family lawyer with pen in hand

#1 Custody

We have received a number of calls from moms and dads expressing concern over sending their children for timesharing with the other parent due to risks associated with the coronavirus (COVID-19). Some areas of the country, such as Washington State, have been affected more than others by the virus and sending children to such areas could be dangerous. Also, certain modes of transportation have apparently been deemed more dangerous than others, and air flights have been limited or reduced since the threat emerged. The safety threat posed by the coronavirus has caused some parents to question whether they should deny the other parent timesharing with their children despite a court ordered timesharing schedule.

A parent who is denied timesharing has a right to file a contempt action against the parent who denied them their court ordered timesharing. The parent who was denied timesharing must prove that the other parent intentionally and willfully denied them their rights to the children. If the other parent denied timesharing due to the coronavirus, then certainly they are doing so intentionally and willfully. However, the analysis does not end there. The defending parent can successfully defend against a contempt action by showing that it was practically impossible to comply with the time-sharing schedule due to the coronavirus. In other words, to avoid being in contempt, the parent could show that the coronavirus prevented them from being able to honor the other parent’s timesharing rights due to the unavailability of transportation, due to a quarantine, or something similar that made it impossible to comply with the timesharing schedule. The danger to the children can be proved through letters from pediatricians, CDC notices, governmental declarations of emergencies and other evidence to show the judge that, simply put, the time-sharing schedule had to be violated to protect the safety of the children (that it was impossible to do otherwise). If successful, the judge could find that there was not an intentional or willful violation of the parenting plan. If unsuccessful, the parent denying timesharing could be found in contempt of court and sanctioned accordingly.

#2 Child Support and Alimony

Numerous businesses, schools, and community organizations have closed or limited operations due to the threat posed by the coronavirus. Okaloosa and Walton County schools are currently closed, as are childcare providers such as the Boys & Girls Club of the Emerald Coast. Schools closing will require some parents to stay home from their job to care for children and unless they can work remotely, the parent will suffer a loss of income. Even if the person has no minor children to care for, if the person’s employer temporarily closes, a loss of income is likely. Even Florida courts have been affected and, due an order from the Florida Supreme Court on Friday, various routine court proceedings and trials are being canceled. Judges and attorneys are required to conduct emergency hearings by telephone, Skype or similar methods to avoid in person contact and risk of contact with the virus. The effect of mass closures will be felt economically by those who pay and receive child support and alimony.

Like in custody cases, discussed above, the issue in a contempt case involving support will turn on whether the failure to pay was intentional and willful. First, if income is lost due to contracting the virus, and it is proven in court that support could not be paid due to that loss, it is unlikely a judge would hold such a person in contempt of court as it is presumably impossible for that person to pay support as ordered (at least on the short term). Further, if the payor parent suffers a loss of employment income due to closure or limited employment due to the coronavirus, this too is a valid legal defense to nonpayment of support. On the other hand, it is anticipated that the closures and limitations on employment income will be short-term and, therefore, the paying parent is unlikely to receive any long-term relief through a modification of support due to these short-term conditions.

#3 Consultations with Attorneys

We at the Wheeler Firm are open for business and operating normally. However, many law firms may reduce the hours of operation and, like us, suggest teleconferences as a substitute for in-office meetings until the threat subsides. Videoconferencing may also be an option, as is being employed by the courts to avoid in person meetings. Obviously, if you believe you are sick for any reason, irrespective of the threat posed by the coronavirus, you should consider delaying any meetings with your attorney or simply scheduling a teleconference instead. If you believe your rights or responsibilities have been affected by the coronavirus, give us a call at (850) 613-6923, visit us at www.wheeler.law or contact us at contact@wheelerfirm.com.