While the COVID-19 pandemic has shocked and taken the world by a very sad storm, there are practical matters which have faced every household. Our office has been inundated by clients seeking information on parenting time issues. For divorced families the forefront issue is that of shared parenting time.
TO BE CLEAR. None of the directives regarding custody and parenting time limit a parent's already Court ordered parenting time. To the contrary, the March 23, 2020 Executive Order 2020-21 order provides a list of exceptions to the restrictions imposed including addressing specifically addressing compliance with custody and parenting time orders. Section 7(b)(4) states: "As required by law enforcement or a court order, including the transportation of children pursuant to a custody agreement."
Further, on March 16, 2020, the Michigan State Supreme Court issued a Statement on Matters Concerning Children which provides in pertinent part:
“The Supreme Court wants to remind parents that all 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 orders.”
Your Court ordered parenting time should not be prevented by your co-parent simply because there is a STAY AT HOME ORDER. Make no mistake about it, just because you are a first-responder or essential worker does not mean your parenting time goes away during this time. If you are a first-responder or essential worker, the Courts are available to rule on emergency motions to enforce this violation of a parenting time order. This does not mean parents can't work together to make common sense decisions about their children and what remains in their best-interests. Many family law attorneys have found that parents have been able to make joint decisions (absent Court involvement) about how to handle parenting time in light of the Court orders. There is absolutely nothing wrong with working with one another on these type of issues. If you have come to a temporary agreement which is different than your Court order and you have a history of Court involvement you may want to contact your attorney or if you don't have an attorney, contact us. The agreement for a temporary change in parenting time should be memorialized in writing.
Situations which may arise which make it best for a child to not visit in-person with one of the parents. Perhaps a parent is experiencing symptoms and/or tested positive for the virus. Also, if a person or the child has been exposed to the virus. In cases where the well-being of an individual and/or the well-being is better served by a change in the parenting schedule every possible attempt should be made to facilitate contact via electronic means. Further, if you or your co-parent misses parenting time, there should be a plan in place for future make-up parenting time.
There are also other issues which may require a change in the parenting time order. If a child is being exposed to abuse, neglect, domestic violence and/or other problems at another parent's household, you may want to seek the Court' intervention. Because school is not in session children are at home more as well. Your co-parent and you should agree upon a school plan; however, if your co-parent is not addressing the child's educational needs this could also be a pitfall.
While the pandemic does not mean a parent is not entitled to their Court ordered parenting time - it doesn't mean common sense goes out the door. Make decisions in your children's best interests at all times.