Parenting plans are effective tools that are specifically designed to further the best interests of the children.
Of course, parenting plans cannot realistically address all potential issues that may surface during the course of co-parenting the children. One such unanticipated issue in the Coronavirus or COVID-19 crisis, and a question may be: How will this crisis impact timesharing in Florida?
Pursuant to §61.13(2), Florida Statutes, our courts must approve or grant a parenting plan in any action for dissolution of marriage involving minor children. Every parenting plan must describe certain specific details that are identified at §61.13(2)(b) including a timesharing schedule that specifies the time that the minor child(ren) will spend with each parent.
Fortunately, Florida’s citizens are blessed with a highly competent and proactive judicial system. For instance, the Circuit Court of the Ninth Judicial Circuit, in and for Orange and Osceola Counties has recently issued Administrative Order No. 2020-07-02, entitled Amended Emergency Temporary Standing Administrative Order Re: Parenting in Domestic Relations Cases, Orange & Osceola Counties (the “Covid-19 Standing Order”).
The Covid-19 Standing Order was expressly issued by our Circuit’s judiciary to mitigate the effect of the COVID-19 crisis on legal proceedings and participants in those legal proceedings. To review the entire standing order, as recently amended, please click on Covid-19 Standing Order.
The provisions of the Covid-19 Standing Order dealing with timesharing are set forth at paragraph 2 as follows:
- Pursuant to all current Final Judgments, Temporary Orders, Settlement Agreements, or other orders of the court awarding parental responsibility or time-sharing, continued adherence to all Orders by all parties is expected.
- Unless otherwise prohibited by an existing court order, each parent is prohibited from unreasonably restricting access of the child(ren) to the other parent.
- Regular time-sharing as set forth in the Parenting Plan shall continue until the date the School District, or Official governing the child(ren)’s school as designated in the parties’ Parenting Plan, announces the last day of school at which time summer time-sharing shall begin. If a child’s school has ended classes for the 2019-2020 school year, the summer timesharing incorporated into any current Final Judgment or current Order shall begin immediately.
- Exchanges that were to take place at a child(ren)’s school or daycare that is not currently open should be arranged between the parents in writing by email, text, or parenting app. 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. The closest police station or sheriff’s station shall be determined by the distance shown on Google Maps, Apple Maps, or some other similar mapping program or website. Motions filed related to this subject will likely be ruled upon without hearing.
- In the event that the Governor of Florida and/or any other government official issues an order that requires parties or a party to restrict movements as a mass or partial quarantine or suppression strategy to mitigate or slow the spread of COVID-19 (often referred to as “shelter in place” or “stay at home” orders), and including, but not limited to, individual orders to self-quarantine (hereinafter collectively referred to as “any governmental order”) the parties are to discuss their family’s best methods to meet the requirements of the child(ren)’s school, remain with siblings if possible, and be safe. If regular time sharing and exchanges can occur and be consistent with any governmental orders, then regular time sharing shall continue as Ordered by the Court and, if necessary, as further described above. If there is any governmental order issued that does not allow a parent or parents to move about the community freely, the parent with the majority of timesharing (183 overnights) shall keep the child(ren) until that governmental order is lifted, or a Court Order is entered. The Court will have jurisdiction to consider all appropriate remedial measures, including make-up timesharing, once the Court’s Emergency Orders and Procedures are lifted and the Courts return to normal operations. The Parties should assume that any parent losing time because of measures taken for COVID-19 will receive make up timesharing, and that the Courts will sanction behavior that it deems unreasonable. Upon the lifting of any governmental order, the parties are to resume their regularly scheduled timesharing. This shall continue until the parties are able to secure hearing time with the Court, but does not bar any party from filing a Motion with the Court in the interim. The parties are encouraged strongly to work cooperatively with each other, and if appropriate, voluntarily agree to a make-up timesharing schedule as a result of any timesharing lost due to COVID-19.
- Video-conferencing and phone contact shall be honored as set forth in the parties’ Parenting Plan and should be increased to “regular and consistent contact” to alleviate fears and concerns the child(ren) may be experiencing during this time. Unless previously ordered, video and phone contact should not be monitored or interrupted by the co-parent or any other third party, unless there are specific Court Orders in place as to those issues.
On March 24,2020, Orange County Mayor, Jerry Demings, issued Emergency Executive Order No. 2020-04, ordering a county-wide “shelter-in-place” commencing March 26 at 11:00 P.M. and expiring April 9, 2020 at 11:00 P.M. It would seem that paragraph 2(e) of the Covid-19 Standing Order may be the guide for addressing timesharing during this 2-week “shelter-in-place” period.
For parents and family law attorneys located in other judicial circuits and counties, you may wish to determine whether temporary standing orders similar to the Ninth Judicial Circuit’s Covid-19 Standing Order have been issued to provide guidance for parents during this current crisis situation. And, remember, when dealing with timesharing and other co-parenting issues, please do what is in the best interests of the children. Indeed, the guidepost for any judicial determination of matters relating to parenting and timesharing is “the best interests of the child”. Section 61.13(2)(c), Florida Statutes.