For many, or even most, parents, managing child custody arrangements is the most stressful part of a divorce. Not living with your child all the time and/or having to schedule visits with her or him can feel like a punishment. When a global virus adds danger to the mix, it may seem unbearable. In Arizona, as elsewhere in the United States, having a dedicated family law attorney on your team can mean the difference between being able to adjust and make rational decisions and being overwhelmed.
Cohen Family Law, located in Phoenix, is an experienced family law practice where the intricacies of child custody, even during the extraordinary circumstances presented by COVID-19, are well understood. We keep current with all recent court decisions regarding child custody during the pandemic and understand how to help our clients negotiate modifications to existing custody arrangements when need be.
Situations that May Make Parents Think Twice About Existing Custody Arrangements
While most parents and their lawyers have worked hard to resolve custody issues in a way that satisfies both parents and is beneficial to their children, such issues may come into question when their children’s health is at risk. Circumstances that may make one or both parents question child custody arrangements include one parent:
- Having been directly exposed to COVID-19
- Living in a household that includes a person who has been exposed to the virus
- Living in an area designated as a hotbed of the disease
- Who uses public transportation to commute to work
- Whose occupation as an essential worker puts her/him in contact with infected patients
- Who is extremely vulnerable to the virus due to a pre-existing medical problem
- Who has travelled internationally during the past two weeks
A particular child’s increased vulnerability to the virus must also be taken into account. In most cases, parents are willing to put their children’s health above their own needs and desires, agreeing to alter custody arrangements temporarily rather than put their children at risk.
Arizona Supreme Court Decision About Child Custody During the Coronavirus
In an effort to assist co-parenting divorced parents, the Arizona Supreme Court has set up guidelines urging parents to follow existing visitation and custody plans as much as possible while taking every possible precaution to protect their children’s health. This information is available as Family Court Guidelines for Parenting Time of Children During the COVID-19 Pandemic.
The court has definitely come down on the side of maintaining the child custody status quo as much as possible. Among other things, with courts not functioning, the Arizona Supreme Court is seeking to limit the number of child custody cases that will increase the load on the already overburdened judicial system.
According to the Supreme Court guidelines:
- Co-parenting during school closure with online classes should follow school-year agreements (not switch to summer or vacation schedules)
- When school is closed for the summer or holidays, however, regularly scheduled plans for vacation days should be followed
- Supervised parental visits must be worked out with the supervisor to ensure children’s safety, perhaps by making them videoconferences
- Parenting time required to be in public places must occur in locations that follow social distancing and other COVID-19 safety practices or take place online
- Picking up and dropping off children must meet federal and state safety requirements
- If a child usually travels to see one parent, ground transportation is considered preferable to airline flights
- Parents must follow all government orders restricting travel
The Supreme Court guidelines also state that if one parent is quarantined under government orders, that individual should be permitted extensive telephone or videoconference access to his/her children. It is also advised that makeup time should be arranged wherever and whenever possible.
What Not to Do Relative to Child Custody During the Pandemic
Above all, parents are advised not to make arbitrary arrangements that the other parent has not agreed to, since they may pay a heavy price for violating their legal obligations. If, even with the help of family lawyers experienced in child custody negotiations, the parents cannot come to a workable understanding about where their children will be safest, a motion will have to be filed with the court, regardless of delays and inconvenience.
If your situation is a true emergency, your family law attorney can file a request for a temporary modification with the court. Such an action will protect you from negative legal consequences in addition to protecting your children from COVID-19.