By Amber Soler, Esq.
Covid-19 has created a million questions and worries for parents throughout the county. One question that we at Gravis Law have seen repeatedly is: Do parents who are separated need to continue to follow parenting time orders from the courts? Now that many states are under stay at home orders, the questions around parenting time have become even more prevalent.
The guidance from some states in this regard have been lacking, however Michigan has made it clear on their expectations. For Michigan residents, the short answer is Yes, you still need to follow the custody and parenting time orders of the court.
Executive Order 2020-21 (Covid-19) issued by Governor Whitmer, orders all non-essential workers as defined in the order, to stay home for the next three weeks. The order officially went into effect at midnight on March 23, 2020. The order makes some specific exceptions, stating in section 7(b)(4):. Individuals may also travel:
1. To return to a home or place of residence from outside this state.
2. To leave this state for a home or residence elsewhere.
3. To travel between two residences in this state.
4. As required by law enforcement or a court order, including the transportation of children pursuant to a custody agreement
Further guidance has also been given by the Michigan Supreme Court. On March 16th the court issued a statement providing that “The Supreme Court wants to remind parents that all court orders for a child’s custody, parenting time and support are still in force. Only a new court order can change that. Parents should continue to follow their court orders.”
In summary, all parents with court orders are advised to continue to follow the court orders. The Governor’s “Stay Home, Stay Safe” order does not prohibit parents from transporting children for parenting time exchanges. During the exchanges, it is a good idea to keep a copy of your court order in your vehicle with you at all times, just in case you are stopped by law enforcement.
If your child or someone in the home of the other parent is sick and you worry about spreading the virus, ensure all your communications with the other parent regarding changes to parenting time are well documented. I strongly suggest communicating these issues through text message so you have a record should any potential parenting time violation be brought up in court down the road.
If you find yourself in a position where you believe your child’s health and/or safety is at risk while continuing to follow an order of the court for parenting time, there are still options. An Administrative Order issued by the Michigan Supreme Court on March 18, 2020 ordered the court remain open for some emergency and essential operations. One of these essential court services is the acceptance of emergency motions for family matters, often referred to as Ex Parte Motions. You will be best served finding an attorney to draft an emergency motion on your behalf as there are many court rules governing what needs to be in these motions to get them approved. If there is an imminent danger and you are unable to wait to file an emergency motion, please contact your local police and/or Child Protective Services. These emergency services are still active and responsive.
As always, if you have any questions regarding a family law matter, please feel free to reach out to us. Our experienced family law attorneys have the knowledge and expertise to help you navigate through the uncertainty of the Covid-19 virus. Virtual consultations are available. Stay safe.