (If your state is not there search your local family court page, check with attorneys in your area, search your Governor’s page, and your state Supreme Court page to see whether emergency orders have been issued for your area or state.)
- Follow your parenting plan orders. If you are concerned about your child being in a high-risk category due to an immune compromised condition or disability, or the other parent has high conflict and isn’t taking the virus danger seriously, you still have to follow the court orders unless you get an emergency order to temporarily modify your custody orders. Many Governors, state supreme courts, and family court judges in several states have issued emergency child custody orders that confirm that parenting time exchanges must go on as ordered. (Check your state below.) Now more than any time before parents need to find a way to be a team in the efforts to limit your social circles. A family law scholar and Law professor’s advice, suggests “[t]his is not the time to keep a minute accounting of how many overnights the other parent has had or to argue that the current school closures should be treated like summer vacation. Avoid gamesmanship. Talk through concerns and be open to new arrangements.” Parent’s need to be creative and use common sense and to be fair. If one parent exercises more time than the order approves then “reassure the other parent that any current reduction in their parenting time will be made up – eventually – and that in the meantime, they will have increased phone calls, video chats and other forms of non-physical contact.” Propose reasonable solutions. If the other parent is refusing to follow the social distancing efforts, the other parent could feel that violating the order is worth it and willing to take their chances with facing any threats of contempt charges. So communicate and assure each other and do your best to keep both of you comfortable with continuing the exchanges or accommodating as we outlined here to avoid the necessity of future litigation. The best rule of thumb is cooperation. Cooperation does not mean having to give up all of your contact with your child and does not mean that you should not expect to have in person face-to-face time with your child in the amount you were due at some time in the future even if you spend more time with the child electronically. So custodial and noncustodial parents be fair and be cognizant to not dominate the other’s time.
If you are in Texas, Indiana, New York, or any other state that has made an order providing guidance for continuing parenting time attach one of the orders to your email or text notice to the other parent that you will be exercising your parenting time as ordered.* You might also want to attach the social distancing rules for your area so that the other parent knows you are following them and aware. Some parents may perceive that because you want to keep the exchanges going that you are ignoring your state or community directives. It may be helpful to highlight the portion of the orders that say you can keep traveling to and from each other’s home to pick up your child. Make sure your notice to the other parent includes that you will be at the ordered pick up time and place to pick up your child. However, if the other parent no longer has the money to drive and meet you at the pick up and drop off location it may be necessary to agree to pick up and drop off at their home. This viral emergency does not waive any of those orders. Point is, there may be many changes that need to be made that the two of you are going to have to work out to keep your parenting time going during these days of constant changes. (*If you have a Protective Order against you or any kind of Restraining Order that prohibits you from contacting or communicating with the other parent or going near them or their place of residence, then do not do anything that those orders prohibit you from doing. Additionally, if you feel that it is unsafe for you to go near their place of residence for safety reasons that existed prior to this viral outbreak, the virus does not magically make you safer. Use your best judgment and do not assume that any orders are waived, they are not.)
Gently remind the other parent that they are to surrender the child to you and also address their fears and let them know what precautions you are taking, acknowledge their concerns and don’t try to talk them out of their concerns. Don’t try to talk them into changing their views to match yours, don’t try to make them more reasonable, just listen, hear them, address their fears and concerns as best you can. Assure them that you have not been exposed if you have not. If you know you have been exposed to a positive case of the virus, be realistic and ask the other parent if to agree to makeup time in writing if you forgo your parenting time for 14 days until you are clear from any channce you have it. This will go a long way in establishing trust between both of you during this lockdown. Do all of this in writing. And don’t react if they shut you down right away, just proceed to number two if you have not been exposed and are wanting to pick your child up according to the regular parenting plan orders.
- Send an email letting them know that you will be at the designated pickup and exchange place and time. Make sure you list the address of the place and the day, date, and time. Yes, put that all in writing, nicely, even if it is in the order, and even if that is what you have been doing all along. If it is their house then of course you don’t have to list their address. Use commonsense or it will look like you are just trying to be an ass, even if you’re not. Perception is everything right now, especially when everyone is in hyperdrive. Just put what is necessary to ensure that they cannot say that there was confusion as to where and when you were expecting to pickup your child. This will ease the tension when you exchange the child. Then make sure to show up even if the other parent says to go to hell or over their dead body. Stay calm and go to the next step.
- Attorneys like Mika Meyers of Michigan recommends that you “[d]o something so you can verify you were there (buy something and keep the time-stamped receipt, take a selfie with a clock in the background, whatever works for you.) You will need to do this for every exchange that sould be the start of your parenting time.” Make sure that you also have something that has the date on it too, so the clock and date are in the picture. Most smartphones have the option to date and time stamp a picture as well, use both. This is to create evidence so you can prove that you are attempting to exercise your parenting time as ordered, and also to preserve the chain of evidence.
If your attempt to get the other parent to show up and surrender the child fails on the first day consider making another attempt . . .
(My ex used to show up and flaunt that he had control over my children by keeping them in the car, lock the doors when I approached, and then told them not to get out, and would speed off.)
. . . if it is a weekend possession and you are supposed to have them Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, then you could try and make arrangement to pick up your child on those days too. Sometimes an ex cools off by the next day especially if they were giving you the reason for withholding your child was because you were late. If you choose to try again then you could send an email the following day and say that you will be attempting to pick them up again and would appreciate it if they follow the court order, and repeat the above steps for each day you are supposed to have the child/ren. Some states will count each day as a separate count of contempt. However, you might not have to do that for each day to preserve the 3 or 4 counts if you didn’t get them the first day, just depends on your state and how they handle enforcement. Check with an attorney to make sure you are collecting all the evidence you need to enforce later. And if your order says that you forfeit your possession time that period if you were late then do not do this step. You will have to try again to get your child your next scheduled parenting time.
- If you were not able to get your child during your time, or even if you were but on the next day so you were denied a day or several hours, Attorney Meyers recommends to “[k]eep very careful notes of all conversations . . .” Make sure they are all in writing. And keep the conversations about their concerns and about the exchange of the child, nothing else. Even if you are not ordered to use an online service like Talking Parents or Our Family Wizard you might want to use one anyway. These apps and websites keep your conversations organized, make it easy to share them with the judge, and many courts don’t even require that you print them (check with an attorney to make sure though before any trial). You don’t want to show up to court without the evidence in the proper form.
If the conversation is somewhere where you are face-to-face with the other parent, record the conversation. There are plenty of free phone apps to help you do this. But don’t be rude or in their face as you are recording as this is a very stressful time for everyone and this just agitates and makes the situation more volatile. If you choose to use the video feature and not just audio record and they complain about you recording, nicely shift it away from being right in their face and politely let them know that evidence is required by the court if you need to take it to court to get your court-ordered time. Remind the parent of your court or Governor’s directive and that you are not being insensitive or placing the child in any more danger than they are in being inside that parent’s home. If the parent raises objections, hear them out, but if they keep coming up with excuses and it gets excessive, and they have tried your patience, then you have acted in good faith and you can tell them that you have heard them and that you have plans and would like to get on your way and will be very careful with the health and safety of your child. (It’s easy to be offended that the other parent would think that you would endanger your child, especially after they have already used the courts to interfere with your equal rights and time, but resist the tendency to get defensive and offended. Just let it roll off and keep your goal in mind to be with your child and not have to depend on expensive litigation or threatening lawsuits.)
If that parent tries to get you to agree to take measures with your child that you are not comfortable with or you feel are not necessary or too extreme, don’t argue with them just again politely let them know that you would be happy to take a look at what they are requesting if it is recommended by the CDC or the government in your state. If it is required by the state or federal government then assure them you are following the recommendations. Don’t nitpick if it is just a suggestion and not a requirement. If the other parent wants the recommendation followed don’t argue with them right now if it means they might keep your child, especially since most courts are not hearing enforcement of parenting time right now. Sure they will later, but if you want your time now, this is how you might have to address these disagreements for now. Remind yourself silently of course, that this is not going to be forever, and keep the notes so that you have the date, time, place, and what they required of you in order to take your child during your time. Don’t even say to them, that’s not court ordered. Just take your child and enjoy your time with them and document, document, document so that if this pattern continues after the emergency with COVID-19 has subsided you can show a pattern of behavior that is interfering with your right to determine how you raise your child during your time if you decide that litigation is still necessary after this national emergency is over.
Keep all of this evidence organized nicely in folders on your computer and backed up on the cloud too. A Google drive is a nice place to store your files. I still have files from when I was in college! If I had those just on my computer, the computer is long gone and so would be my files, and I cannot tell you how many thumb drives I have and how long it would take me to find which one a file I saved from a particular day, time, and incident was on; that’s assuming I didn’t save over it and still have that thumb drive or backkup drive. So Google Drives are an easy and inexpensive way to be organized and keep your evidence safe and easily accessible. it’s free if you don’t need extra space, but if you do it’s super reasonable and cheap. I pay $1.99 a month for my extra storage.
- Keep track of the type of parenting time your child missed with you because when you enforce you will be asking for like quality and time back as makeup time. Marking it on a desk calendar is helpful to show whether it was a school day or not. You can go to custody calendars and mark the missed days on there and print those out easily as evidence. (And even though the children are out of school right now, it is not the usual schedule so I don’t know whether you are going to be able to argue that the other parent got a ton of vacation time with the child, because they are probably still working even if from home and the children should be still doing schoolwork all day online.)
- Keep track of all the times you tried to talk to your children, text, e-mail, called, set up Skype, Zoom calls, Facebook chat. Keep track of the times you were able to interact with them as well whether succesful or unsuccesful. This will show your attempts, efforts, and interactions. Don’t be excessive with the communications or disruptive to the other parent’s schedule at their home. For instance, calling during dinner or bed times would not look good for you. Remember to request additional time to interact with your child. If it is supposed to be your time anyway then you can suggest that you video chat a dinner or a bedtime routine so you can tuck the child in, and if you have discussions during dinner while you eat, so you can have that interaction with them as if you were having dinner with them.
- When you interact with your child don’t badmouth the other parent even if they deserve it. The child is not in control over the other parent. Even if you know the child could influence the other parent, trying to get them to puts stress and strain on them and puts them in the middle. We get that the court has put them in the middle and that statutes rewarded the parent that put them in the middle, but this is not the time or the way to get your time restored after this pandemic or your exes panic pases. (Become a member and research our membership site for better ways to defeat the violations of your orders.)
- “If the situation in the home where your child is while in the care of the other parent rises to the danger level of “imminent” and “significant risk of harm,” Attorney Meyers suggests that then you may want to reach out to law enforcement for a well child check (be prepared to describe the basis of your concerns in detail and expect a skeptical reaction — law enforcement is not there to enforce parenting time orders) or, in situations where you can substantiate imminent or significant risk of harm, a call to Child Protective Services (same guidance, be prepared to be specific and rexpect skepticism — CPS is not there to enforce parenting time orders or resolve disagreements between joint legal custodians as to what is best for their child).” I would like to add that if there is any way to not involve the police or CPS right now that is preferable. If there is real serious danger than of course you may have no alternative, but if you do you might want to consider an alternative person like if there is a friend that the other parent might respond to or listen to or a family member, you might try that alternative before resorting to the above two. The police and CPS can create all sorts of other complications as well as expose your child to more people who could have the virus, so seriously try everything you cn to not involve more people if you can think of alternative ways of addressing any danger. In other words, assess the danger and risk compare it to the risk of being exposed to the virus. Make the decision that you feel is the safest for your child.
What if you don’t want to give the child to the other Parent during this viral outbreak because you are afraid the child might get infected?
The entire world is afraid right now and parents are especially afraid of their child being exposed and getting infected with this virus. When you are being told to stay home, shutter yourself in, stay put, don’t even take your child to the park or on walks too close to the other people, don’t let them play with their friends, or thousands more people could die, it just might not feel right to let your child go outside not even if it’s with the other parent. If you are the parent considering keeping your child because you think the other parent has been exposed or has a high-risk job or household, or maybe you feel the other parent isn’t taking this seriously and is just blowing it off and saying that they don’t think it is really all that serious. “. . . think carefully about this decision and whether you have a supportable basis for it, as there could be negative consequences associated with it.” Meaning keeping your child from the other parent might not be reasonable. How would you know what is reasonable to a judge anyway? And you might be getting told different things from different attorneys. So many state supreme courts are starting to issue orders to help clear up the confusion. There are some basics you can follow that are more likely to be considered reasonable, and we list the ones here we feel will be more likely to protect you and your decision.
You will need proof that there is an active case of COVID-19 or symptoms of the coronavirus in the other parent’s home. If you perceive the other parent as not as careful as you and just think that their practices increase the risk of exposure to your child, that may not be as easy a case to a judge if that other parent goes to enforce the orders. However, you might be able to avoid ever having to go through enforcement, if you are truly concerned you could try to get the other parent to agree and offer them like makeup time. If you are not reasonable a court might see that too and you could end up losing more than just makeup time. You could be thrown in jail once the courts hear the enforcement cases if the judge decides that violating the orders was not reasonable and your reasons do not satisfy the exception to being held in contempt.
If you do choose to withhold the child from the other parent you will want to make sure that the parent gets plenty of parenting time, see the five homeschooling and parenting time suggestions that I made at the beginning of this blog post.
Get a friend, divorce coach, advocate, attorney, mediator, counselor, or someone who can be neutral to look over your communications before you send them and see whether they find what you are doing reasonable. In fact, it is a good idea to get the opinion from several of those listed here to get a balanced view and learn how to release the trigger. Communications written poorly and in anger will be the first thing the other parent uses as Exhibit 1. Then everything else you did will be clouded by that outburst and you will have more difficulty getting a judge to find you reasonable and to punish the other parent for the custodial interference.
One more good point this Attorney Mika Meyers raised, and I added to, was that if the child is with you and the other parent refuses to pick them up, you cannot enforce that even if their parenting time is supposed to start. Attorney Meyer says that “[y]ou can ask the for additional financial support through the courts to repay your added costs” if you have additional childcare expense.” But that the courts are not going to hear these as emergencies.
Attorney Meyer says that the court will hear child support issues on quick measure. So if you are a child support obligor be aware of this as you will want to make sure that you have a new financial affidavit filled out and have any proof that you were laid off or your hours were cut back. The court has to consider an inability to pay. Remind the court that we are in a pandemic with lockdowns and hiring freezes and uncertainty. And we have some child support enforcement arguments to protect those that cannot pay that you can get here if you do face enforcement.
Monitor the government benefits if they ever get those decided. There is talk about receiving an extra $500 dollars if you have a child in your household. That no doubt will go to the parent considered primary residential parent so unfortunately doesn’t look like any additional relief will be headed to child support payors as part of any new legislation at this time.
Do I have to send my child to the other parent if they are sick?
If you think that your child has COVID-19 take them to the doctor. You should inform the other parent immediately and let them decide if they would like to be there as well. Most orders will say that you must inform the other parent within a certain number of hours. That however does not allow the other parent to be there also. Making sure that the parent who does not have possession of the child during this time has the option is how you show good faith. Who knows you could start to see a change in the other parent’s angst and irritability towards you as well. If that other parent tries to take over the decision making at the appointment and you get uncomfortable about the interactions consider taking the other parent aside and asking them what is important to them and both of you consider things outside the hearing of the child and the doctor or nurse. You could also be pro-active and try to make an agreement with the non-primary residential parent right now and let them know that you will be inviting them to more with the child but that if it is during your time then you are the ultimate decision maker if the two of you remain in disagreement after discussing decisions before they are made, and in return make the same apply for when they have possession of the child. By giving each other this courtesy you reduce the reasons that parent has to fight with you.
What are the remedies the courts might consider after the coronavirus restrictions are lifted?
It will be slow, and there will be long delays, but the courts will get back to business as usual. However, we suspect that the courts will be taking the motions for enforcement of parenting time where a parent was denied during this stay-home orders will be looked at fairly seriously. However, many parents will be getting away with these violations when the court considers the reasons they had for withholding the child as reasonable. If the court considers their reasoning valid then they will not punish them. That doesn’t mean though that you won’t get makeup time.
The parent that withheld the child from you might see you getting makeup time as punishment. I wish that wasn’t the case but it is a fact. They will have to get over that unjust perception. It takes time to realize that you are not an interference to their parenting but also an equal parent to the child. Even if you don’t have an equal parenting plan, that time that you are ordered in that plan to have is what the court decided was in the child’s best interest (even if you disagree with the court giving you less time). This viral cycle interfering with your parenting time, or giving the other parent perceived justification to interfere with your child’s time with you is not justification not to give you relief and makeup time.
So if you are a parent considering withholding the child you could also face being charged with attorneys fees, court costs, face jail time, and may lose more than just the makeup time. You could lose custody and become the noncustodial parent. The more you do to ensure the child and parent can communicate and see each other even if it is online and not in person, that will go into consideration as to how much your denial was in good faith and based on the actual danger of becoming infected or whether you just used the situation to further injure the relationship of the child with the other parent, and be accused of parental alienation.
So work in good faith and try to work your concerns out, even if it is not perfect. We are all working through the constant updates and changes. Make agreements between each other that if one or the other’s exposure to the virus changes that you will accommodate the other. This will go a long way and is the most protective measure you can take. If the other parent knows you are going to work with them to ensure they get the same amount of time with the child if they are exposed and cannot exercise their time as some point, any point, they will be more willing to be honest with you.
~This blog will be updated periodically to add states orders and suggestions. Check this page often. Bookmark this page too.~
Read where Texas State Supreme Court clarifies the Spring Break school closures in a Second Emergency Order Regarding COVID-19 State of Disaster on March 17, 2020. The Texas Supreme Court’s first COVID-19 emergency order March 13 gave lower courts the permission to alter procedures to deal with the pandemic.
Read the Dallas County Spring Break Order regarding Possession Schedule During School Closure – Dallas County Family District Court Emergency Standing Order Issued March 17, 2020. Dallas County issued its emergency standing order telling parents to follow the originally published school schedule.
If you would like to read the entire article by Michigan Attorney Mika Meyers click here.
Office of the Governor Gretchen Whitmer‘s Executive Order 2020-20 COVID 19 for guidance on parenting plans. This order takes effect on March 24, 2020 at 12:01 am, and continues through April 13, 2020 at 11:59 pm.
Statement from the Michigan Supreme Court on matters concerning custody – child custody parenting plans and child support.
Family Law Scholar and Law Professor, Marcia Zug, University of South Carolina – Co-Parenting in the coronavirus pandemic: A family law scholar’s advice.
#SharedParenting #homeschooling #NCPparentingCOVID-19 #workFromHomeParenting