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30 Days: A Time-Sharing Guide for Divorced/Separated Parents Sharing Custody of Children Under Florida’s Safer At Home Order

As you now know, the Governor of Florida has declared a state of emergency and entered “Safer at Home” Executive Order 20-91. For all of us, the Florida Supreme Court clarified that “possession of and access to a child shall not be affected by any shelter-in-place order or other order restricting movement issued by a governmental entity that arises from an epidemic or pandemic, including what is commonly referred to as the COVID-19 pandemic.” Thankfully for those of us local here in the 19th Judicial Circuit (Martin, St. Lucie, Indian River and Okeechobee counties), our wonderful judges have taken great lengths to further assist us, providing Administrative Order 2020-02 which states “for purposes of determining time-sharing or exchange of a child(ren), a prior Court Order or Parenting Plan shall control”, unless otherwise agreed or ordered by the Court.

Over these thirty (30) days while we are ordered to stay in place, child exchanges shall be conducted at the RaceTrac (gas station/convenience store) closest to the parent’s home where the child or children are located, if you are in the 19th Judicial Circuit. If you are not in Martin, St. Lucie, Indian River or Okeechobee county, you should look to your local judges or courts for a similar directive. If no similar directive has been given, child welfare experts suggest child exchanges take place at a location people are permitted to go such as a gas station, grocery store or pharmacy, that is also ordinarily under video surveillance as a matter of course. This can mitigate any concerns of those in a high-conflict matter or situation.

The coronavirus pandemic is posing many challenges to parents, including how to balance shared custody obligations with the risk of exposure to the coronavirus. Here are some general strategies that will help parents navigate time-sharing challenges during these uncertain times:

Don’t Disregard Court Orders

The parenting plans previously ordered remain in full force and effect and the 30-day stay at home order puts no restrictions on child exchanges. If you intentionally deprive the other parent of court-ordered access to their child, you are violating the Supreme Court’s directive regarding child access, Florida’s parenting statute, and risk being held in contempt of court. Withholding access to your child from the other parent can be extremely traumatic for both the child and the other parent and should be avoided. Remember, children deserve to have both parents; it is their right.

Get Creative

Research has shown that continuing contact between both parents and their children offers reassurance and improved outcomes for children whose parents have divorced. Encourage children to connect with the other parent via the phone, FaceTime, Skype, Zoom, or other virtual meeting platforms. There are numerous fun features available on these communication tools, such as filters that can provide entertainment while enjoying continued contact with the other parent. In fact, Administrative Order 2020-02 says there should be regular and consistent video-conferencing and phone contact between the child(ren) and the co-parent, increasing where necessary if not. This will help alleviate fears and concerns the child(ren) may be experiencing during this time.

Be Flexible

During a time when some parents are being asked to work extra hours because of the pandemic while others have lost their jobs or had their hours cut, know that time-sharing plans might have to change. If one parent’s job requires exposure to the virus, work together to come up with a plan that might include make up time-sharing when the danger of infection has passed.

Model Positive Behavior

Stay informed of all rapidly evolving guidelines regarding social distancing, hand washing, and testing. Be honest about the seriousness of the situation, but try to stay calm and reassuring, avoiding excessive exposure to media coverage that is intended for adult viewing.

Provide Honest Information

Always be transparent with your co-parent and provide accurate information about any suspected or confirmed exposure you may have had to the virus. Work together to decide what steps should be taken to protect your children from exposure and inform one another immediately should a child exhibit any signs of infection. You should not make unilateral decisions regarding time-sharing.

Be Generous Regarding Make Up Time-Sharing

Try to provide ample make-up time to co-parents who were unable to utilize their regular time-sharing because of the coronavirus. Many people are not working and may enjoy additional time during the day with their child(ren). Many people are forced to work and have no choice in missing their court ordered time-sharing. Florida family court judges expect reasonable accommodations whenever possible and will seriously consider concerns raised in later filings about parents who were not flexible during these highly unusual circumstances.

For comprehensive yet compassionate legal advice regarding time-sharing during the coronavirus pandemic, contact Vero Beach Family Law Attorney Susan Chesnutt online or call 772-492-3330 today.

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