Does COVID-19 Change Child Custody Agreements?
The world is rapidly changing. Some states have already enacted shelter-in-place orders. I am frequently being asked what does this mean for Arizona co-parenting agreements? Each parent still has a court-ordered RIGHT to see their children. Shelter-in-place orders do not prohibit travel for court-ordered parenting time. This means you need to abide by your Arizona family court order and exchange your child as ordered by the court. If the exchange is ordered to take place at school, communicate with your co-parent and arrange for exchanges curbside at the parents’ homes. If that is not possible due to safety concerns or Orders of Protection, then exchanges can take place at a gas station, a big box store with parking lot cameras or if no other viable alternatives exist, even a police station.
It is critical that co-parents have good communication and share information with one another. This is especially important as it relates to the health of their child and any changes that may impact the other parent. Not only should physical health, but also emotional well-being, of the child be closely monitored and discussed between the co-parents.
There are potentially serious consequences if one parent violates parenting time orders. A.R.S. Sec. 25-414 allows a parent to file a petition for contempt of court against the other parent. Upon the filing of a petition, the Arizona family law court can:
- Find the violating parent in contempt of court.
- Order visitation or parenting time to make up for the missed sessions.
- Order parent education at the violating parent's expense.
- Order family counseling at the violating parent's expense.
- Order civil penalties of not to exceed one hundred dollars for each violation.
- Order both parents to participate in mediation or some other appropriate form of alternative dispute resolution at the violating parent's expense.
- Make any other order that may promote the best interests of the child or children involved.
Further, the court costs and attorney fees incurred by the non-violating parent associated with the review of non-compliance with visitation or parenting time order shall be paid by the violating parent. In other words, the violating parent is responsible to pay for both co-parents legal fees.
The Arizona family law courts do not take these matters lightly. At a time when the Courts are stretched and are working to keep people safe as well as provide them their opportunity to be heard, they do not need to be inundated with violating parents. They will not look favorably on a parent who is taking advantage of the COVID-19 situation to withhold a child from the other parent.
California currently has shelter-in-place orders in effect for the entire state. However, they are specifically exempting custody orders from the shelter-in-place travel restrictions.
During this time of uncertainty in the US, one thing is certain, child custody orders must be followed. It is the time to show your children that both parents have their best interests in mind. Practice cleanliness and social distancing. Remember to get exercise, eat healthy foods and most importantly - be kind to one another. We will get through this together.
About the Author: Carissa Seidl is a family law attorney and partner at the Phoenix law firm of Jaburg Wilk. Her representation of family law clients focuses on divorce, child custody and post-decree modifications. She can be reached at 602.248.1000 and is offering videoconference appointments