Michigan Family Law Update: The Impact of “Shelter in Place” on Parenting Time Orders

coronavirus-shelter-in-place-divorced-childrenGovernor Whitmer’s “Stay Home, Stay Safe” Executive Order requires Michigan residents to “Shelter in Place” to stem the COVID-19 coronavirus. While workers and businesses have concerns over wages and operations, many parents question how the mandate will affect custody and parenting time, including parenting time exchanges, parenting time transportation, and abiding by the specific terms of a court order.

Access to Family Courts

Resolving parenting time and custody disputes are difficult because the governor’s order only allows individuals “to attend legal proceedings or hearings for essential or emergency purposes as ordered by a court,” and the Michigan Supreme Court has ordered parents to follow their current parenting time orders.

In light of the Supreme Court directive, parents should follow their order but keep meticulous records in the event the other parent violates the order. As a general rule, law enforcement will not intervene to force compliance with a parenting time order.

Please review your order and note it usually will contain a provision that the parenting time schedule is subject to alteration based upon the agreement of both parents as to what they believe is best for their children. If a dispute occurs, whether one home is safe and the other is unsafe, parents are supposed to follow the order. “Self Help” by refusing to exchange or attempting to force an exchange is not appropriate, especially given the Supreme Court’s directive. If there be a perceived actual risk of harm to a child due to the COVID-19 coronavirus, filing an emergency motion with the family court is an appropriate remedy.

Transportation of Children During the Stay-at-Home Period

Governor Whitmer’s Order expressly allows the transportation of children pursuant to a custody agreement, presumably by their parents. Regardless of this exception to the stay-at-home mandate, the order does not require all parent-child visits to be in person. Alternatives such as telephone, Facetime, and video conferencing are permissible, and would seem to apply to caseworkers as well.

When Michigan case law fails to provide direction in a particular situation, we often look to other jurisdictions for guidance. Under California’s recent “Shelter in Place” mandate, a county health and human services department issued a directive that specifically enabled essential services to continue. When people need to leave their place of residence to obtain or perform vital services or conduct activities necessary for continuity of social and commercial life, they should maintain a distance of six feet from the other persons.

The California directive defines essential travel as travel required by court order. It would therefore appear, based upon the detailed language in the California directive, the travel required for a parenting time exchange could be deemed as essential travel.

Kreis Enderle’s Family Law Attorneys Are Available to Assist You

We anticipate that Michigan will provide further guidance by offering detailed instructions regard to the “Stay Home, Stay Safe” mandate, but the best advice is for parents to communicate and cooperate to ensure the health and safety of the children. If you have questions regarding compliance with your parenting time order or violations of an order by your child’s other parent, please contact us immediately – despite the pandemic, Kreis Enderle remains open for business and we’re here to help.

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