Parenting Time Questions Mount as Schools Close in Michigan

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By Amber Solar, Esq.

On April 2, 2020, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer issued an executive order closing all Michigan schools for the remainder of the school year.  As with many executive orders stemming from the COVID-19, parents are left to figure things out as they go.  For separated parents with parenting time orders in place, wading through the dos and don’ts of what they should legally be doing in response to these orders can be particularly problematic.

I have received numerous questions from people asking about parenting time during the stay home orders, especially when it comes to spring break and summer schedules.  These issues are addressed below:

Do the Stay Home orders change Spring Break parenting time?

Spring Break parenting time as provided for in your court order remains unchanged.  Whichever parent is supposed to have your child(ren) over spring break is still entitled to that time.  The start and end of the spring break parenting time would still be in accordance with your child’s original school schedule.

What if the end of the school year is the start of a different summer parenting time schedule?

Many parenting time orders provide for a different schedule during the summer months than during the school year.  I have had several messages from parents asking when the summer parenting time schedule should begin now that the Governors executive order has closed schools throughout Michigan for the remainder of the school year.  

There has not yet been guidance from the Michigan Supreme Court or the Governor’s Office addressing this issue; however, the consensus amongst many of my peers and family court judges seems to be that the originally scheduled academic school year end date from each separate school system is still the date parents should be using to begin their summer parenting time. 

Can we do things differently than what is in the order if we agree?

Parents are always encouraged to discuss the need for a change in a schedule.  Strong co-parenting is always preferred by the court and in the best interest of your child.  If both parents agree that the current parenting time order is not what’s best for their child(ren) under the current situation, in most circumstances, they can change the arrangements as they see fit.    The exception to this would be orders that are put in place as the result of safety concerns, such as through an abuse and neglect matter.

A word of caution, if you are in agreement with the other parent that you are going to deviate from the parenting time order in place, always have the agreement in writing just in case.  This can be as simple as having a text message conversation about the details for your records, or actually writing up the agreement on a document that you both sign either in person or electronically.

What if we can’t agree?

For the time being, non-emergency family court motions are not being scheduled in Michigan Courts.  If you are having a disagreement with the other parent of your child during the stay home stay safe executive orders, there are a few options you can try.

The first would be to hire an attorney to assist you in negotiating through your issues.  In many instances, if both parties are represented by counsel, the likelihood of reaching a settlement fair to both parties is much higher.

Another option would be to try mediation.  Many mediators are now offering their services electronically through the use of programs such as Zoom for video conferencing.  An attorney mediator may be most helpful as they can give guidance based on sound legal advice, however an experienced mediation service is a great option too.

If neither of these options are something you can do at the moment, you unfortunately will need to put the dispute on hold until the Courts re-open for regular motions again.  In the meantime, I recommend documenting your views on the issues.  Keep a journal where you jot down dates and a quick note of a problematic issue that will need to be addressed down the line.  Make sure you save relevant text messages and voicemails.

Please also remember that if there is a parenting time issues that puts your child at imminent risk of harm, the Court is still able to receive emergency motions, often referred to as ex-parte motions.  You will be best served hiring an attorney to help you with an ex-parte motion as they have several statutory requirements that if not met will result in your motion being denied.  Your local police and Child Protective Services are still open an available for emergency situations as well.

If you have any questions about how school closures might affect your parenting plan, or are in need of legal representaiton for a family matter contact Gravis Law, and one of our attorneys can assist you.