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Stay at Which Home? Parenting Time in a Pandemic

Frustrated Parents with KidsPublic health guidelines concerning COVID-19 present an inherent tension for many parents whose access to their child is governed by a custody order. Michigan law says that parenting time should be allocated in a way that maintains a strong relationship between the child and each parent. But in these times, where social distancing is public policy, we cannot assume two loving parents shuttling a child between homes is an inherently healthy practice.

Michigan Executive Order 2020-21 (“EO 2020-21”) exempts travel for parenting time from the stay-at-home restrictions, so custody orders remain in effect. Even so, coronavirus presents exceptional circumstances no parent could have anticipated. As the pandemic progresses, so do the risks associated with alternating time between separate families in separate homes. Further restrictions could reduce or effectively suspend all parenting time, but that will only occur after the public health necessity arises. Co-parents should not wait; they should decide for themselves when the risk outweighs the benefit of parenting time.

Co-parents should first communicate openly and try to resolve the issue by consent. Violating a custody order, especially over the other parent’s objection, always carries risk. Consult your family law attorney to determine how the pandemic might affect your particular situation. In the meantime, here are some considerations in determining whether temporarily suspending parenting time is best for your child:

  • Consider the makeup of each household. Is either parent or a member of either household, part of an at-risk group due to age or medical conditions? If so, the justification is greater for limiting a parent’s access to a child.
  • Evaluate the risk of vocational exposure. If a parent or a member of his or her household is exempt from the stay-at-home restrictions, caution may be due. Those who continue to perform their job duties, albeit at a social distance, are at a greater risk of carrying the virus, which a child can transmit between homes.
  • Devise an access plan. These times call for an exception to the general rule: co-parents should disclose their third-party contacts to one another. Subject to limited exceptions, EO 2020-21 requires complete isolation from anyone who is not a resident of the same household. But, it might be fair to expect isolation from all others except an identified few, and for that to remain consistent for a defined period.
  • Remain flexible. When the NCAA summarily cancels March Madness in the name of public health, court-ordered custodial rights are no longer sacred. They are secondary concerns in this climate. Parents should be open to the possibility that suspending parenting time may serve both the public’s and the particular child’s interests.
  • Account for Lost Time. The selfless act of foregoing parenting time for a greater good might justify a reward. Co-parents should decide how they will make up for lost time in advance, optimally as part of a global agreement on the terms of isolation.

These are only a few of the possible considerations in a temporary isolation agreement between parents. Memorializing these terms in a temporary custody order might be wise in your particular situation. Videoconference mediation is also available for parents who could use a neutral attorney’s help reaching terms of isolation.

Foster Swift’s family law attorneys are well equipped to help you endure trying times like these. Contact us if we can assist you with developing a temporary isolation agreement.

Categories: Custody, Divorce

Photo of Brett R. Schlender
Senior Attorney

Brett specializes in divorce, custody, child support, spousal support, and other disputes personal in nature. He has settled multi-million dollar marital estates, prevailed in complex asset-valuation disputes, and helped clients tailor divorce settlements to meet their foreseeable needs.

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