COVID-19 and Child Custody Matters Series, Part 2

As described in a prior post, the Arizona Supreme Court has issued guidelines to address custody issues that may arise during the COVID-19 pandemic.   As part 2 of our series on how the COVID-19 is impacting child custody issues, Flagstaff Law Group put together answers to some of the most common child custody issues that we have seen come up over the last few weeks.  Hopefully, the answers below will be helpful to families as they navigate this difficult time.  However, if you would like to discuss how COVID-19 has impacted your specific parenting plan and what legal options you may have under the newly issued guidelines, contact family law attorney Ashley DeBoard, at 928-233-6800, to schedule a consultation.

What is the status of our current Child Custody Order during the pandemic? 

The Arizona Supreme Court Guidelines make clear that the existing court orders for parenting time control unless there is a mutual agreement by the parents to temporarily modify the parenting time or until the Court modifies its own orders. Self-help is not an acceptable course of action.

What if we both agree on a temporary change to our parenting plan?

Parents working together to reach an agreement in the best interests of their child(ren) is the best case scenario for families. If you reach an agreement to temporarily modify your parenting plan in response to COVID-19, do your best to put the agreement in writing and sign if possible. The parent sheltering with the child(ren) should be prepared to offer make-up time to the other parent and should make every effort to assure continued, frequent contact between the other parent and the child(ren) via telephone and video calls.

What if we can’t reach an agreement and I am worried about danger to my child(ren)’s safety?

The Courts have made clear that self-help is not an acceptable course of action.  If you cannot agree and you believe a temporary change to the parenting plan is necessary to protect the child(ren), you may consider seeking a temporary modification under Rule 48, Arizona Rules of Family Law Procedure. If you wish to consult an attorney about how to do this, you can contact family law attorney Ashley DeBoard at Flagstaff Law Group for a consultation.

The Arizona Supreme Court has also issued an emergency Administrative Order (AO2020-59), which modifies certain family law court rules during the COVID-19 pandemic. Effective April 3, 2020, this Administrative Order provides that courts may accept for filing any of the documents required under Rule 14(a), Rules of Family Law Procedure, without the usual required notarization if the documents are accompanied by a photocopy of the filer’s driver license or other government issued ID. Courts can also accept for filing a Motion to Temporarily modify parenting time or child support under Rules 47 & 48, Rules of Family Law Procedure, without an underlying petition, if the basis for relief is primarily related to COVID-19.  This reduces some barriers of accessing court relief, including the requirement to obtain in person notarization and the costs associated with filing a petition.

What if the other parent is withholding my children in violation of the Court’s order?

The Arizona Supreme Court Guidelines provide that the COVID-19 pandemic is not generally a reason to deny parenting time, but encourages parents to use common sense to protect the safety of the children.   Unless the court has ordered otherwise or unless a parent is showing signs of illness, the court is generally going to consider a parent “fit” to care for their child and make decisions about their day-to-day care. The Guidelines provide that “this day to day care includes following federal, state, and local directives regarding social distancing and safety-related measures (such as frequent handwashing).”

If the parent is violating the court’s order it may be necessary to seek emergency relief in contempt proceedings.  If you wish to consult an attorney about how to do this, you can contact family law attorney Ashley DeBoard at Flagstaff Law Group for a consultation.

*Disclaimer: The information contained in this article is for informational purposes only and is not legal advice. Legal advice should take into account the specific facts of your situation.  You should seek professional legal counsel before acting upon any of the information contained in this article.