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Three Ways to Navigate Your Time-Sharing and Shared Custody During the Coronavirus Pandemic: Communicate, Compromise, Confirm

Child holding up paper dolls of a dad and mom

As the world tries to navigate through these uncharted waters, confronting issues with shared or co-parenting can provide new challenges for parents. The coronavirus pandemic is forcing parents to confront new obstacles regarding their time-sharing agreements. As this pandemic drags on, courts are being forced to come up with solutions, without guiding precedent, to the issues co-parents are facing. Parents wondering whether time-sharing and shared custody agreements are affected by the Coronavirus under Florida’s Parenting and Time-Sharing Statute can use Florida’s executive and administrative orders to help guide through this uncertain time.

How The Law Protects You

Florida's Parenting and Time Sharing Statute states: “A determination of parental responsibility, a parenting plan, or a time-sharing schedule may not be modified without a showing of a substantial, material, and unanticipated change in circumstances and a determination that the modification is in the best interests of the child.” Fl. Stat. Ann. tit. VI § 61.13 (3) (2019). The issues surrounding the Coronavirus may seem substantial, material, and unanticipated. However, the statute does not discuss emergency situations like a pandemic.

Although the Florida Supreme Court and Florida Statutes that govern time-sharing have not provided a guideline for shared custody during the Coronavirus, circuit courts all across Florida are providing guidance to families. Because the Governor's Executive Order 2020-91 does not restrict or prohibit time-sharing, parents are still expected to comply with time-sharing and other provisions in their parenting plans. See Essential Service and Activities During COVID-19 Emergency, Exec. Order No. 2020-91, (Fla. April 1, 2020). Circuit courts across Florida, including Hillsborough County, are attempting to restore structure by providing guidance on shared custody and time-sharing agreements. On April 15th, 2020, the Thirteenth Judicial Circuit of Hillsborough County, Florida, implemented Administrative Order S-2020-023. This Administrative Order states, "If a final judgment, temporary order, or other order of the court awards parental responsibility or time-sharing, the parties must follow the calendar as published in the order and neither parent is authorized to make a unilateral modification to the time-sharing calendar based on the COVID-19 pandemic." Court Proceedings During COVID-19 Mitigation Efforts Phase II, 3, Admin. Or. No. S-2020-023, (Fla. April 15, 2020). The court makes it clear that a parent cannot make a decision to change the time-sharing agreement without consulting the other. Instead, the court encourages families to make decisions to modify or change their agreements together.

Encouraging communication between parents is echoed throughout the Administrative Orders in the Eighth, Ninth, Twelfth, Seventeenth, and Nineteenth Judicial Circuits. This extends to making new plans for exchanges. These administrative orders leave it up to the parents to make new plans for exchanging children. However, Administrative Order 2020-07, from the Ninth Judicial Circuit for Orange and Osceola counties, states, "In the event the parents cannot agree on an alternate arrangement, the exchanges shall take place at the police station or sheriff’s office that is located closest to the school or daycare." Emergency Temporary Standing Administrative Order Re: Parenting in Domestic Relations Cases, Orange & Osceola Counties, 2, Admin. Or. No. 2020-07 (Fla. March 24, 2020).

Due to courts across the country being closed, it is up to the parents to make decisions together during this difficult time. However, this does not leave parents without a remedy in the event one parent refuses to honor the agreement. Florida's Parenting and Time Sharing Statute states:

"When a parent refuses to honor the time-sharing schedule in the parenting plan without proper cause, the court: (1) Shall, after calculating the amount of time-sharing improperly denied, award the parent denied time a sufficient amount of extra time-sharing to compensate for the time-sharing missed, and such time-sharing shall be ordered as expeditiously as possible in a manner consistent with the best interests of the child and scheduled in a manner that is convenient for the parent deprived of time-sharing. In ordering any makeup time-sharing, the court shall schedule such time-sharing in a manner that is consistent with the best interests of the child or children and that is convenient for the nonoffending parent and at the expense of the noncompliant parent.”

See Fl. Stat. Ann. tit VI § 61.13 (4) (2019).

If the court finds that a parent improperly refused to honor the time-sharing schedule, this statute awards the other parent extra time with their child to make up for the refusal. Under this statute, punishments for violating the time-sharing agreement can range from paying the other parent's attorney fees to being held in contempt of court. Id. Although COVID-19 is providing unexpected challenges for parents with shared custody, the courts can rely on these established remedies to fix issues between parents.

Three Tips for Co-Parents Struggling with Time-Sharing

The COVID-19 outbreak has caused the state of Florida to implement multiple different emergency provisions restricting travel and limiting contact with others. Due to the stay at home order and social distancing put in place, co-parents are having to limit their child’s travel and social interactions. When facing issues with a time-share agreement parents should stick to the three C’s: Communication, Compromise, Confirm.

One concern for parents is limiting the amount of people interacting with their children. The Governor's Executive Order 2020-91 limits the personal interactions outside the home to what is necessary. Exec. Order No. 2020-91, at 3. However, when the child has two different homes, one parent may be concerned with the personal interactions occurring in the home of the other parent. The key to navigating this pandemic as a co-parent is communication. Effective and reasonable communication is necessary for a mutual agreement between parents. If an issue arises, concerned parents should first communicate with the other parent. Determining whether there is a true threat is the first priority. Second, if there is an issue, the parents should try to come to a mutual agreement or compromise. Although parents should never compromise the safety of their children, compromises between co-parents is essential during these uncertain times. The Administrative Orders have made it apparent that COVID-19 should not affect time-sharing agreements. Additionally, parents refusing to honor the time-share agreement without proper cause could be sanctioned. Therefore, it is important to compromise and come to an agreement. Finally, it is important for parents to confirm all communication in writing. The coronavirus has brought unique challenges to co-parents. Therefore, it is important to get in writing any communications about or changes to the time-sharing agreement. If issues arise in the future, records of emails or texts between parents can help resolve those issues efficiently.

Another issue facing parents during the Coronavirus is exchanging custody. With schools and daycares closed, co-parents in a routine of exchanging custody from one parent to another at school will have to find new ways to exchange custody. Under the Administrative Orders refusing to comply with a time-share agreement due to the exchange location being closed is not permitted. If these issues arise, parents should again stick to the three C’s: Communication, Compromise, Confirm. In this instance, compromising could mean going out of your way. However, the courts are encouraging parents to make new arrangements during the COVID-19 pandemic. As Administrative Order 2020-07 points out: parents can use mapping tools to find exchange locations or meet at the police station closest to school. Administrative Order 2020-07, at 2. During the Coronavirus pandemic, courts are leaving the new arrangements up to the parent’s discretion. Although the issues surrounding COVID-19 were unexpected, the courts caution parents on making one-sided decisions because COVID-19 is not a reason to ignore the established time-share agreement.

Contact Our Experienced Business Lawyers Today

At the Four Rivers Law Firm, our business law attorneys are committed to helping clients navigate trying times successfully. To understand more about how COVID-19 may impact your time-sharing agreements, contact us online or via phone at (813) 437-3608.

Note: We remain open during the COVID-19 pandemic. Using our virtual platform, our legal team remains able and willing to provide you with legal assistance. Stay safe! We're here for you.

For More Information:

Administrative Order No. 2020-9.12

A Message From Eighth Judicial Circuit Chief Judge Nilon Regarding Family Law Time Sharing Matters

Administrative Order 2020-02

Administrative Order 2020-30-Temp

Administrative Order 20-18