The Maricopa County Superior Court has created specific guidelines for parents who share custody of their children during the COVID-19 pandemic. The establishment of these guidelines is to help co-parents share time with their children while still upholding the stay-at-home orders.
Parenting Time Orders
All parents who share custody of their children must continue to uphold existing co-parenting plans. A parent who refuses to do so, without a good reason, may face legal penalties. These penalties could be fines, contempt of court, or sanctions.
Furthermore, the court reminds co-parents that:
- parents who are not entitled to physical custody, but currently have custody of their child must return the child to the other parent; and
- an order for sole legal custody of a child does not permit the parent with this custody to make unilateral parenting plan altering decisions without consulting the court.
If both parents are unable to agree on a modification to their parenting plan, they must file a request for temporary modification with the court. Additionally, third party visitation orders are to remain in effect, unless modified by the court.
Denial of Parenting Time
Unless otherwise established by the court, parents fit to care for their children are permitted to continue contact with them. If either parent attempts to use the pandemic as an excuse to prevent the other parent from seeing their child, the denied parent should immediately consult a child custody attorney.
Co-parenting During Spring Break, Summer Break, and Other Holidays
While school and after-school programs remain closed, parents are expected to continue their custody arrangement as if children are still in school. This means that if one parent gains custody of their child at 3PM every other Friday, the parent who has custody must ensure the other parent receives the child on this day and time.
During the school appointed holiday breaks, parents must respect what is written in the court orders concering these breaks. For example, if one parent has custody of the children for one week of Spring Break and the other parent has custody of the children for the next week, they must honor this arrangement.
Positive COVID-19 Diagnosis
If any party receives a positive diagnosis, parents should consider temporarily altering the child custody agreement.
Maricopa County recommends suspending parenting time for at least 14 days for any person who:
- tests positive for COVID-19 or shares a home with someone who tests positive;
- has been exposed to someone who tested positive for COVID-19 and advised by a medical or government official to self-isolate for 14 days;
- has traveled internationally within the past 14 days.
If parenting time is suspended, the parent who does not have custody must be allowed ample virtual contact with their child.
Parenting Time in Public Places
If a parenting plan states that court-ordered custody must occur in a public place, it must continue at locations sanctioned by the laws of local government. For example, if a parent meets with their child every week in an area where they can safely maintain social distance from other parties, they can continue to meet with their child. If they routinely meet with their child in a park, however, they should conduct visitation through video conference or another form of media device.
Furthermore, if parenting time must be conducted with the supervision of a third party and the third party cannot be located, parents should consider conducting parenting time through a media device.
As of April 1, 2020, there have been no travel restrictions for parents transporting their children to and from the other parent's house. Parenting time orders are essential for upholding a child's best interests and well-being and therefore will most likely continue to be permitted.
During the exchange of the child, parents should attempt to maintain proper social distancing with each other. To limit the spread of the virus, parents should:
- consider exchanging their children in an area not many people congregate.
- if the normal exchange area is closed, parents are encouraged to do so in the parking lot of a government facility or an open area nearby.
Parents Maintain Contact with Their Children
At Singer Pistiner, PC, our attorneys are dedicated to ensuring the best interests of our clients' children are upheld. If you are having issues maintaining custody orders with your former partner, we can help you enforce or modify this order.