Cincinnati Family Law & Divorce Blog: Do I Have to Follow My Custody Order During COVID-19?
In response to the COVID-19 health crisis, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine announced a “Stay at Home Order” currently in effect until May 1, 2020. Across the river in Kentucky, Governor Andy Beshear issued a “Healthy at Home” Order encouraging residents to stay at home. On March 29, 2020, he issued an executive order banning Kentuckian’s travel to other states with some exceptions. This blog was written as of April 16, 2020 and these orders may be extended or modified.
During these unprecedented times, some parents may wonder whether they are allowed to travel to pickup or drop off their children for parenting time. The short answer is, yes. Under Ohio’s Stay at Home Order, there is a specific exception that deems travel for custody orders “essential travel.” Section 14(e) states, “Travel required by law enforcement or court order, including to transport children pursuant to a custody agreement.” Under Kentucky’s travel ban, there is an allowance for travel pursuant to court orders.
However, some parents may also be concerned about passing a child back and forth between households if the child or parent has a medical condition or if the other parent is high risk for COVID-19 infection. This is a more difficult question to answer but some local courts have issued guidance in response.
Judge Rodenberg of Clermont County, Ohio has stated: “I cannot imagine that the court would accept that as an excuse [COVID-19] in a contempt of parenting time case. People are allowed to go out for essential activities such as grocery and health care. I would consider parenting time an essential activity as well.”
Since Ohio’s closures of schools was originally termed an expansion of spring break, the parent who has Spring Break 2020 may wonder if they can keep the child for the entire “extended spring break.” Judge Schneider Carter of Butler County, Ohio has stated: “The answer is NO. The expanded spring break under the Governor’s order is in response to a health threat and does not expand spring break under your client’s Decree. The originally scheduled spring break for 2020 in the residential parent’s school district calendar is the spring break to follow unless your client’s Decree specifies another designated week…After the scheduled spring break, they are to follow the regular parenting time schedule in the Decree, or risk contempt.”
On March 27, 2020, the Supreme Court of Kentucky issued an Order on parenting time and custody orders effective until April 24, 2020. The Order states that custody orders will be temporarily modified to suspend parenting time for 14 days any person who:
- “Tests positive for COVID-19 or shares a household with someone who tests positive for COVID-19;
- Has been advised that he or she, or someone with whom he or she shares a household, has possibly been exposed to COVID-19; or
- Has, within the last 14 days, traveled to any area with a CDC Level 2 or 3 Travel Health Notice.”
Different jurisdictions and counties are handling the COVID-19 situation in varying ways. You should check individual court websites for the most up to date information. It is important to keep in mind that you and your co-parent can always reach an agreement outside of a court order if you both agree it is in your child’s best interest. Such agreement should preferably be in writing to memorialize the agreement. If you have questions about your specific situation, you should contact an attorney. The lawyers at our firm are available for a brief telephone call, free of charge.