In less than a month, the novel coronavirus has gone from a news story about a few cases in faraway countries to a global pandemic. As you read this, it’s likely that you know someone whose health or family member has been affected. Aside from the devastating health effects of the virus, it has had far-reaching impacts on almost every aspect of our lives. We are working from home (when possible), canceling travel and events, and practicing “social distancing.” It is one thing to stay home with your family when your family is all in one place. But what happens for children whose parents don’t live in the same home? How is the novel coronavirus affecting parent time?
You may be wondering what to do about parent time during the coronavirus pandemic. Should you send your child for scheduled time with their other parent? Should you ignore your parent time order for the moment in favor of keeping your child safe in your home?
That is certainly an understandable temptation, especially if you feel that the other parent doesn’t take hygiene and distancing recommendations seriously enough. Covid-19 is new, and legitimately frightening, and most parents want to do everything possible to protect their children and themselves.
The Third District Court, which covers Salt Lake, Tooele, West Jordan, and Park City has issued guidance for Utah families on this issue. The Second District covers Davis and Weber Counties, and has made a similar statement. While other Districts have not made a formal statement as of this writing, there is no reason to believe they would say something different. Here are answers to questions we have been getting from clients, based on the courts’ statements.
If you have a parent time order, you must follow your normal parent-time schedule even during the coronavirus pandemic.
If you are the primary custodial parent and your child, or someone in your household, has tested positive for COVID-19, it’s a different story. You need to give the other parent documentation of the positive result within 24 hours. Under those circumstances, parent-time with the noncustodial parent should be suspended for two weeks or until the infected person is no longer positive. The missed time should be made up during summer break, or at another time you and the other parent agree on.
Just because your child can’t visit their other parent doesn’t mean that they can’t see each other and communicate. While parent-time is suspended, the other parent should get at least 30 minutes of virtual parent-time each day, via Skype, FaceTime, Google Hangouts or some other similar app or program.
Under the Utah Code, spring break is the custodial parent’s holiday in 2020. Absent a positive test result or a travel restriction, the courts say that spring break should be treated as it would if there were not a pandemic. Unfortunately, that long-awaited trip to Disney or the Grand Canyon with the kids won’t happen.
If your child custody order requires your child to travel to the other parent for spring break but travel is prohibited, the parent must be given an equal amount of make-up time.
No. Even though your child isn’t in school right now, if your custody order provides for you to have a right of first refusal, you still have it.
No. School closures for COVID-19 are not treated like snow days. Children should be dropped off or picked up for parent-time as they ordinarily would, even though school is not in session. For example, if a child would ordinarily be dropped off at school by a parent at 8:00 a.m., they should be dropped off at the other parent’s home.
As of March 19, 2020, all hearings are being conducted by phone. Only matters deemed critical are being heard. These include TRO and protective order matters, and issues involving child safety.
Motions and conferences considered non-critical are being postponed. Obviously, this situation is evolving, so even if you get a new hearing date, it may be postponed again. Because court support staffing is minimal at this time for safety reasons, the court may not be able to respond as quickly as usual to rescheduling requests.
If your child or someone else in the household has symptoms of COVID-19, they should obviously be tested as soon as possible. If you are unable to get them tested and think it is unwise to send your child for parent-time, document the patient’s symptoms and your attempts to get them tested. Communicate with the other parent as soon as possible explaining why you would prefer not to send your child for parent-time. Most reasonable parents would not want to expose their household to the virus or to force a sick child to move from house to house.
If you are concerned that your co-parent is taking advantage of the court’s minimal availability, denying you parent-time without cause, or being unreasonable about a justified suspension of parent-time, we invite you to contact Barton Wood to discuss your options.