phillips & hunt COVID-19 Coronavirus Pandemic Legal Advice: Family Law and Co-parenting amidst Uncertain Times with the Courts
By: Matthew C. Hunt, Esq.
In the already very adversarial area of “Family law” (Divorce, Paternity, and Custody/Timesharing disputes) this uncertainty and these ever evolving changes and restrictions are causing quite the controversy.
First, “Spring Break” as labeled by the school calendars, and for many legally separated parents, in their Final Judgment, has either begun early or been extended, depending on the children’s school district. For those parents who alternate the week of spring break, there are many parents now disputing with the other parent, as to who gets this additional time with the children while they are off school? Does the parent who is scheduled to get spring break this year get the additional time, or does the normal timesharing schedule get implemented, and we ignore this additional time off from school that many parents value as extremely important quality time with the children? – Most likely this will require the involvement of the courts and attorney’s if the parents cannot co-parent and agree to a compromise, to determine what is in the best interest of the children in accordance with Florida Statute, as well as how to construe any Court orders already in existence.
Now that schools have been shut down for even more extended periods of time, and online schooling is being implemented for many, how do the parents arrange for “home-schooling” or “Virtual-schooling” the children? What if one or both of the parents still works full time out of the home and cannot be there for the children while they stay home? Do the parents play hot-potato with the children as to who gets to keep the children and/or whose responsibility it is? – Most likely this will require the involvement of the courts and attorney’s to determine what Florida Law says, as well as if your court order gives insight if the parents cannot co-parent and agree to a compromise.
Even further, what if the quarantine is necessary for a parent, spouse, or child? Does the other parent miss their time with the child? Do they get make-up time? Do the parents share in the additional responsibilities, or does it fall on the parent who had the child in their care at the time of the quarantine exclusively? – Most likely this to will require the involvement of the courts and attorney’s to review your court orders and apply them to Florida law, if the parents cannot co-parent and agree to a compromise.
Next, what if a parent is laid off or suspended from employment, and they cannot afford to pay child support or alimony, or need higher child support or alimony? Or if they cannot afford to pay other costs they are court ordered to pay? – Most likely this will require the involvement of the courts and attorney’s to determine what Florida Statute and the case-law says, if the parents cannot co-parent or amicably resolve this dispute and agree to a compromise.
Many parents are no longer in the same vicinity geographically, and require and/or rely upon substantial travel to effectuate timesharing and exchanges. Now with restrictions currently in place on travel, and an expectation that further restrictions may be put in place; how will parents navigate either government restrictions placed on them, or a parents unilateral refusal to travel based upon concerns (legitimacy of concerns are not of importance for this scenario)? – Most likely this will require the involvement of the courts and attorney’s if the parents cannot co-parent and agree to a compromise.
Court and Attorney Access:
A common theme of all of the above scenarios is that this is uncharted territory, and most likely the parties written agreements do not contemplate any of the above scenarios. As such, unless an amicable compromise can be reached through co-parenting and mutual agreements, you will need access to the Courts. However, the next issue is access to said Courts.
Courts everywhere are cancelling and/or re-scheduling trials. Certain subjects and issues are being given priority (criminal first appearance, juvenile dependency, domestic violence, etc.), for good reason, and many of the “Family Law” issues may be delayed. Courts are moving hearings that are still on the calendar to be done via telephone and/or video conferencing (skype/zoom). Courts are also implementing rules related to getting hearings set, submitting evidence, and other procedures related thereto.
Due to the difficulty of navigating the aforementioned issues that will or may arise, combined with the ever changing rules relating the Courts, the necessity to hire expert legal counsel to navigate you through these waters and the necessity to stay calm and attempt to be as reasonable and rational as possible is important.
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