Every divorce with children or child custody case ends with a parenting time plan. This plan controls who gets time with your children on which days. But no parenting time plan could have anticipated a global pandemic shutting down schools and businesses across Colorado and the nation. What should you do when COVID-19 makes following your parenting time plan risky or impossible?
COVID-19 Court Closures Limit Parents’ Options
The novel Coronavirus COVID-19 has shut down businesses, schools, and even the courts in Colorado. The Supreme Court of Colorado has instructed state courts to restrict all non-essential services , limiting parents’ access to judges to resolve parenting time disputes.
This may be a reasonable response to the Coronavirus crisis, but it also closes the courthouse door just when many parents need it most. COVID-19 is turning parents’ parenting time plans on their heads, making travel difficult or impossible, and leaving big questions about if and when parenting time should be limited or denied. Colorado families are facing tough decisions when:
- One parent is not taking the self-isolation directives as seriously as the other parent
- One or both parents work in essential service industries or the healthcare field, putting them at high risk of contamination
- Someone in the household is immunocompromised or at risk and trying to self-quarantine
- Someone at one parent’s home has tested positive for COVID-19
- A child is vulnerable to or even diagnosed with coronavirus
Here are some options available to you, even if you can’t wait for a hearing before a family court judge.
If You Can, Follow Your Order
For some parents, the idea of their children catching the coronavirus is so frightening that they just want everyone to stay home until the danger has passed. But when your child’s other parent doesn’t live in your home this protective instinct can cut them off from an important part of their emotional support structure.
The purpose behind a Colorado parenting time plan is to make sure your children have access to and maintain a close relationship with both parents. Even if one parent is less concerned with cleanliness or social distancing, you should still follow your parenting time plan to protect that relationship. By unilaterally cancelling parenting time because of a risk of exposure, you are violating a court order and could be held in contempt of court.
Be Flexible and Model Good Social Distancing Behavior
Instead, if your child’s other parent isn’t setting a good example of social distancing, you may have to exercise parallel parenting tactics during this time of crisis. This strategy says that no matter what happens in the other household, your rules are firm in your own home. In the context of social distancing, this may be hand-washing, choosing isolating activities, or avoiding public spaces and events. By explaining why these decisions are important to your children while they are with you, you increase the chance they will make wise choices while staying with their other parent.
At the same time, you need to recognize that the COVID-19 crisis is hard for everyone, including you and your ex-spouse. Be patient and flexible whenever possible. Some parents are finding themselves with far more time on their hands. Others are working long hours in emotionally draining situations. Put your kids first and try to work with your co-parent to adjust your parenting time plan to suit the current reality.
Negotiate an Alternative Schedule with Make-up Time
However, in some cases it is risky to carry on with a parenting time plan as though everything is fine. When the coronavirus makes its way into one household, one family is self-quarantining because of a pre-existing condition, or where a parent works in a high-risk industry, such as an ER doctor, it may make sense to adjust your parenting time plan to keep everyone safe.
In those cases, it is important to negotiate an alternative schedule that keeps the relationship between child and parent intact while protecting everyone’s health. That could include:
- In-person visits while everyone is healthy (if appropriate)
- Outdoor visits with physical distance restrictions
- Daily phone or video conference chats
- Email and handwritten notes
Any alternative schedule should also include make-up time for the parent losing scheduled time with your child after the risk of the disease has passed. Offering this make-up time from the start shows that you value your child’s relationship with the other parent and are not taking advantage of the stay-at-home order as a way to alienate the parent from their child.
Mediate a Temporary Solution
Since access to the courts has been limited to the most serious situations, if you and your former-partner can’t reach a solution on your own, you may need to turn to mediation to reach a reasonable compromise. Your family law attorney can help you coordinate a virtual mediation session with the other parent and their lawyer. With the help of a mediator you can work through all your needs and concerns to find a resolution that protects your child’s best interests and both parents’ rights.
At Aviso Law, LLC, our family law attorneys know that COVID-19 is forcing parents to make tough decisions. We are here to serve you and your family. We can help you weigh your options, negotiate a parenting time plan that protects your family, or mediate to reach a solution that everyone can live with. Contact us today to schedule a consultation.