Co-Parenting During the COVID-19 Pandemic

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By: Shelby J. Anderson, Esq. 

Parenting plans have historically been difficult to navigate.  Loopholes can be exploited, certain terms can have multiple interpretations, and there are always parents that seem to have difficulty following court-ordered parenting plans.  The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated these issues and has created many additional questions related to parenting time.  In response to these questions, the Arizona Supreme Court has provided guidelines on how to work through parenting plan court orders during the COVID-19 pandemic while also following the current “Stay Home, Stay Healthy, Stay Connected” order, issued by Governor Douglas Ducey on March 30, 2020.  Below is a summary of Arizona Supreme Court guidelines, to help with navigating co-parenting during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Parenting Plans Should Continue to Be Followed During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Parents should generally continue to follow the parenting plans that are currently in place, to the fullest extent possible.  The Supreme Court’s guidelines state that, “[p]arents must comply with any existing parenting time orders unless they agree otherwise, or until the orders are modified.”  The existence of the COVID-19 pandemic is generally not a reason to deny a parent’s court-ordered parenting time.  Parents are encouraged to discuss precautions each parent has taken to ensure the safety of the children and to slow the spread of COVID-19; however, the guidelines specifically note that “[a] parent is not permitted to deny parenting time based upon the other parent’s unwillingness to discuss precautionary measures taken, or belief that the other parent’s precautions are insufficient.”

If a parent has been currently withholding parenting time from the other parent without either good cause to do so or an agreement in writing by the parents, that parent must immediately return the child to the other parent in compliance with their current parenting time schedule or face possible contempt of court.

Other court orders, such as third-party visitation, shall also continue to remain in effect unless modified in line with the Supreme Court guidelines.  All parents and third parties are encouraged to be flexible during this time and try to come to an agreement with the other parties before seeking court intervention.

Parenting Time with Persons Who Have Tested Positive for COVID-19

Individuals who have tested positive should be working with the other parent to determine an agreement to modify the existing court orders.  The court encourages agreement to possible suspension of parenting time for a fourteen-day period for any individuals who have tested positive for COVID-19, share a residence with anyone who has tested positive for the virus, have traveled internationally, or have been directed by a government official to self-quarantine.

If parenting time is missed due to a positive COVID-19 diagnosis and resulting quarantine, parents shall work together for that parent to have liberal virtual communication with the child.  If a parent does suspend his or her parenting time due to a positive diagnosis, that parenting time may be made up either by agreement of the parties or a court order, if requested and the court finds the request appropriate.

Since this is such an unprecedented time and parents are understandably fearful for the health and safety of their loved ones, parents should communicate with each other expectations of precautions taken during and after the fourteen-day quarantine period.

Supervised Parenting Time

If a parent has supervised parenting time, that parent shall continue to have parenting time that encourages the child’s health and safety.  Many of the third-party supervising agencies are still working through this pandemic in order to ensure parents receive their court-ordered parenting time.  If the supervisor is unable to monitor the visit, the parents shall work together to either find an alternative supervisor (such as a family member or friend) or set up a system for virtual supervised visitation.  The primary custodial parent is allowed to supervise the virtual visits, which can also reduce expenses during these difficult economic times.

Due to the current administrative order to shelter in place, supervised parenting time that occurs in public locations has become increasingly difficult.  The parents arranging the visits should be avoiding places that have common-contact surfaces, including playgrounds and picnic tables, and should be focusing on trying to have parenting time in outdoor areas where social distancing of six feet is possible.  If this is not possible to find, parents with a supervised parenting time schedule may consider virtual parenting time until the orders to avoid these public locations are lifted.

Exchanges and Travel Restrictions

There are currently no restrictions for travelling for parenting time exchanges.  Parents should be ready to work together if further government restrictions on travel are implemented.

For any long-distance parenting plans, parents are encouraged to be aware of the CDC guidelines for travel and potentially use ground transportation or agree to a modified parenting time schedule if air travel is generally used.

Holiday, Vacation and Summer Break Parenting Time

Arizona has closed schools for the remainder of the 2019-2020 school year.  However, parents should still utilize the school parenting time schedule for the remainder of the school year under the school calendar of the child’s school district.

All holidays and breaks designated in the court order should be construed as the regularly calendared breaks and holidays in your child’s school district where your child either is or would be attending school.  The Supreme Court specifically notes that although the school has closed its physical doors, the school schedule shall remain the same as is stated on that school’s calendar.

Court Intervention for Essential Matters and Emergency Situations

The guidelines specifically note that self-help is not an acceptable course of action, and that if one parent believes a modification to the parenting plan is necessary, that parent should consider filing a motion for a temporary modification of parenting time pursuant to Rule 48 of the Arizona Rules of Family Law Procedure.  Generally, a

parent is required to file both a motion for temporary orders to modify parenting time as well as an underlying petition to modify the parenting time on a permanent basis.  However, Administrative Order No. 2020-59 allows a parent to file a petition to modify parenting time on a temporary basis without also filing the underlying petition if the reason behind the request for temporary modification is primarily related to COVID-19.

If a parent does choose to withhold the child from the other parent, this may be considered custodial interference under A.R.S. § 13-1302.  However, the Supreme Court guidelines state that if there is a parenting dispute during the COVID-19 pandemic, parents are urged not to call police or other first responders unless there is a real, immediate, significant, and safety-related reason, or if either the parent or child is in imminent danger.  Instead, parents are urged to seek legal recourse in their family court case.

For a thorough review of the Arizona Supreme Court guidelines, please review the “Family Court Guidelines for Parenting Time of Children During the COVID-19 Pandemic”.  If you or a loved one is currently facing a parenting time dispute due to the COVID-19 pandemic, or in general, our family law attorneys are here to help. Check our our website and call our office at (602) 675-4508 for a free consultation.

*This information is correct and up to date as of the day this article was written.


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