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Dear Clients and Friends,
We are over a week into the Shelter in Place. Many of you have called and emailed us to express your concerns and confusion regarding the “Shelter in Place” orders made by Governor Ige and Mayor Caldwell, and how these orders effect your co-parenting plans and custody orders.
The Covid-19 pandemic has created a new reality for us all. Custody orders and parenting plans that require children to move back and forth between two homes can seem contrary to the need to ensure our children’s safety and the safety of ourselves and others. We are being told that the most important thing we can do to “flatten the curve” is to stay inside, avoid public places and do everything possible to remain healthy and virus free. How are you expected to do all of these things while at the same time complying with your parenting plan?
Below are some commonly asked questions. If you have specific questions about your parenting plan, please give us a call or send us an email and we’ll get back to you as soon as we can.
Our most important advice is to remain calm and try to minimize conflict as much as possible. Most people are competent and capable parents who want the best for their children. Be realistic in your expectations and be kind. The more flexible you and your co-parent can be, the better off your children will be. The more agreements you and your co-parent can make, and the more consistent you can both be, the less confusing this awful situation will be for your children.
This is not a time to finger point and blame, nor is it a time to focus on past hurts. This is a brand new situation that requires a brand new way of living and communicating. Please let us know how we can help.
Wishing you peace and health during this time,
Your Children’s Law Center Team
Question 1: Are we violating the Shelter in Place Orders by driving our children back and forth between homes?
You are not violating the Shelter in Place order when you travel with your children to pick them up and drop them off from their other parent’s home. The Governor’s Third Supplementary Proclamation states, specifically, that “[t]ravel required by law enforcement or court order, including to transport children pursuant to a custody agreement” is an activity that allows you to be outside of your home or residence.
Question 2: Are Family Court orders still in effect during the Shelter in Place?
Yes. All court orders remain in full force and there is little to zero opportunity to modify your custody orders in Family Court. The Family Court is hearing TROs and emergency Motions only. Please remember, what you believe is an emergency and what the Family Court Judge reviewing “emergency” Motions thinks is an emergency are two very different things. If you believe that your children are in danger because the other parent is not complying with the Shelter in Place order, please call us and we will discuss how to best resolve the issue.
Question 3: My hearing was postponed. When will I know the continued date?
Hearings on Divorce and Paternity matters that are scheduled between now and April 30, 2020 are postponed to a later, currently unknown date. May hearing dates remain on calendar, but those may be changed in order to deal with the April dates that are being set aside. We will provide you with updated information from the Judiciary as it is received.
Question 4: If my co-parent will not abide by our court ordered parenting plan, should I call the police?
It is unclear how the police will respond if one parent choses to hold onto the children instead of delivering them to the other parent for their parenting time during Shelter in Place. Our experience, in general, has always been that the police will enforce well written, specific custody orders that are not open to interpretation or the need to calendar/day count; however, it is less clear if the police will get involved when there are allegations that one parent is not following the rules of Shelter in Place.
Anecdotally, we did have a client fly to Hawaii to pick up their son for a flight back to the mainland for Spring Break prior to the Shelter in Place order. The parent was refused access to the child, so they called the police. The police would not enforce the order because they did not agree that the parent should fly to the mainland with the child, in spite of the valid court order. The parent had no option other than to fly back to the mainland without their son. Our impression is that, while the refusing parent may not be “in trouble” with the Court for refusing to allow the child to fly, that parent’s failure to communicate their decision to withhold the child before the parent flew all the way to Hawaii may make them liable for some of the travel expenses and costs. Additionally, the Court may order make up time for the parent who lost time with the child.
Question 5. What if my co-parent and I have a difficult time communicating about Shelter in Place, or reaching any agreement as to how we can keep our children safe?
Clearly, the key to effectively co-parenting during this time is open communication. Do not assume that they will not talk to you. Reach out to your child(ren)’s other parent and ask them their understanding of what the Shelter in Place order means. Tell them what it means to you. Talk about the members of each household and whether or not they are taking the Shelter in Place orders seriously. Discuss the presence of relatives or roommates in each household that may be at high risk for catching Covid-19, such as health care workers and first responders, and what steps they are taking to ensure the safety of everyone in the household.
Discuss the needs of family members who are at greatest risk if they were to be exposed to Covid-19, such as grandparents and other elderly relatives, or family members who have compromised immune systems. Would they be safer if the children were not coming and going from their home? Is there someone at your own home that is at risk? Let your co-parent know what steps you have taken to prepare for Sheltering in Place and ask them for assurances that they are prepared as well.
It may be easiest to communicate by email and, in general, we encourage you to put all communication in writing if possible. Confirm agreements and disagreements and clarify issues that remain confusing or vague.
Below please find a draft letter for you to send to your co-parent. We are hopeful that this opens the lines of communication if they have not been opened already. If and when you receive a response from your co-parent, let us know. If that response is unsatisfactory and leads you to believe that your children are not safe or your co-parent is not taking this pandemic seriously, please email or call us and we can discuss next steps.
We understand that this confusing situation becomes even more difficult when there is a lack of trust between parents, or when parents cannot agree on the parameters and requirements of the Shelter in Place orders.
Question 6. What do I do if my co-parent disregards the Shelter in Place orders, or does not believe in the seriousness of the Covid-19 pandemic?
If you truly believe that your co-parent is not prepared for or willfully disregards the Shelter in Place order, offer to keep the children with you at your house until the Shelter in Place order is lifted. Assure them that the children will be available for daily FaceTime calls and updates.
Offer to exchange day for day parenting time when the Shelter in Place order is lifted. If your co- parent is one of the small minority of people who truly doesn’t believe that the Covid-19 virus is real, please call us to discuss your next steps.