divorce law

Parenting Agreements in the Time of COVID-19

Since late March 2020, Boulder County has been under a stay-at-home order, requiring non-essential workers to stay home in order to “flatten the curve” of rising cases of the novel coronavirus. On April 24th, Governor Jared Polis lifted the State mandate ordering citizens to stay home, shifting into the “Safer-at-Home” phase of his plan, but Boulder County opted to extend the stay-at-home order through May 8th. 

Some experts are saying that, for Colorado, it is likely that many counties will extend strict stay-at-home orders into the summer to protect citizens from infection. (Read more here).

So, what does this mean for divorced couples who are grappling with parenting schedules and upheaval during this time? 

Managing Parenting Schedules During a Stay-at-Home Order

For divorced couples who share custody of a child or children, the global pandemic can add uncertainty, anxiety and stress to a situation that is already rife with challenges. 

Although every situation is different, the very general answer to most questions I have received from clients who want to know if they can change their parenting schedule is that… no, you cannot formally alter a parenting agreement without an agreement between the parties and/or going through the Court. Additionally, if you choose to deviate from the parenting schedule without the other side’s agreement and/or formally modifying it, you may expose yourself to potential legal ramifications in the future.

I understand that, when your former spouse and you were drawing up the parenting agreement, there was likely no contingency written in for what to do if a pandemic were to hit and place most of society under a stay-at-home order. However, legally, you are bound to follow the schedule that was drawn up (and that everyone signed off on) in the parenting agreement. 

The Courts are Generally Only Handling Emergencies 

At the moment, the Courts are only dealing with “emergencies”. The idea is to restrict flow of bodies into the Courts, allowing all government employees and citizens to follow social distancing guidelines. 

This means that unless your situation is a true emergency (say, you need to file a restraining order against someone), it is unlikely that you will be able to modify parenting time. I heard of one father who suspected his former spouse was endangering the children by neglecting to follow his opinion of appropriate social distancing guidelines. He wanted to modify the parenting schedule; but in my opinion, the Court would not consider his complaint to be an emergency, and he could make himself a target for a contempt citation if he decided to take matters into his own hands and simply ignore the parenting agreement.  To avoid possible ramifications, he would have to demonstrate a strong probability that the child(ren) were in “imminent danger”.

Now, if you truly believe that your child or children are in danger when they are at your ex-spouse’s home, you do have the option to file a Motion to Restrict Parenting Time. This is a serious move, as it basically alleges that the children’s being with the other parent creates a significant and imminent danger, either physically or emotionally, to a minor child. When you go this route, the mere filing of the Motion terminates parenting time with the other parent. 

It is only an option if you truly believe that your kid(s) are in danger, however, if this is your situation, the Court will generally review these Motions very quickly (no more than a day or two). 

After review, the Court will do one of two things: either the Court will find the Motion to be non-meritorious and dismiss it (if the allegations in the Motion don’t support the relief), or the Court will find that on its face, the Motion has merit, is valid. In that case, the Court will schedule a hearing. 

Because the relief is so drastic, the hearing must be conducted within 14 days. 

We live in a new world, and each of us is attempting to navigate this situation to our best ability. If you have a complicated parenting situation after a divorce and need guidance as to how to best handle it, call our office for a free consultation at 303-449-1873.

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