Earlier today, Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb issued several Executive Orders. Executive Order 20-08 - “Directive for Hoosiers to Stay at Home” – officially ordered Indiana residents to shelter in place and remain at home if at all possible, except for several provisions that exclude certain activities. Frankly, with our schools closing their physical locations, nearly all recreational businesses shuttered, and many parents working remotely, society has been placed in an unfamiliar and extremely unique situation. This blog explores potential issues that may arise during this unprecedented period.
Normalcy: The key focus that every parent should keep in mind when addressing parenting time issues is maintaining a sense of normalcy for the child. The child’s best interest is still the driving force behind all decisions and attempting to give them as close to normal life as if the COVID-19 disruption never occurred is in their best interest. Essentially, the Judges have indicated that generally, the parties should continue to follow their regular parenting time plans even with school being out. This may differ from case to case and parent to parent and there may be reasons for deviation from the regular parenting time as previously Ordered. For example, if one parent is working from home and the other parent must go to work, the parent working from home, may be able to provide care for the child during what would normally be the parenting time of the parent that is working outside their home.
Generally, a parent who gives up time in the best interest of the child could obtain makeup time. For instance, parents who are employed in the medical field and that are exposed to the virus could consider not exercising their parenting time, especially if their child is in a higher risk category. Depending upon the situation, it is unlikely that a Court will order a parent to give up time in a situation where the child is not high risk, but such would be in the best interest of the child.
Parenting time: Another focus point for parents should be adhering to the regular parenting time schedule; not only will this aid in maintaining relative normality, but it will also avoid future conflict in determining makeup time. It seems that a parent that acts with disregard of a parent’s relationship with the child and denies parenting time, could cause an issue when such behavior eventually is before the Judge. For example, your agreement grants you Spring Break this year but the break has been extended by an additional week or two, in this circumstance you should exercise your agreed upon parenting time for the originally scheduled Spring Break, and then continue the regular parenting time schedule for the additional week(s) even though the children are learning remotely and not physically attending school. Again, this is to maintain a consistent schedule for the children.
Travel: Executive Order 20-08 does not bar your travel out of Indiana, but does explicitly allow travel for purposes of transporting children pursuant to a custody agreement. The Executive Order does not allow a parent to restrict travel for parenting time exchanges. Undoubtedly, many Spring Break plans will be, or have been, disrupted by the virus. Travel for the break should ideally be rescheduled or canceled entirely, but if you do decide to travel, keep in mind that circumstances matter. Where you are traveling, how you travel, via airplane or car, etc., may have an impact on a parent being allowed to travel with a child, if there is a concern raised by the other parent. Most locations and beaches have been closed and cruises have been canceled.
- Maintain a regular parenting time schedule.
- Parents should refrain from using the “shelter in place” order as a denial of parenting time, such “bad faith” decision-making may be thoroughly scrutinized by the Court.
- Forego travel plans.
- If you work somewhere that treats COVID-19 patients, consider foregoing in-person parenting time and make arrangements for facetime contact and make up time, if possible.
- Maintain normalcy for your child(ren).
- Keep lines of communication open between child(ren) and parents.
Our nation and communities are in uncharted waters. Obtaining skilled counsel can help you understand the emergent issues for parenting time surrounding the interaction of COVID-19, the closure of schools and your children. This blog was written by attorneys at Ciyou & Dixon, P.C., who handle a wide variety of family and business-related issues throughout the state. It is written and posted for general educational purposes and is not to be construed as legal advice or solicitation for services. It is an advertisement.