By now, everyone is aware of the the COVID-19 pandemic: schools have closed, people are practicing “social-distancing,” and everyone is trying to avoid social interactions. Under these circumstances, it is likely that parents will be facing the question of what to do when their ex may have been exposed to coronavirus (or even diagnosed with COVID-19). The answer, as always, is “it depends.”
When your ex has court-ordered parenting time, denying access risks a contempt order and paying your spouse’s legal fees. At the same time, you need to protect your children. No matter which decision you make, you’re taking a risk. So…what do you do?
The primary question you need to answer is “how sure am I that my ex is, or could be, sick?” The more certain you are, the more justification you have for denying parenting time. If your ex has been diagnosed with COVID-19, it is highly doubtful that any court would fault you for keeping your kids (and, in fact, would likely say that is what you SHOULD do). If, on the other hand, all you have is a general concern because there is coronavirus in your community, denying parenting time is almost certain NOT to be seen as justified. The harder cases are in between.
For example, what do you do if your ex works with someone who has been diagnosed, but isn’t demonstrating symptoms him or herself? Similarly, how should you respond if your ex just returned from a trip to Italy? Unfortunately, the answer isn’t clear. Ideally, you could discuss the matter with your ex and come to a rational agreement. However, as we know, not all parents have good lines of communication or exes who are rational. In such cases, you need to consider contact and weigh the risks.
Perhaps most importantly, you need to realistically assess how likely it is that the other parent may have COVID-19. Do you just have a hunch, or has he or she exhibited symptoms? If the concern is that a co-worker has tested positive, how closely did the other parent work with this person?
If you do end up having to justify your actions to the court, there are a couple of things that will make a difference in what happens. First, what is your history surrounding parenting time? If you’ve always faithfully honored the parenting-time schedule in the past, the court is more likely to give you the benefit of the doubt. Second, what evidence do you have that the parenting-time schedule poses a risk of transmission to your child? The more persuasive evidence you have that allowing the other parent to exercise parenting time would expose your children to a risk of infection or quarantine, the more solid your footing. Keep emails, notes of phone calls, news articles about infections at the other parent’s workplace, etc.
Ultimately, we are in somewhat uncharted territory, and best practices can change quickly. What seems like common sense today, may not seem that way tomorrow. If you do end up denying visitation to the other parent, be prepared to offer compensatory time once the pandemic has passed. Use your head, be safe, and try to work together for your children’s best interests.
To discuss parenting time, or any family law issue, call Kruse Family Law PLLC at 612.231.9865 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.