How COVID 19 is Changing Family Law
The COVID-19 virus has presented myriad issues that impact numerous aspects of our lives. As family law attorneys, our focus is how practical implications and legislation impact custody, parenting time, and child support issues faced by people across Michigan. For context, it’s important to examine the terms of the executive orders signed by Governor Gretchen Whitmer that touch on custody and parenting time.
Pursuant to Executive Order 2020-21, also known as the “Stay Home, Stay Safe” order, Governor Whitmer placed restrictions on work, travel, and social gatherings. In respect to our concerns as family law attorneys, the order allows exceptions for individuals to travel “[a]s required by law enforcement or a court order, including the transportation of children pursuant to a custody agreement.” Full text of Executive Order 2020-21 can be found here: https://www.michigan.gov/whitmer/0,9309,7-387-90499_90705-522626--,00.html.
One important consideration for parties subject to custody and parenting time orders is whether or not it is in the best interest of the children to travel for parenting time. Since entry of the Stay Home, Stay Safe order, we have received a number of inquiries as to if and/or how parenting time should be exercised and whether the parties need to follow their custody and parenting time order. The short answer is yes, parties are still required to follow the court order. However, we understand that practical nuance must be considered when examining the best interests of the minor children subject to a custody and parenting time order.
In an effort to better understand the parenting time issues faced by parties in Michigan, I attended the webinar, Creative Parenting Time Solutions Amid a Global Pandemic, hosted by attorney Liisa Speaker, during which attorneys and administrators from throughout Michigan provided insight and potential solutions for issues faced by parents and children subject to custody and parenting time orders. One overarching thought presented by attorney Randy Pitler, an attorney in Oakland County, was that the parties were likely once able to work together in regard to the child’s best interest and they need to find that headspace again when things seems uncertain.
Another important consideration is that this is a new scenario to be addressed by the courts. There is little to no precedent to guide the court when considering violations of custody and parenting time orders. For example, Governor Whitmer has ordered schools remain closed for the academic year, so practical questions arise: How would this impact summer vacation parenting time? How does this impact spring break parenting time? Shelly Wine of the Oakland County Friend of the Court indicated that the Oakland County FOC has a policy that the school calendar is still in place unless the parties want to reach a separate agreement. It is likely that most Friends of the Court will follow this guidance.
The next consideration must be what the courts will do if these parenting time orders are violated. While attorneys cannot predict exactly how the court will address violations to custody and parenting time orders, a common expectation is that the court will look to whether the parties acted in good faith. While “good faith” can be subjective from party to party, attorney Liz Bransdorfer suggested thinking about the golden rule – treat others the way you want to be treated.
In the context of parenting time, think about sufficient communication with the other party and working toward solutions that best fit the best interest of the child while keeping all members of the family safe during this new and situation.
The information in this post is provided for general informational purposes only and may not reflect the current law in your jurisdiction. No information contained in this post should be construed as legal advice from Sterling Law or the individual author nor is it intended to be a substitute for legal counsel on any subject matter. No reader of this post should act or refrain from acting on the basis of any information included in or accessible through this post without seeking the appropriate legal or other professional advice on the particular facts and circumstances at issue from a lawyer licensed in the reader’s licensing jurisdiction.