Many clients are having questions and concerns about complying with their current time-sharing plans due to social distancing recommendations due to the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic. The Hillsborough county court has recently released an administrative order advising parents to follow their current time-sharing plans. If new exchange locations have to be determined, the parties should work together to find a mutually convenient location, and communicate the new exchange times and location in writing.
In the event of a disagreement related to exchanges, the Hillsborough courts have issued the following order:
"If the parents cannot agree on an alternate arrangement, the exchanges will take place at the grocery store (Publix, Winn Dixie, Walmart, or similar type store), home improvement store (Home Depot, Lowe's, or similar type store) or pharmacy (CVS, Walgreen's, or similar type pharmacy) that is located closest to the school or daycare as determined by the distance shown on Google Maps™, Apple Maps™, or some other similar mapping program or website. The parties must also clarify between themselves the specific times for exchanges in those cases where the exchange times are not specified".
If time-sharing issues can not be resolved by the parents, the courts are setting hearings on these motions by telephone or video conferencing, and at times, even responding to the motion without the necessity of a hearing. However, these motions will not be considered an emergency, unless the motion meets certain criteria. You should speak with a lawyer before filing an emergency motion to determine if your issue rises to the level of an emergency.
Hillsborough county issued a "safer-at-home" order to go into effect on March 27, 2020. however, an exception to the safer-at-home provision is that you should take your child where they need to go if it's directed by a custody sharing agreement or order. If you are concerned about being pulled over by law enforcement, make sure to have a copy of your order and parenting plan with you, so you can show the officer that you are complying with a court order, which is an essential service.
If the child needs to be quarantined due to exhibiting symptoms of the virus or has a poor immune system, then a motion may be required (if the parties are not in agreement) to obtain an order for the child to stay put until the quarantine ends. If this means that a parent will lose time-sharing, the other parent should be flexible in providing additional video contact during the missed time-sharing, and future make-up time-sharing. The parents must work together, and handle these matters amicably. This is not a time to take advantage. Courts will be using their contempt powers to punish parents who take advantage of this crisis.
We have received some direction from the following leaders of groups that deal with families in crisis provided by Patricia Bernstein, 713.838.8400, firstname.lastname@example.org:
Susan Myres, president of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers (AAML). Dr. Matt Sullivan, president of Association of Family and Conciliation Courts
(AFCC), Annette Burns, AAML and former president of AFCC, Yasmine Mehmet, AAML, Kim Bonuomo, AAML, Nancy Kellman, AAML, Dr. Leslie Drozd, AFCC, Dr. Robin Deutsch, AFCC, Jill Peña, executive director of AAML and Peter Salem, executive director of AFCC.
Be healthy. Comply with all CDC and local and state guidelines and model good behavior for your children with intensive hand washing, wiping down surfaces and other objects that are frequently touched, and maintaining social distancing. This also means be informed. Stay in touch with the most reliable media sources and avoid the rumor mill on social media.
Be mindful. Be honest about the seriousness of the pandemic but maintain a calm attitude and convey to your children your belief that everything will return to normal in time. Avoid making careless comments in front of the children and exposing them to endless media coverage intended for adults. Don't leave the news on 24/7, for instance. But, at the same time, encourage your children to ask questions and express their concerns and answer them truthfully at a level that is age-appropriate.
Be compliant with court orders and custody. As much as possible, try to avoid reinventing the wheel despite the unusual circumstances. The custody agreement or court order exists to prevent endless haggling over the details of timesharing. In some jurisdictions, there are even standing orders mandating that, if schools are closed, custody agreements should remain in force as though school was still in session.
Be creative. At the same time, it would be foolish to expect that nothing will change when people are being advised not to fly and vacation attractions such as amusement parks, museums, and entertainment venues are closing all over the U.S. and the world. In addition, some parents will have to work extra hours to help deal with the crisis and other parents may be out of work or working reduced hours for a time. Plans will inevitably have to change. Encourage closeness with the parent who is not going to see the child through shared books, movies, games, and Facetime or Skype.
Be transparent. Provide honest information to your co-parent about any suspected or confirmed exposure to the virus, and try to agree on what steps each of you will take to protect the child from exposure. Certainly, both parents should be informed at once if the child is exhibiting any possible symptoms of the virus.
Be generous. Try to provide makeup time to the parent who missed out, if at all possible. Family law judges expect reasonable accommodations when they can be made and will take seriously concerns raised in later filings about parents who are inflexible in highly unusual circumstances.
Be understanding. There is no doubt that the pandemic will pose an economic hardship and lead to lost earnings for many, many parents, both those who are paying child support and those who are receiving child support. The parent who is paying should try to provide something, even if it can't be the full amount. The parent who is receiving payments should try to be accommodating under these challenging and temporary circumstances. Adversity can become an opportunity for parents to come together and focus on what is best for the child. For many children, the strange days of the pandemic will leave vivid memories. It's important for every child to know and remember that both parents did everything they could to explain what was happening and to keep their child safe.
Hillsborough County has issued the attached Order which went into effect March 27, 2020, @ 10:00 p.m.