What To Do When Your Child Is Sick During Scheduled Parenting Time

Every parent hates to see their child sick. You want to make them comfortable so they can feel better as soon as possible. But when illness and scheduled parenting time overlap, it can create questions about which co-parent will care for your child, and whether they need to travel between households. These questions only increase when the illness in question is COVID-19, and doctors are issuing quarantine orders. Here’s what you should know.

Can You Cancel Visitation Because of a Sick Child?

When a parent acts as a child’s primary custodian, it can be easy to see their home as the child’s home and the non-custodial parent’s time as visitation. When kids are sick it may seem reasonable to cancel that visit until they are feeling better.

However, parenting time is not the same as a visit to the grandparents or a play date. Colorado law says parents have a right to spend time with their children according to their parenting plan. Being a parent includes taking care of a sick child. Simply having a cold or the flu is generally not a good reason to deny parenting time. But more serious illnesses may justify cancelling visitation. In either case, parents should be willing to be flexible, and put the child’s needs first.

What to Do When Your Kid is Sick During Parenting Time?

If your child is not feeling well enough to travel for parenting time, here are some steps you can take:

  1. Contact your co-parent and explain the situation; make suggestions, not demands.
  2. Talk to your child’s pediatrician about whether the travel needed for parenting time is appropriate given your child’s condition (driving 20 minutes isn’t the same as getting on a plane).
  3. If the doctor says travel is okay, be sure to send all medications and dosing instructions with your child to their visitation.
  4. If travel is not recommended, suggest rescheduling visitation and propose days for make-up parenting time (this shows you are not trying to deprive the parent of their parenting time).
  5. If the child’s condition continues to be a problem for more than a week or two, consider temporarily modifying the parenting plan to accommodate the child’s needs.
  6. If your co-parent refuses to accommodate the child, speak to an attorney about mediating or filing a motion with the court.

What if Parents are Sick During Scheduled Visitation?

The same basic rules apply to when parents are sick during their scheduled parenting time. It is generally a parent’s responsibility to make sure their child is cared for while in their custody. If a parent is unwell, that could mean hiring a babysitter, or it could mean postponing visitation until they are better. This may be especially advisable if the parent’s illness is contagious. 

However, illness, especially chronic illness, is not automatically a reason to cancel visitation. Instead, parents should talk to their doctors and their support people about ways to safely and healthily maintain their parent-child relationship while they are ill. If a parent reschedules visitation for one week because they are contagious, consider offering telephone or video calls during that weekend. This reassures your child that their parent is okay even if they are sick, and that they will get to see them again soon.

Does COVID Change the Rules for Sick Kids’ Visiting Hours?

These general rules work for kids with a cold or the seasonal flu, but what if your kid gets COVID-19? In October and November 2021, thousands of Colorado students contracted COVID-19 at school. As of November 27, 2021, 40% of COVID cases in the state were related to outbreaks at K-12 schools. With Omicron on the rise, schools are now reporting a new wave of outbreaks even with teachers and students getting vaccinated.

A positive COVID-19 test is likely a good reason to cancel visitation with your co-parent for a week or two to avoid spreading the infection. However, any restriction on parenting time will be temporary, and you should plan to make up that time once everyone gets a clean bill of health. You should also make sure your kids continue to have contact with their parent even while they cannot visit.

However, the threat of possible COVID contamination may not be enough to justify a long-term modification of your parenting plan. If one parent refuses to be vaccinated or works in a high-risk industry (like medical professionals), you will need to show that the situation puts your child in imminent risk of harm before a Colorado judge will restrict parenting time. Even then, any emergency motion will likely be temporary, and parenting time will likely revert after the threat is over.

Who Has Authority to Take Your Kid to the Doctor?

What if your child gets sick during your parenting time? Do you have the authority to take your kid to the doctor? Generally, yes. Parents do not need to coordinate with one another before seeking “minor” treatment. If your child begins exhibiting symptoms during your parenting time you can take them to urgent care or their pediatrician, even if you don’t have joint custody. You should still inform your co-parent about the symptoms, the doctor’s visit, and any diagnosis or doctor’s recommendations as soon as you can – even inviting them to go with you if that is reasonable.

However, if the situation grows more serious, you may not have the authority to make major medical decisions on your child’s behalf. This depends on your family’s Allocation of Parental Responsibilities. In Colorado, the Court can: 

  • Order parents to cooperate in making joint custody decisions 
  • Make one parent the primary decision-maker on all issues
  • Allocate parental responsibilities between parents

Your parenting plan will state which parent has authority to make decisions about major health issues, which can include surgery, braces, or COVID-19 vaccinations. 

Get Help with Parental Responsibility and Parenting Time Issues

At Aviso Law, LLC, our family law attorneys know that having a sick kid, especially with COVID-19, means having to make tough decisions. When your co-parent is uncooperative, that can add even more stress. We are here to serve you and your family. We can help you weigh your options, mediate to reach a temporary solution, or file a motion to modify or enforce parenting time when needed to protect your child’s health and best interests. Contact us today to schedule a consultation.

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