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Shared Parenting During Coronavirus



Coronavirus (“COVID-19”) has added a complexity to shared parenting that few co-parents were ready to handle.  It presents novel problems that few have thought about before, including the courts.  Parents are working remotely, administering schoolwork, and co-parenting children at the same time.  This leads to new challenges both in the home and with shared parenting arrangements.

Do I Have To Follow My Parenting Schedule During COVID-19 Pandemic?

Parents in a shared-custody arrangement are all asking one question right now…Do I have to follow my parenting schedule during this COVID-19 pandemic?  Short answer is YES, with exceptions.

Parents are all required to follow an existing court order, whether they agree with it or not.  If a parent fails to follow a court’s order, even during an emergency, he or she would risk being found in contempt of court and being sentenced to jail time, ordered to pay attorney fees, and any other relief the court finds appropriate.  Operating on the premise that the court’s existing order is still in effect, the best practice is to get an agreement from the other parent regarding any deviations from the existing order.  Communicate any requests with respect and thoughtfulness, and always puts your child(ren) first.  Co-parenting and joint custody require both parents work together to make decisions that are in the best interest of their child(ren).

That being said, a parent may still feel that the other parent is not taking enough steps to protect their child(ren) or themselves from possible exposure to COVID-19.  This is a valid concern affecting the health and safety of the family, so much so that the Supreme Court of Kentucky issued a general order addressing parenting time and provides clear guidance following COVID-19 exposure.  Notably, the Order starts with the premise that the existing order shall control.

Kentucky Supreme Court Order 2020-14 Allowing For Suspension of Parenting Time Following COVID-19 Exposure

The Kentucky Supreme Court has issued General Order 2020-14 regarding the COVID-19 pandemic and parenting time, effective through April 24, 2020.  It states in relevant part:

“For purposes of determining a person’s right to possession of and access to a child under a court-ordered custody or parenting time schedule, the existing court order shall control. However, reasonable accommodations shall be made to account for extenuating circumstances related to the COVID-19 emergency and to give full effect to Executive Order 2020-215 and any other Executive Order intended to protect the overall public health and welfare.  [emphasis added]

Specifically, the existing court order shall be considered temporarily modified to suspend parenting time for a period of 14 days for any person who:

  1. Tests positive for COVID-19 or shares a household with someone who tests positive for COVID-19;
  2. Has been advised that he or she, or someone with whom he or she shares a household, has possibly been exposed to COVID-19; or
  3. Has, within the last 14 days, traveled to any area with a CDC Level 2 or 3 Travel Health Notice.

Any person experiencing the above-listed circumstances shall, upon discovery, immediately notify the other party(ies).

Any person whose parenting time is suspended pursuant to this order shall be granted liberal communication with the child(ren) subject to any restrictions specifically stated in the existing order(s)….

This Order shall be effective through Friday, April 24, 2020, or until further Order of this Court.”

If withholding parenting time under Kentucky Supreme Court Order 20-14, or any emergency order, be prepared to prove your actions if challenged. This would include careful documentation of any alleged exposure to COVID-19.

Costly court disputes may be avoided by working with the other parent in fair and reasonable manner that puts the interest of the child(ren) first.  For example, a parent may offer makeup time if there is an exposure necessitating the suspension of parenting time. If available, video conferences, video calls, and even increased phone calls could help both the separated child and parent during this time of crisis.

Be Your Best for Your Child, Yourself, and Your Co-Parent

Written by Attorney Joseph Ireland 4-10-2020