Courts in Miami-Dade and Broward Counties Issue Orders to Provide Greater Clarity About Timesharing During This Pandemic Emergency

Recently, this blog took a look at the challenges associated with maintaining a court-ordered timesharing schedule during this time of COVID-19 risks and governmental shelter-in-place orders. You should follow your timesharing order when you can. When that’s impossible, you should work together collaboratively with your child’s other parent to forge a solution. If you have questions about whether your preferred (but off-schedule) solution for dealing with timesharing in this pandemic could get you in trouble with the court later on, be sure you consult with an experienced South Florida family law attorney before taking any unilateral action that is inconsistent with your timesharing order.

The Miami Herald took a look at this pandemic and its impacts on these sorts of families. The best technique for dealing with any sudden and unexpected disruption to your family’s court-ordered timesharing schedule is, of course, working together as parents to reach a solution that meets the best interests of your child. As an example, one mom from outside Florida, who worked as a doctor, agreed with her ex-husband that the couple’s daughter should remain with him until the danger passed because the mother was at too great risk of exposure. Additionally, a Pennsylvania dad, whose job required him to fix HVAC systems in grocery stores on a daily basis, concluded (in tandem with his ex-wife) that his job carried too much risk and that the couple’s 20-month-old son should temporarily stay full-time with the mother.

On the flip side, though, the Herald article cited an example of a potentially inappropriate response: a Virginia mom who, shortly before she was supposed to hand off her 10-year-old son to his father, unilaterally decided that the boy should stay with her until the current shelter-in-place order expired. (Currently, Virginia is under such an order until at least June 10.) “She basically used this to indefinitely halt my custody with my son,” the father said in the article.

Unilateral action inconsistent with your timesharing order carries risks

Strategies like that of the mother mentioned above may carry serious risks. Unless the parent who violated the timesharing schedule has a very good reason (such as the child’s immunocompromised health condition or a clear and substantial risk of exposure that exists in the other parent’s home,) she could be placing herself in the very real risk of being found in contempt of court for violating the timesharing order.

Fortunately, South Florida families have received some recent guidance from the courts here. The 17th Circuit Court, which covers Broward County, issued an order with several key pointers for families who have timesharing orders. The court made it clear that, generally, it is in the best interest of the children, and is expected by the courts, that the parents continue sharing parental responsibility and continue to observe their timesharing schedules.

Of course, you may be wondering, what should I do about my timesharing schedule if it’s divided into “school year” and “summer” but, of course, school is out indefinitely? The order explained that the parents should continue the “school year” schedule until the date originally identified as the last day of school, and then switch to the summer schedule.

What do I do about child transfers now that schools are closed?

With schools closed, hand-offs that previously occurred at school can be modified by a mutual agreement of the parents. If they can’t agree, they can make the hand-off a police station or sheriff’s office.

The order issued by the 11th Circuit Court, which covers Miami-Dade County, contained many of the same provisions as the order issued by the court in Broward County. One noteworthy difference regarded transfers that previously took place at school and situations in which the parents fail to agree to an alternate location. As opposed to using a police station or sheriff’s office (as is the case in Broward,) Miami-Dade parents should file a motion with the court to resolve that impasse.

Parents are explicitly forbidden, by the order, from “unreasonably restricting access to the child(ren) to the other parent.” In other words, you can restrict access in a way not consistent with your timesharing order, but you must have a reason that the judge will agree is a good one, or else you could face contempt penalties.

The current pandemic is causing massive difficulties for families of all shapes and sizes, but especially for families where court-ordered timesharing is an issue. Ideally, both you and your ex will be able to come together as parents to work out a resolution that best advances your child’s interests. Sometimes, though, that’s impossible and litigation is necessary. For helpful advice and, when required, determined advocacy in court, reach out to the experienced South Florida family law attorneys at Sandy T. Fox, P.A. Contact our attorneys online or by calling (800) 596-0579 to schedule your confidential consultation.