Covid-19 and Parenting Time in Arizona Family Law
The family courts are currently dealing with an issue of first impression as society tries to navigate the Covid-19 pandemic. The average parenting plan does not include a paragraph or clause regarding how parents should navigate shared custodial arrangements as the world slowly shuts down. For Arizona parents, the further complicating factor is that the statewide shutdown of schools began during many district’s spring breaks.
Parenting plans typically alternate spring breaks with one parent exercising parenting time in even years and the other in odd. Plus, over the past few weeks conflicts have come up with parents claiming this shutdown is an extended spring break that allows them to keep their children from the other parent OR parents are refusing to honor the other’s spring break parenting time, claiming the school closures supersede and spring break is canceled. There is no real clarity. There is no right answer on how to move through this situation, but there absolutely things that should not happen and will damage a parent’s credibility when the inevitable modification or contempt filing is sought.
Arizona Family Law Courts are Still Open
Parents need to remember courts are still open for emergency filings; however, the standards of what constitutes an emergency circumstance have not changed to include pandemic parenting time conflicts. This means, if the court is asked to intervene and determine what schedule parents should be following. This will take months.
Withholding a child from the other parent is contrary the best interests of the child. Unless the child is not safe with the other parent. If a parenting plan allocates one week of spring break to one parent, it is not going to seem reasonable for that parent to withhold the child or children for the duration of the school closures. This is not a strong argument and a judge will not take kindly to this literal interpretation. It reeks of impropriety and will likely backfire. It is true that parenting plans need to be followed and should not leave room for too much interpretation, but again, a pandemic clause is not something attorneys typically include.
Arizona Family Courts Want “Reasonable Behavior”
Reasonable behavior is what the courts want to see. Though this is a time filled with new terms like: Social Distancing, Coronavirus, and COVID-19, behavior still needs to be proper. Additionally, everyone should be taking care of his or her fellow humans, to take an unreasonable stance that could use a child as a tool for retribution will do nothing but harm the child and destroy credibility in front of a judge.
Parents need to try to work together to navigate the current climate. Plus, there are going to be parents subject to quarantine that will need their co-parent to keep the children for a length of time without fear of retaliation. Also, there are parents that cannot work from home and will need to lean on the parent that can to move forward.
Additionally, unemployment rates have skyrocketed and parents will need to be mindful of the economic reality at all times. This is not a time to take advantage of a “loop hole” in a parenting plan or refuse to cooperate. Plus, the courts will be back in session and the family court judges will quickly tire of the stories of parents behaving badly while the world was in turmoil. Be kind. Be collaborative – Be human.
Alison C. Briggs, MSW, Esq.
Attorney/Client Services Manager
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