Coronavirus (COVID-19) and Arizona Child Custody

How COVID-19, the “Coronavirus,” will ultimately impact the nation or this state is unknown. We are all making adjustments in order to address the concerns and comply with the everchanging “best practices” and various governmental mandates.

Schools, bars, and restaurants are closed. Courts have limited their access and attorneys are working remotely as much as possible. It is clear our society as a whole was not prepared for a pandemic such as the Coronavirus—and in turn—likely neither is your parenting plan.

How the Coronavirus May Impact Child Custody

It is difficult to say exactly how the Coronavirus will impact child custody. Any such effect really depends on how effective the current measures are and, likewise, how long the current closures and isolation requirements last.

This necessarily affects parents who share custody with one another. Parents will either work together during these trying times to resolve any issues that do arise through effective co-parenting or any such disputes will merely increase litigation between the parties.

It is foreseeable that the Coronavirus will likely cause issues for both legal decision-making and parenting time, i.e., what people commonly refer to as “child custody.”

Legal Decision-Making and the Coronavirus

Legal Decision-Making is the authority to make non-emergency decisions regarding health, religion, education, and personal care. In Arizona, parents either exercise:

  • Joint Legal Decision-Making;
  • Joint Legal Decision-Making with one parent having final say, also known as presumptive, decision-making authority; or
  • Sole Legal Decision-Making.

It is important to note that Legal Decision-Making relates to non-emergency decisions. See A.R.S. § 25-401(3). Unless the court has ordered otherwise, each parent has the ability to make emergency decisions related to medical treatment in accordance with A.R.S. § 25-401 et seq.

But, on the horizon are potential non-emergency issues that may need to be resolved. Such as:

  • Potential treatment decisions;
  • Personal care decisions; and
  • Decisions related to education.

Parenting Time and The Coronavirus

Parenting Time is the aspect of child custody that will likely be most impacted by the Coronavirus. This may be in ways you may not have previously considered.

As you know, school and childcare providers have been closed. Some visitation centers have also closed during this time. This can cause a big problem for parents who rely on those facilities to supervise their parenting time.

Another issue that can arise related to schools and childcare facility closures is that many parents rely on those institutions to provide childcare. This begs the question: with the kids out of school, who is going to watch the kids?

Many parents exercise a week on/week off schedule. Who is supposed to watch the kids? Does one parent have to take every other week off of work to watch the kids during their parenting time if they cannot secure childcare? Does one parent bear the burden of missing work so they can watch the kids during the other’s parenting time?

In either case, the loss of income is an issue at the forefront for most people. While emergency acts have been signed and stimulus packages are being discussed, two questions remain: will it be enough, and will the aid get to parents in time?

Further, what if Arizona enters some sort of state-wide lockdown like other states have? How will that affect parenting time exchanges?

As this has not yet occurred, we cannot give guidance on how it will affect parenting time exchanges. If a lockdown is issued and you are unclear about what affect—if any—the lockdown has on your parenting plan, contact an experienced family law attorney.

Another issue that might arise relates to how long the pandemic will last. Do you need to modify your current parenting time to reflect what is actually occurring? Is a modification of child support appropriate in light of the effects of the Coronavirus on you and your family?

Another issue that would impact parenting time is whether the children are properly being cared for during the time. Are the kids sick? Is the other parent handling the child(ren)’s illness appropriately? Is the other parent sick? Is the other parent ignoring CDC recommendations? These are all important questions.

How Should You Address Child Custody During the Coronavirus Pandemic?

First and foremost, do not forget that your parenting plan is a court order. If you fail to abide by a court order you risk being found in contempt. You also risk the potential negative impact on your parenting plan and other potential sanctions from the court.

If there is some reason that you believe it is not in the best interests of the children to follow the parenting plan, you should discuss your options with an experienced family law attorney. They may counsel you on attempting to work it out with the other parent. Or, if there is an emergency or more severe risk, they may counsel you on seeking relief from the court.

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