Keeping in Compliance with Parenting Time Orders During COVID-19

Co-parenting has been difficult for many Arizonans during the coronavirus pandemic. Work schedule changes, school cancellations and business closures have made it difficult for divorced or separated parents to follow court-ordered plans. The crisis shows no signs of abating, with Arizona experiencing record levels of exposure cases and related deaths. While court officials are sympathetic, they have made it clear that parenting plans, unless altered, will be enforced.

The Arizona Supreme Court has issued guidelines for parenting time during COVID-19 pandemic. They encourage parents to try to follow existing plans as closely as possible to ensure consistency and stability for the children. If there are disagreements, the courts prefer parents to try to resolve them between themselves. If this is not possible, or if one parent is refusing to follow parenting time orders, the family courts are available to hear essential matters and to issue temporary orders in emergency situations.

Under the guidelines, the COVID-19 pandemic is not generally a reason to deny parenting time. Unless a court finds otherwise, parents are considered capable of conducting the day-to-day aspects of parenting, which includes following government directives regarding social distancing and safety-related measures such as wearing masks and frequent handwashing. That means a parent generally cannot use concerns about the other parent’s compliance with safety directives as a basis for refusing to honor the parenting plan.

If a parent withholds parenting time and declines to cooperate in modifying the plan, the other parent can seek an order for temporary relief “relating to or arising primarily from COVID-19 issues.” In response, the family court can hold the violating parent in contempt and impose civil penalties not to exceed $100 for each violation. The court can order visitation or parenting time to make up for the missed sessions. It can also order family counseling, mediation or some other form of alternative dispute resolution at the violating parent's expense.

However, a suspension of parenting time may be warranted in certain situations, such as when a parent either:

  • Tests positive for COVID-19 or shares a household with someone who tests positive
  • Has been advised that they or someone with whom they share a household has been exposed to COVID-19 and has been directed by government officials to self-quarantine
  • Has traveled internationally within the previous 14 days

The parent whose rights are suspended should be allowed “liberal virtual contact” with the children via videoconference or telephone, and the court may order that the parenting time be made up.

At Clark & Schloss Family Law P.C. in Scottsdale, Arizona, we understand that this unprecedented crisis has hit hard at normal family life. If you need assistance with asserting your parental rights or working out a temporary modification of a parenting plan, call us at [ln::phone] or contact us online for a free consultation.