COVID-19 and Parenting Time

The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) is a contagious respiratory disease that is easily spread from person to person and can result in serious illness.  Governor Whitmer declared a state of emergency and issued Executive Order that requires Michigan residents to shelter in place and restrict travel from March 24 through April 30, 2020.  The resulting changes to daily activity raise new
questions about how custody and parenting time orders work during this public health pandemic. The
following are general answers to common questions parents may have in determining what to do regarding custody and parenting time.

Q1. Do I have to follow my parenting time order during the COVID-19 outbreak?

A.  Yes. Parents should follow their custody and parenting time court order during the COVID-19 outbreak. The Executive Order allows parents and children to travel when complying with a court order. If possible, parents should carry copies of their court orders when travelling for parenting time.
It is understandable for parents to be concerned about their child’s safety. However, the outbreak alone should not be an excuse for denying parenting time. Parents should try to set aside personal differences, try to agree on what is best for all involved including following CDC guidelines on protecting family from COVID-19 illness, and try to maintain a positive relationship with the child. If following the parenting time order presents a considerable risk for someone, parents should work cooperatively to find an alternative solution that will allow parenting time to be exercised. If someone in either household (custodial or non-custodial) has been exposed to the virus or has a vulnerable person living with them, it is important that parents try to make alternative arrangements to safeguard everyone from unnecessary risk.

Q2. What are some parenting time alternatives that can be used?

A.   When it is necessary to safeguard someone’s well-being or to avoid exposing the child to the virus, parents may agree that the child should stay in one household until the state of emergency passes. In addition to promoting a strong relationship between the child and each parent, parenting time is an opportunity for parents to bring stability and reassurance to their child during the unusual situation caused by the state of emergency. When in-person parenting time presents a risk to someone, parents may agree to any of the following options:

Virtual parenting time: If the parties agree the child should not be in the home of one of the
parents, the other parents can spend time interacting with a child virtually (using apps such as
FaceTime, Duo, Facebook Messenger, Zoom, Skype, WhatsApp, etc.) or talking over the
telephone. Shorter, frequent virtual visits encouraged by both parents may help reassure the
child during these unusual events.

Make-up parenting time: Once the emergency ends and parenting time resumes, the child can
spend extra time with the parent the child missed time with. The added time should be made-up
as agreed to by the parents or as set by the Friend of the Court (FOC) or Court.

Skipping parenting time: A parent who has parenting time scheduled may choose not to exercise
parenting time to avoid exposing someone to the virus.

Parents should record any temporary agreements in writing (paper, e-mail, text message, or other
preserved form).

Q3. What if I cannot reach an agreement with the other parent, and decide not to allow parenting time in violation of the court order?

A. You must try to get your order changed before you violate it. Because court operations are limited
during the state of emergency, getting a hearing quickly might be difficult. Emergency motions to
protect health and safety are being held. If possible, you should seek legal advice from an attorney to
help decide what you should do.

The court order remains in effect; so parents will need to make sure that they have more than a general fear or suspicion of risk when the other parent does not agree there is more risk in one home than the other. Violating the order without an agreement is serious. If you violate the order and the other parent files a Motion one of several remedies could apply. This includes but is not limited to a make-up parenting time schedule, schedule a joint-meeting or mediation, or schedule a hearing requiring you to show cause for violating the order (commonly referred to as a “show cause hearing”).

If a show cause hearing is scheduled, you will be required to explain to the court why you violated the
order. Violations without a good cause are a serious matter, and the court could impose financial
penalties as well as jail time, depending on the severity of the violation. In determining whether you had a good reason to violate the order, the court may want to know exactly why you took the actions you did, what attempts you made to reach an alternative agreement, and other actions you took (including filing an emergency motion with the court) to safeguard the child in a manner that would allow parenting time to occur.

Stelmock Law Firm, PC is closely following developments with the global COVID-19 pandemic, and we are continuing to take measures to protect the health and safety of our personnel and their families. As with you, the situation is forcing us to change the ways we do business, but our commitment to providing outstanding client service remains unchanged.

Rest assured that none of our operations have been interrupted, the Law Firm has when reasonable, restricted communication with clients to e-mail, telephone, and videoconferencing instead of in-person meetings.  Despite this unprecedented pandemic and the actions and reactions it demands, we will continue to be responsive, minimize disruptions, and accommodate clients’ and colleagues’ protocols.

If Stelmock Law Firm, PC is currently handling a matter for you, please contact your attorney and his or her legal assistant as you have already been doing. If you are not yet a client and require legal assistance,  please contact us at 734.927.9782 and we will be happy to help.  If you have questions concerning COVID-19 and parenting time please call.

Please stay safe, and we will update you if circumstances change.

Sincerely,

Robert J. Stelmock
Managing Attorney