COVID-19’s impact on court ordered parenting plans and custody arrangements

So much has changed since the new coronavirus and the disease it causes, COVID-19, emerged in December 2019. Kansas and Missouri families, in particular, have been and will continue to be affected by school closings and shelter-in-place orders (such as those beginning at 12:01 a.m. on Tuesday March 24, 2020, for Douglas County, KS; Johnson County, KS; Wyandotte County, KS; Leavenworth County, KS; Cass County, MO; Jackson County, MO; Clay County, MO; Platte County, MO; and the city of Kansas City, Missouri). Families in the middle of a divorce or custody case may be affected by Kansas courts’ current limits on non-emergent hearings.

The family law attorneys at Joseph, Hollander & Craft LLC are staying current with all developments and remain available to assist during these unprecedented times. Below we answer some frequently asked questions.

COVID-19 and court-ordered custody and parenting time
Many parents who are parties to court-ordered custody plans are wondering how shelter-in-place orders impact them, their children, and their co-parents. While some orders specifically permit activities necessary to comply with court or administrative orders, others do not. Some people find themselves asking, “Do I need to follow my parenting plan during the COVID-19 outbreak?” The short answer: Yes.

This is a stressful time for all parties involved, including the children. Routines have been upended with the closing of schools for the remainder of the 2019-2020 school year. Parents should do everything they can to maintain a consistent schedule, which includes parenting time with both parents. Parents should not use a global pandemic as a way to circumvent the orders of the court. At this time, exchanges need to take place as ordered by your specific parenting plan.

We recommended that parents doing exchanges follow all government and CDC recommendations and during those exchanges to minimize the possibility of transmitting the coronavirus. Have hand sanitizer available or immediately wash hands, avoid touching faces, and practice social distancing if exchanges take place in public.
If a member of either household tests positive for COVID-19, then changes will likely need to take place in order to protect the child and members of each household from contracting the virus. Parents should plan to follow their physicians’ orders related to their quarantine period and parenting schedule during that time. Specifically, ask your doctor about how or whether parenting time should take place.

If a quarantine keeps a child from having in-person parenting time with one of their parents, steps should be taken to have phone contact and video chats with the other parent as frequently as possible. Children can also use this time to practice their writing skills and send letters (just be sure to disinfect!). A child should not go the entirety of a 14-day quarantine without contact with a parent.

Parenting time during COVID-19 school closures
Many parents also have questions regarding provisions in parenting plans allowing one parent parenting time when the child is not in school. This is still school time, with most districts planning to begin some level of distance learning within the next week or so. There are no automatic shifts to a summer parenting plan at this point. Again, this is an unprecedented time and parents should not use a global pandemic to vie for a change in the schedule—although some changes may be needed to cooperate and assist where necessary. If one parent is part of the essential workforce that is not being allowed to work from home, the other parent may offer assistance where appropriate. If one household contains a vulnerable person, parents should do everything they can to cooperatively protect both households.

COVID-19 court closures and current custody cases
Parents who are currently in the middle of a case should expect some delays in in-person court hearings. Kansas courts are physically closed at this point and have moved to emergency operations as outlined in 2020-PR-016: Imposing Statewide Judiciary Restricted Operations Due to COVID-19 Emergency. This measure allows for appeals, motions, and original actions to be heard remotely if they require an expeditious conclusion. This means that cases will be heard at the judge’s discretion and will not be heard in person.

Emergency cases involving your child’s safety should still be brought to your attorney’s attention as soon as possible. If your previous orders allow for mediation or conciliation, those avenues for dispute resolution may still be available remotely, or with modifications to abide by social distancing recommendations. The courts are still signing agreed orders into effect, and this could allow for a modification of your orders prior to a court hearing. Courts have yet to provide clear direction about a timeline for scheduling hearings upon a return to normal practices.

This is a confusing time, but the domestic and family law attorneys at Joseph, Hollander & Craft LLC are here to help. Our firm is still open, and our attorneys available to schedule telephone conferences and meetings, answer any and all questions, and draft and file documents and pleadings. Additionally, our team of experienced conciliators are available to meet with you remotely. Call any one of our five offices: Kansas City (816-297-0800), Overland Park (913-948-9490), Lawrence (785-856-0143), Topeka (785-234-3272), Wichita (316-262-9393).

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