The National Advocates
The National Advocates
National Board of Trial Advocacy
The Florida Bar
Best Lawyers
Client Distinction Award
The National Advocates

Child Custody and Visitation During COVID-19

Miami Attorneys Skilled in Family Law Disputes

The coronavirus pandemic is posing challenges to families with child custody and visitation arrangements. In some cases, divorced parents disagree about how much to follow the stay-at-home or shelter-in-place orders. There are parents who unilaterally change time sharing arrangements or whose relationships grow more acrimonious due to the need to renegotiate time sharing because of the pandemic. If you are involved in a dispute related to child custody and visitation during COVID-19, you should consult the Miami child custody lawyers at Sandy T. Fox, P.A.

Child Custody and Visitation During COVID-19

Child custody and visitation in Florida are usually determined by a child’s best interests. When time sharing orders have already been put in place, parents risk being held in contempt of court if they do not comply. In some cases, however, parents may have concerns about whether the other parent has been exposed. For example, health care providers with visitation may be exposed at work. For another example, exposure might occur when a parent is not following a shelter-in-place order or has inadvertently had contact with someone confirmed to have COVID-19. There may be life and death consequences of child custody arrangements.

There are limited circumstances in which a court will consider modifying child custody. Our attorneys can help you petition for a modification if a substantial change in circumstances has occurred. This must be a serious change. It may also be possible to ask for a modification if an injunction for protection against domestic violence has been entered against a parent. It may be possible to obtain a modification if the parents agree to it.

Certain circuits have put in place their own orders related to child custody and visitation during COVID-19. These include the Eleventh Circuit, which serves Miami-Dade County, and the Seventeenth Circuit, which serves Broward County.

Child Custody and Visitation in the Eleventh Circuit During COVID-19

In the Eleventh Circuit’s Administrative Order, the court has stated that it expects parents to keep adhering to court orders, whether they are final judgments, temporary orders, or settlement agreements. Each parent is prohibited from unreasonably restricting the other parent’s access to the children unless visitation is already prohibited by an order that has been put in place. The time sharing that applies during the school year stays in place until the school district announces the last day of school, and then the summer time sharing schedule will apply. However, if a child’s school has ended classes for the 2019-2020 school year, the summer time sharing schedule starts right away.

Any exchanges between parents that were supposed to happen at a school or daycare that is not open are supposed to be adjusted in writing. If the parents cannot agree, they can file a motion with the court that meets the requirements of the other administrative orders applicable during the coronavirus outbreak. If a state or local shelter-in-place order is in effect, no time sharing exchanges can occur. In that case, the parents should follow local directives. After the shelter-in-place order is lifted, the parents can return to the previously ordered or agreed-upon time sharing.

Parents are supposed to honor the video conferencing and phone contact set forth in their parenting plan. In addition, parents are supposed to have regular and consistent contact with a child to help allay the child’s fears and anxieties. The Administrative Order specifies that any destructive behavior will be sanctioned by the court.

Child Custody and Visitation in the Seventeenth Circuit During COVID-19

The Seventeenth Circuit Administrative Order sets forth that it is in the parents’ and children’s best interests for parents to keep performing the duties and obligations of co-parenting and share additional responsibilities throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Parents are supposed to keep complying with all orders. Each parent is prohibited from unreasonably restricting the other parent’s access to the children. The regular time sharing schedule applies until the last day of school in the 2019-2020 official school calendar, even if the school ends classes prior to the designated date. Summer time sharing, as described in the parenting plan or court order, applies after that date.

Parents are free to try to come to an alternative agreement if children are usually exchanged at schools or daycares that are closed because of COVID-19. If they cannot come to an agreement, the Administrative Order provides that the children should be exchanged at the sheriff’s office or police station nearest to the daycare or school, as identified by a mapping program. A court is unlikely to hold a hearing on a motion related to this issue.

If a state or local shelter-in-place order applies, the parents are supposed to talk about the family’s best methods to satisfy school requirements and allow children to stay with their siblings. Regular time sharing is supposed to continue if the court orders it, but if there is a governmental order issued that does not permit a parent to move around, the parent with the majority of time sharing will keep the children until the order is lifted. After the court resumes its normal operations, it can consider all appropriate remedial measures. It will sanction acts taken during the coronavirus outbreak that it considers unreasonable. If the orders are lifted, the regular time sharing should resume. Parents should try to voluntarily agree to a make-up time sharing schedule if time sharing is lost because of the pandemic.

As with the Eleventh Circuit order, each parent is supposed to continue to allow video conferencing and phone contact with the other parent, and this should be increased to consistent, regular contact to help children with their fears. The phone or video contact is not supposed to be monitored or interrupted by the other parent or a third party, unless the court has already ordered otherwise regarding these issues.

Consult a Seasoned Family Law Lawyer in the Miami Area

If you are concerned about child custody and visitation during COVID-19, you should discuss your situation with family law attorney Sandy T. Fox. Mr. Fox is a Florida Bar Board Certified specialist in Marital and Family Law. He represents people in Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Hollywood, Aventura, and other cities in Miami-Dade and Broward Counties. Call us toll-free at 800.596.0579 or locally at 305.932.6542, or contact us through our online form.