Colorado mothers and fathers with a parenting time order have been wondering if the COVID-19 pandemic impacts their parenting plan. That’s a reasonable question, since the coronavirus threat has prompted many states, including Colorado, to enforce stay-at-home mandates and travel restrictions. Here are answers to some important questions regarding co-parenting in Colorado during the pandemic.
Are parenting time and parenting exchange orders still in effect? Can I still travel for parenting exchanges?
Yes. According to the latest Colorado Public Health Order on COVID-19, dated April 9, 2020, residents are ordered to stay home “whenever possible” except when they have to perform “necessary activities” or “necessary travel.” The health order clearly states that “travel required by law enforcement or court order” qualifies as necessary travel. This means that implementing a parenting time order is exempted from the stay-at-home mandate.
Likewise, courts across Colorado have clarified that they will continue to operate, albeit at a reduced capacity. Several judicial districts, including those of Denver, Boulder, and Broomfield, announced that they will carry on with petitions and hearings to restrict parenting time and for parental abduction prevention.
Meanwhile, the 4th Judicial District (encompassing El Paso and Teller Counties) clearly state that “all existing court orders, including parenting time and parenting exchange orders, are not suspended by the Stay-at-Home Order issued by Governor Jared Polis, and shall continue to be followed unless otherwise modified by the court or agreement of the parties.”
Can I adjust the parenting plan for the duration of the pandemic?
Parents understandably want to limit their children’s travel time and exposure to the outdoors while there is still a high risk of coronavirus infection. Could parenting exchanges be adjusted temporarily? This is possible via two ways: petitioning the court to modify the parenting time order, or simply agreeing with the other parent to adjust it without going to court.
The first option takes time, especially as courts have reduced their operations. It is also subject to conditions – for example, parenting plan modifications are allowed only once every two years.
The latter option can be more efficient since it does not involve a court process. Both parents can simply decide together on the temporary adjustments to be made, and put them in writing. However, these changes are not enforceable by court – neither parent is legally obligated to comply with them. Hence, this option may only work for co-parents who have an amicable relationship and can trust each other.
What are other choices for parents who agree to limit parenting exchanges?
- If you have a bi-weekly exchange, such as in a 5-2-2-5 or 3-4-4-3 arrangement, consider temporarily changing it to a week on/week off arrangement.
- To make up for longer waiting between exchanges, and to help your child adjust, arrange for virtual parenting time through video calls and chats.
- Include regular and open communication in your parenting time adjustments (which you put in writing). This helps reassure each parent that their child is receiving proper care and attention even when they’ve temporarily deviated from the court-ordered plan.
What if the other parent denies parenting time, citing COVID-19?
Normally, if one parent disobeys an existing parenting time order, the other parent could go to court and request that the violating parent be held in contempt. A contempt finding could result in fines or even jail time for the violator.
However, as the COVID-19 pandemic is a real and significant threat to human health, a parent may cite it as their reason for delaying the other parent’s parenting time. Whether or not this is a valid reason is up to the judge to determine, but this should give you enough pause before going to court right away. The best thing to do is to consult first with a Family Law attorney regarding your specific situation.
What if the other parent is positive for COVID-19?
If your co-parent – or someone in their household – tests positive for the coronavirus, it is paramount that the child not be in the same environment as them.
First, talk to the co-parent about halting the parenting exchange for the time being. Hopefully, they will be reasonable enough to agree. But if not, one other option is to file a motion with the court to restrict that parent’s parenting time. Once this motion is filed, parenting time for that parent will be automatically restricted for a maximum of two weeks, unless there is a formal ruling stating otherwise. Talk to a reliable Family Law attorney about this motion.
Whether you are trying to adjust your parenting plan, experiencing some issues with your co-parent, or just needing some clarifications about your court order, we at Goldman Law can help you. Our experienced attorneys are constantly up-to-date with legal developments surrounding the novel coronavirus. We can provide sound legal advice. Call us today at (303) 656-9529.