As COVID-19 cases continue to rise throughout Nashville, divorced parents are concerned with how to properly follow their court-ordered parenting plans while adhering to “Safer-at-Home” orders. These restrictions have created complications in transporting children between homes, especially when one or both parents are required to continue working in environments where they are at higher risk for contracting COVID-19. Bone McAllester Norton attorney Courtney Lutz shared her insight into the orders along with guidance that district judges have provided for divorced parents during this time. Read the full article below to learn more.
AMID COVID-19 OUTBREAK, NASHVILLE-AREA JUDGES PROVIDING GUIDANCE ON COURT-ORDERED PARENTING PLANS
As the number of COVID-19 cases has grown in the Greater Nashville area, so too has concern from divorced parents, not only about how to protect their children from this novel virus, but also how to properly follow their court-ordered parenting plans.
Many parents have struggled to find a way to balance the health and safety of their children with the need to facilitate a continuous relationship with both parents, especially when families have been asked to self-quarantine and “Safer at Home” orders remain in effect. Parents’ concerns become more complicated when one parent is required to continue to work in environments where he or she is at a higher risk of exposure to COVID-19, or if a parent is defined as an “essential worker” and must continue to work in the general public.
Fortunately, judges in some districts have provided orders or guidance on how parents are to follow parenting plans during this unique time, which is the first thing parents must consider in determining how to navigate their co-parenting relationships. It is important for parents to review the order from the district in which their last custody order was entered for proper guidance, because judges in each district may be handling this issue differently.
Additionally, parents must follow the order from the court in which their parenting plan was ordered, because in some districts, juvenile courts differ from circuit and chancery courts in how they are handling the COVID-19 issue.
In the 19th Judicial District (Montgomery and Robertson counties), for example, the circuit court judges have set forth an order that parenting plans should continue to be followed unless one of the following exceptions applies:
- If a parent’s city or state is under a government-mandated lockdown and that child is with that parent at the time the lockdown goes into effect, visitation is suspended until the end of the lockdown;
- Or if the child, parent, or an in-home sibling or family member is diagnosed with COVID-19 while the child is in the home, visitation is suspended for 14 days following the diagnosis and proof of the medical diagnosis is sent to the other parent.
The circuit and chancery court judges in the 20th Judicial District (Davidson County) have also ordered for parenting plans to remain in effect, but set forth three exceptions to the general rule:
- If a child, parent, or in-home sibling or family member is diagnosed with COVID-19 while the child is in the home, visitation is suspended for 14 days following the diagnosis upon presentation of a doctor’s note to the other parent confirming the diagnosis;
- In the event of a local, state, or federal lockdown or shelter-in-place order, the primary residential parent designated in the parenting plan must take possession of the child within four hours of the activation of the lockdown or shelter-in-place order, and the child is to remain with the primary residential parent until the order is removed;
- The parents may agree to an alternate residential schedule, but the agreement must be in writing and signed by both parties.
Further, judges in some districts have set forth orders specifically for children in the physical and legal custody of the Department of Children’s Services (DCS). For example, in Wilson County, which is located in the 15th Judicial District, the court has ordered that all in-person visitation between children in the physical and legal custody of DCS and their parents be suspended pending further orders of the court.
To date, some judges have not issued an order on how parenting plans should be followed during COVID-19 or whether they will be recognizing certain exceptions based on the virus. Without such an order, parents should assume that parenting plans should continue to be followed as normal. If parents are concerned regarding their children’s exposure to COVID-19, it is best for them to attempt to work together to determine a solution that is best to protect their children.
In the event that they are unable to do so, however, or if a parent has potentially been exposed to COVID-19 and insists on exercising his or her parenting time despite this, the other parent may want to consider filing a temporary restraining order or pursuing another available remedy in order to protect his or her children. A temporary restraining order is considered an extraordinary remedy under the laws of Tennessee. Therefore, whether a temporary restraining order would be awarded is based on each person’s specific set of circumstances and is not guaranteed.
Anyone concerned about balancing parental rights under their parenting plans while taking precautions to protect their children from COVID-19 should consult with an experienced family law attorney, who will be able to assist in determining the most appropriate next steps based on the facts of their cases.