Child Custody Affected by Corona Virus and Judicial Remedies
With quarantine and nontravel orders being issued regarding the Coronavirus many child custody issues are already arising. Some parents are reporting that the other parent is refusing to honor time sharing or child custody orders based on nontravel orders or quarantine orders. In the State of Florida, there is an absence of emergency time sharing provisions to cover these issues even though over the years our state has suffered multiple natural disasters such as hurricanes. The Florida child custody statutes do not address these emergency scenarios nor do the majority of time-sharing agreements entered between parents. Surprisingly the Supreme Court’s approved parenting plan form does not have a section that provides for emergency scenarios either.
However, Section 61.13, Florida’s child custody statute, does address when a parent improperly denies time-sharing. 61.13(4)(c) states that:
“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.
2. May order the parent who did not provide time-sharing or did not properly exercise time-sharing under the time-sharing schedule to pay reasonable court costs and attorney’s fees incurred by the nonoffending parent to enforce the time-sharing schedule.
3. May order the parent who did not provide time-sharing or did not properly exercise time-sharing under the time-sharing schedule to attend a parenting course approved by the judicial circuit.
4. May order the parent who did not provide time-sharing or did not properly exercise time-sharing under the time-sharing schedule to do community service if the order will not interfere with the welfare of the child.
5. May order the parent who did not provide time-sharing or did not properly exercise time-sharing under the time-sharing schedule to have the financial burden of promoting frequent and continuing contact when that parent and child reside further than 60 miles from the other parent.
6. May, upon the request of the parent who did not violate the time-sharing schedule, modify the parenting plan if modification is in the best interests of the child.
7. May impose any other reasonable sanction as a result of noncompliance.
The statute does not state what it means to “improperly deny” time sharing but may offer a means of relief when parents faced with these situations unreasonably deny time sharing or refuse reasonable make up time or schedule adjustments. This provision differs from a modification in that it does not require that a party seek a modification of custody. A party seeking a modification faces and extraordinary burden and must prove a substantial change in circumstances that was unanticipated has occurred and the best interest of the child is served by the modification of child custody. While section 61.13(4)(c) does not define “improperly denying” time sharing, the legislative intent of this section of the statute may shed light on the intention of the legislature. Section 61.13(4) (d) states: “A person who violates this subsection may be punished by contempt of court or other remedies as the court deems appropriate.” It could be argued that the term “may” implies that no finding of a willful violation of a court order is necessary, as is required in a contempt proceeding. This seems to indicate that the provisions set forth in Section 61.13(4)(c) are applicable to conduct that does not necessarily rise to the level that is required to prove contempt.
It is always the best practice to co-parent in a manner that puts the best interest of the child first. While parents may have a court ordered time sharing schedule that governs child custody, parents are free to make reasonable time-sharing schedule adjustments. It is always wise to make these changes in writing and be reasonable. Remember when discussing time sharing issues that the State of Florida has clearly stated: “It is the public policy of this state that each minor child has frequent and continuing contact with both parents after the parents separate or the marriage of the parties is dissolved and to encourage parents to share the rights and responsibilities, and joys, of child rearing.” Section 61.13 Fla. Statutes.
Remember there are remedies available when a parent improperly denies time-sharing. If you are faced with an issue involving an improper denial or a party who is being contemptuous and denying time sharing The Virga Law Firm, P.A. is here to help. Please feel free to call and schedule a consultation today. Our team of family law attorneys are here to help. We have offices in Panama City, Fort Walton, Pensacola, Tallahassee and Orlando.