COVID-19 has changed the world. It has created new challenges for everyone. In response to the pandemic, Governor Whitmer has already issued numerous executive orders to try and protect the public safety. Each order notes that “coronavirus (COVID-19) is a respiratory disease that can result in serious illness or death” and that “[t]here is currently no approved vaccine or antiviral treatment for this disease.” These frightening statements and the Governor’s orders requiring everyone to “stay in place” to combat COVID-19 give rise to unique parenting time and custody issues.
Executive Order 2020-21 carves out exceptions to the “stay in place,” requirements. Most notably, it allows people to travel “[a]s required by law enforcement or a court order, including the transportation of children pursuant to a custody agreement.” This order means that all people should respect their current custody and parenting time arrangements regarding their children. Parents should not use COVID-19 as an excuse to deprive another parent of parenting time.
However, parents may have legitimate concerns regarding spreading the virus or preventing the spread of the virus. For example, what if a parent is actively breaking quarantine? Should the other parent transport the child, putting the child in potential harm’s way? Similarly, what if one of the parents is a health care worker and being exposed to COVID-19 regularly? Should a child still have in-person parenting time with an essential worker? The Governor’s order does not anticipate any of these problems. Therefore, it is essential that a parent who has legitimate concerns regarding parenting time during the pandemic consult with an attorney.
It is imperative for parents to remember that court orders remain in effect and must be followed even if the parents disagree with them. Failure to comply with a court order could result in a parent being held in contempt of court. Sanctions for contempt of court may include loss of parenting time, hearings to modify custody, fines, and even jail time.
While most courts are closed to the public for routine matters, courts do have to maintain “minimum basic operations.” This means that court clerks and judges may be available on a limited basis. Judges are permitted to hold hearings on an ex parte basis (without parties present), on video, or in person to the extent the judge believes hearings on parenting time issues are necessary or urgent. Consequently, if a parent has an issue regarding parenting time during the pandemic, hiring an experienced family law attorney who can help you get your matter heard is a necessity. Contact Collis & Griffor today.