Co-Parenting In the Age of the Coronavirus

By Audra Petrolle, Family Law Attorney, Rose Law Group

A lot of novel co-parenting issues are emerging in the wake of the coronavirus including:

  • Is there a duty to have consistent practices between households around the coronavirus?

Generally speaking, while there is no legal duty to have consistent parenting practices between households – at least not unless otherwise stated in your Parenting Plan – it is pretty well accepted that children benefit from routine, structure, and consistency. Therefore, in the wake of the coronavirus, parents should consider implementing consistent messages, educational practices, and hygiene practices between households to the best of their abilities. Parents might even consider memorializing any agreements they reach surrounding the coronavirus into an updated Parenting Plan or formal Court Order.  

  • Is it ok to withhold parenting time given the current State of Emergency declared by the Governor of Arizona?

Arizona is in a state of emergency. However, the government has not yet mandated an absolute quarantine. Although there is substantial guidance on social distancing and preparing for a possible quarantine, at this point, you would not likely be justified in withholding parenting time unless a more formal policy comes out mandating quarantine and prohibiting nonemergent travel.

  • If one parent is not observant to state or federal guidance surrounding the coronavirus, what are my options?

In the absence of more formal restrictions, you are not likely to get emergency relief from a court if the other parent is simply ignoring the current guidance. If the courts were to treat this otherwise, given the current state of affairs, then every disgruntled parent would rush to the courthouse to get an emergency order against the other parent because he or she went to work, to the gym, or traveled out of state. And, while you could potentially get relief in the form of a non-emergency, temporary order, by the time that court could resolve that request, the pandemic may have passed.

However, if the guidance evolves into a more formal quarantine restriction or if the other parent somehow knowingly causes the child to contract the virus– for example, knowingly infecting the child with the coronavirus when you yourself are infected and could have avoided infection of the child or, for example, by placing him or her into an environment where he or she is almost certain to contract the virus – you may be able to request emergency relief from the courts. Ultimately, it will depend on the specific facts of each case.

  • If one parent is taking the children out of the country, can I stop him or her?

In part, this will depend on the terms of your parenting plan. If your parenting plan requires consent for out of state or out of country travel, you can exercise your right to withhold consent. If your parenting plan does not require consent, but simply requires notice, you will need a Court Order before you can prevent the other parent from taking the child out of the country. Whether or not you can get a Court Order will likely depend on the location of travel and the level of risk of exposure. Science and data surrounding the coronavirus is still evolving and although the guidance may change, knowingly exposing your child to the coronavirus by taking him or her to a high-risk country may be sufficient grounds for a court order preventing the same given the climate of uncertainty at this time.

  • Do symptoms of the coronavirus rise to the level of an emergency?

People have different schools of thought around illness. However, with that said, it you believe your child may have been infected with coronavirus, the medical concern would likely rise to the level of an emergency decision given the current global pandemic, state of emergency declared in Arizona, and continually evolving policies around social distancing and quarantine. Even if the other party objects, you are likely justified in securing treatment or medical intervention on behalf of your child in considering the threat of the coronavirus an emergency. Nonetheless, you should consult an attorney to discuss the specifics of your case.

  • Australia has announced that it believes it has found a cure for the coronavirus; can I get a court order requiring that my child receive such an immunization?

Even if Australia has found a cure for the coronavirus, which would be amazing, it will only be available in the United States once approved by the Federal Food and Drug Administration. This could take a while as the drug approval process in the United States is rigorous and timely. However, assuming an immunization does become available, this issue could turn on the specific terms of your Parenting Plan. If you have sole decision-making authority on medical issues, you would not need the other party’s consent to obtain this type of treatment. However, if you share joint legal decision-making authority and the parties cannot agree, then you are free to present the conflict to the Court for resolution. You may even be able to file a Petition to Modify legal decision-making authority with the Court if the other parent’s position on medical issues is so irrational as to create an unreasonable risk of harm to the child.

  • What if I cannot pay child support because coronavirus has impacted my ability to earn income and work?

You are still responsible for child support until you request a modification from the court given your current circumstances. If you find yourself in a bind, consider talking to the other parent to reach an amicable solution and, if you cannot work it out peacefully, file your request for modification of child support with the court sooner rather than later.

  • What if my spouse and I do not see eye to eye on the coronavirus?

Stressful situations like a global pandemic can really bring co-parenting and other marital issues to a head. Being quarantined with your spouse can really magnify marital problems or make you see things you used to overlook. If you are no longer satisfied in your current marriage, consult an attorney to see what your options are moving forward.

The foregoing is only a sample of co-parenting issues that people are going to face in the wake of this global pandemic. The important thing to understand is that you have options. And, attorneys are available to help you navigate the best course of action for you given the current state of affairs.

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