COVID-19, Social Distancing, and Parenting Time: How to Share Child Visitation During a Pandemic?

In a time where many of us are working remotely for the first time, stocking up on necessities, and not leaving our homes, how should you handle a shared parenting time schedule where your child lives in two different households? This is uncharted territory for courts, attorneys, and parents.

Colorado’s “Shelter in Place” Order

On Wednesday evening, March 25, Governor Jared Polis issued an order which takes effect on Thursday at 6 am for the majority of Colorado’s 5.8 million residents to stay home. Currently, this order expires on April 11. Despite the “stay-at-home” order, people will be allowed to complete essential tasks such as going to the grocery store and filling prescriptions. See Denver Post article, Gov. Jared Polis Orders Colorado to Stay Home in Bid to Slow Coronavirus Outbreak, click here.  

At this point, the order does not carve out an explicit exception for parents to transport children between two households to comply with share parenting time arrangements. Other states, like Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, and Ohio, allow travel to comply with court orders, including parenting time.

While the Colorado Supreme Court issued an order about court hearings, there is not a definitive answer on how to handle parenting time.

One thing that is clear, any court orders regarding parenting time are still in full force and effect. This means that a parent who violates this order can be held in contempt of court. The violating parent can face fines or even jail time. Also, if your co-parent is refusing parenting time or threatening to leave the area with the children, you can file a motion to restrict parenting time to stop that from happening. The Colorado Supreme Court’s order specifically says that hearings on motions to restrict parenting time continue as usual.

Should You Immediately Go to Court?

If your co-parent is not obeying the court’s parenting time order, you can pursue one of those options. But if your co-parent has legitimate concerns about COVID-19, should you immediately go to court? That depends on the circumstances. Gregory S. Forman notes that parents need to weigh the risk of a potential contempt finding against exposing their children to COVID-19.

Think about the optics of filing a motion. If your co-parent responds and says he or she is legitimately concerned about a child’s health and well-being because of COVID-19, how will the judge look at you for filing a motion because your co-parent delayed parenting time?

If your co-parent is threatening to leave the area – which isn’t advisable – or is clearly using COVID-19 as an illegitimate excuse to not let you see your children, you should consider one of those options. Certainly, if your co-parent is simply denying parenting time because of COVID-19, without any specifics, and still taking the children out to do errands or travel, you may want to push back. The award-winning family law attorneys at Kalamaya | Goscha can help you through that process.

Before going straight to court, here are some things to consider when handling parenting time during this strange and stressful time.

Make Sure You and Your Children Stay Healthy

Most importantly, make sure both you and your children are safe and stay healthy. Follow the recommended guidelines during this time and make sure your children do as well. If you are feeling ill, or have been around someone who has COVID-19, be open about that with your co-parent. This can be a great time to show that you and your co-parent can work together to make smart and informed decisions about your children.

Be Reasonable and Understanding

If your co-parent tells you that he or she feels ill, or has been exposed to COVID-19, be understanding and offer alternative solutions. As other legal professionals suggest, offer up video visitation over a service like Zoom, FaceTime, Google Hangout, or Skype. You can also offer to set up a Netflix viewing party so the children and your co-parent can watch a movie together. Or you can help set up a board game to play online. There are numerous different options for spending time together virtually.

If your co-parent is a medical professional, or in another high-risk profession, offer him or her additional parenting time once the COVID-19 risks decrease. Make sure to put this in writing. If you are reasonable, you will be in a better position if the other parent decides to go to court.

Be a Source of Stability for Your Children

As difficult as the changes have been for adults, remember that COVID-19 has also upended your children’s lives. Now, they’re going to school remotely and stuck at home. You and your co-parent can use this time to show your children that you can work together. You can show your children that you care about their best interests. Treat COVID-19 as a common enemy. Fight it together, rather than divided.

If you and your co-parent are responsible and staying healthy, keep complying with parenting time schedule like normal. This will give your children stability in an otherwise rocky and uncertain time. Don’t use COVID-19 as a way to “win” a parenting time battle. That will only come back to haunt you once we get past this pandemic.

Instead, use this trying time as an opportunity to show your children, your co-parent, and the court how reasonable you are and how much you care about your children. Whether your case is still pending or is fully resolved, being the reasonable and level-headed parent can only help you in the future.

We are Here for You

If you have tried to work out parenting time disputes with your co-parent and he or she isn’t willing to work with you, Kalamaya | Goscha is here to help. Because of our investments in technology, our operations have not been impacted by COVID-19. Our family law team in Aspen, Glenwood Springs and Edwards is available to walk you through your various options. To speak to one of our divorce attorneys, call (970) 315-2365.