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Co-Parenting Through COVID-19

No one would have thought that one of the most effected areas of law effected by this virus would be family law.  However, when you think about it no one is more impacted by schools being closed and everyone having to stay home more than families and children.  The hardest part is how do you take care of that child when you are locked down, but have to comply with the child custody/visitation agreement – especially with school out and summer coming up.

Attorney Amanda Mueller wrote “Many custodial parents want to suspend child visitation during the pandemic. On the other hand, some non-custodial parents want to extend visitation time due to concerns over the suspended academic school schedule, the custodial parent’s employment in the medical profession, the number of individuals living in the home, etc.  Can the non-custodial parent refuse to return the child if the custodial parent is a nurse working at the hospital?  Can a custodial parent refuse visitation because the non-custodial parent works at a busy grocery store? The number of possible scenarios is endless.

The Family Court of South Carolina is currently closed to all cases except for emergencies, and there has not been much guidance from the South Carolina Courts in this regard. While the court will eventually open again, there’s no way to foresee how the coronavirus closure will affect family law, both now and into the future.

On March 16, 2020, the Supreme Court of Texas issued “Second Emergency Order Regarding The COVID-19 State of Disaster.” The order made it clear that in cases where school schedules determine custody and visitation, the school schedule as originally published will remain the guideline. School closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic won’t change child custody and visitation.

On March 21, 2020, the Governor of Illinois issued Executive Order in Response to COVID-19 (No. 8) that ordered people to stay home except for “essential activities.” He defined “essential travel” as travel required by a court order under a custody agreement.

And on March 17, 2020, the Michigan Supreme Court issued a statement making it clear that all child custody and parenting time orders remain in force. “Only a new court order can change that.  Parents should continue to follow their court order.”

Then the Michigan Supreme Court takes it one step further and really gets into the heart of the matter – how this entire situation is affecting the children.

“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.’ ”

This may not be applicable to everyone, but it is amazing the impact one situation can have so many unexpected areas of law.  The interplay of how impactful this situation has been can not be understated, but let us all hope it is over soon.  Should you need help with this or any other legal issue please contact us at Goldfinch Winslow.

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