Written by Carrie Chaille Eckstein
Our Attorneys at CCB have watched the news around the country and are living through this crisis with you. We understand that other States and Colorado’s Governor have made several directives and orders to encourage social distancing in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. And Colorado’s Governor and Counties have provided directives and orders to “stay at home” or “shelter in place” and “safer at home” and some Counties have closed their boarders and much of their economies. That being said, exceptions exist for necessary and essential activities. And now we look to any spikes in cases of COVID-19 and what this means for our children for summer vacations and the return to the school year.
In light of the “stay at home” or “shelter in place” orders in Colorado, parents are cautious of what this all means for parenting time exchanges. We advise our clients to follow Court Orders. It is not appropriate to take matters into your own hands or make unilateral decisions that are contrary to Court Orders. First, try communicating with your co-parent; discuss precautions you have taken in each of your homes and will continue to take to keep your children and others safe and healthy. If parents agree to any modifications, put them into writing and be specific. You can even file these with the Court. And otherwise, follow your Orders or file the appropriate request for legal relief and support it with justifiable and reasonable facts and proof.
We are monitoring the new directives and orders. Past directives have included specific language to ensure that parenting time Orders remain in full force and effect. Specifically, Colorado’s order allowed for “essential travel,” and define that to include “travel to care for elderly, minors, dependents, persons with disabilities, or other vulnerable persons,” and “travel required by law enforcement or court order.” Parenting time Orders typically include days, times, and locations for exchanges of the children during the school period, breaks, and summers. If you have an Order for exchanges before and after school, speak to your co-parent about dividing any potential homeschooling duties and arrange exchanges that are appropriate for your children’s education.
Stay at home Orders allowed parenting time exchanges and favors the enforcement of parenting time Orders. Otherwise, Motions Concerning Disputes of Parenting Time (C.R.S. §14-10-129.5) and Contempt (possibly even Kidnapping charges or Abduction Prevention Measures) are legal remedies to enforce Orders, while Motions to Restrict Parenting Time (C.R.S. §14-10-129(4)) should only be filed with specific facts to support the request to reduce a parent’s time. Colorado law includes a criminal statute for “Violation of Custody Order or Order Relating to Parental Responsibilities” (C.R.S. §18-3-304) that may apply. Many of these requests for relief come with the ability to request attorney fees when granted or sanctioned attorney fees when denied, so you need a strong factual basis to file, or realize the defending party may have fees granted for a groundless filing.
If you have a fever or cough, you should be tested so that you can take proper precautions. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention reports that most people have a mild illness and recover from home without medical care, and it is advised that you stay at home, except to seek medical care. You are also recommended to get rest, stay hydrated, stay in contact with medical professionals, and otherwise you should not visit public places, you should avoid public transit and other ride-sharing vehicles. It is advised that you separate yourself from other people and even your pets in your own home. You are to stay away from other people as much as possible. Staying away from others includes staying away from your children. This may be very difficult, but it is for the health and safety of your children and others around them.
If your co-parent can care for your children, contact them to help. That is the reasonable and rational step to take for most parents. Communicate about the dates that you cannot exercise parenting time due to the necessity to distance from others. If possible, agree on times for video conferencing with the children, and discuss make-up dates for you to exercise time in the future.
If you must travel or you are on the front-line for helping others who may have COVID-19, this is a very difficult time for you and your family. We are grateful for those workers.
COVID-19 does not affect parenting time Orders. Orders remain in full force and effect, even in a crisis. Our Colorado Governor and 4th Judicial District Chief Judge Bain made it very clear: “All Parties are advised 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.”
We advise parents to communicate with honesty and integrity about the safety of your children. If you agree to alter the parenting plan, also consider make-up time and video chat, and have a clear agreement in writing and calendar it. If there are grounds to restrict time or to enforce time, make sure you have facts to support filing such motions while ensuring that you are staying at home and only engaging in “necessary activities” outside your home on a very limited basis and with extreme caution. Operate in good faith, and otherwise follow Orders. Do not act unilaterally. The Courts are hearing emergency matters to protect your children, and we are here to help.
Follow all Court Orders. If there is testing at a designated facility or with a 3rd party, contact them in advance to make arrangements for testing. There are portable alcohol testing devices (like Soberlink), mobile testing, and in-home testing kits that may be appropriate for you. Varying the testing frequency and agreeing to tests that detect drug metabolites for a longer period may be appropriate; the cost of the test may increase, but less frequent testing provides for less in-person trips to a facility.
Co-parents should try to communicate about any temporary procedures that they agree to alter during the stay in place orders. Temporary agreements should be reduced to writing and acknowledged by the parties. In a time of crisis, it may be appropriate for both parents to look to reasonably and rationally temporarily alter parenting Orders, while still placing the children’s safety and needs first.
If you believe your child may be affected by COVID-19, seek medical attention immediately.
COVID-19 is scary. But there are some advantages to the ability to slow down with less obligations and no place to go. Allow your child to sleep more, eat better with planned meals, clean space or rooms for more activities to take place, enjoy time together, and get to know more about your children. If they miss playdates, activities, extended family and being able to go to school, figure out how to video chat, share pictures, and send videos.
Some schools have social and emotional learning lessons in the curriculum. A school counselor, pediatrician, or therapist may suggest ways to communicate with your children about the health crisis we are facing. Ask your children questions geared to their age, maturity, and development to see what they already know. Follow your children’s lead on how much they want to talk and learn about it. Focus on helping your children feel safe; be calm and reassuring. It is okay if you don’t know all the answers; be truthful and admit you don’t know. Remind your children what they can control: wash their hands, get good sleep, eat healthy, and keep moving. Let your children check-in with family and friends who they are worried about. Make it a practice to talk about news and current events with your children.
Fortunately, there are many free online resources are available for e-learning, engagement, art, puzzles, reading, phonics, math, meditation, yoga, dance, and more.
Know that we all wish to keep our children and families safe. Do your part to stay home, follow health professional’s advice, and pay attention to our State and County directives and orders. In the meantime, follow your parenting time Orders. And if precautions are appropriate, discuss them with your co-parent. If you must pursue legal action, be prepared to support your claim with strong evidence.
CCB will continue to monitor Global to County level directives and orders to help protect you and your children. We will keep you informed, and we are here to help.