Daviess Circuit Court Judge Gregory A. Smith stated his court has received several calls concerning parenting time and the virus.

The first thing to know is that the courts expect parents to comply with the specific terms of their court order regarding parenting time and custody. Courts will treat this spring break as the same block of time it would have been had school shutdowns not occurred. Judge Smith encourages parents to work together and make reasonable efforts to ensure that parenting time occurs as ordered, even if exchange locations are impacted by COVID-19 closures/mandates.

Currently Governor Holcomb’s Stay at Home order does not restrict exchanges. (See Executive Order 20-08 para. 16 (e) defining essential travel as: A travel required by . . . court order, including to transport children pursuant to a custody agreement.)

If exchanging a child is unsafe due to illness or exposure in either parents’ home, the parent(s) could file a written agreement signed by both parents, or may wish to electronically file an Emergency Petition to Modify their orders. In short, the courts of Indiana expect parents to be flexible and cooperate for the best interest of their children during this time of uncertainty.

Judge Smith submitted seven suggestions to prepare and to protect your children’s health and rights to parenting time, no matter what’s to come, while working to keep your children safe.

seven suggestions

1. Make a Plan. Take time now to get an emergency custody plan in place between you and your co-parent to cover any worst case scenarios. Working together to figure out a parenting time schedule that covers any gap in the school year due to coronavirus can be tricky, especially since day care resources may be unavailable. If you both work similar hours, perhaps one of you could switch your schedule or start working from home (which is also a growing option due to COVID-19). Perhaps one of you could enlist the help of relatives or friends to help supervise your children.

2. Agree to protocols for travel, hygiene and activities. As part of parenting time planning, you and your co-parent should establish protocols that you both agree to follow to protect the health of everyone in the family. Reducing your risk, and your children’s risk, for contracting coronavirus means that when your children are in your care, you are taking precautions such as frequent hand washing, limiting crowd exposure, social distancing, and not traveling, especially now under the Governor’s Stay at Home executive order. If any of your children have a compromised immune system or other underlying health condition, more rigid procedures are required to limit your child’s risk of exposure.

3. Plan for one or both of you being infected with the virus. If one or both of you contracts coronavirus, where will your children stay? Do you have some place to go to remain in isolation as directed? Do you both know the symptoms of COVID-19 and have current contact information for your children’s doctor and your own? Do you have a stock of basics at home in case you and your children must remain in isolation?

4. Be generous with each other. If your co-parent lives in a COVID-19 hotspot or has been exposed and your children must avoid going there, have a plan for making up your child’s lost time with their other parent. You must both be prepared to entertain changes to your weekends, school breaks, summer and/or holiday schedule to make up for lost time.

5. Please put any agreements to alter parenting time for COVID-19 in writing. Whenever you make a change to your parenting time or custody schedule, it is important to put these changes in writing. You should both sign it and submit it to the court for filing. Later, if you must give up significant parenting time due to emergency school closures or infection, having this noted will help you get this time back in the future. Additionally, if your ex does not follow the precautions you’ve agreed to, you can take your written agreement to court for enforcement.

6. For your children’s health and safety be transparent. Provide honest information to your co-parent about any suspected or confirmed exposure to the virus and discuss what steps to take to protect the children. Your time can be made up but it is not more important than your children’s health.

7. Economics will be affected. This pandemic will not only affect parenting time orders it will also possibly affect child support orders. Be understanding with each other as there will be an economic hardship which will lead to lost earnings possibly for both parents. The parent paying support should try to pay something even if it is not the full amount. The parent receiving support should try to be accommodating under these temporary circumstances. This too will pass. Your children may remember these stressful days of this pandemic for the rest of their lives. Let them remember that both of their parents worked together to do all they could do to keep them safe and healthy.

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