Timesharing Issues During Lockdown
As the majority of families in this country are faced with shelter in place, shelter at home or lockdown orders from their city or state officials, another problem is brewing underneath the surface, timesharing issues between parents.
On March 17, 2020, the Florida Supreme Court issued various administrative orders (www.floridasupremecourt.org/emergency) instructing each judicial circuit and courts to cancel or postpone all non-essential in-person hearings and to take steps to reduce the need for emergency hearings or filings during the lockdown period.
Given the current limited access to the courts and the propensity for timesharing issues to arise more frequently during times of crisis, some courts have implemented temporary administrative orders in order to reduce the need for additional and/or emergency hearings and filings related to parental responsibility and timesharing disputes between parents. The administrative orders are intended to provide guidance to the parties and attorneys as to how to resolve parental responsibility and time-sharing issues during this time.
Here is a brief summary of the new guidelines issued in Miami-Dade and Broward County’s recent Domestic Relations Administrative Orders. Here is a copy of the 11th Judicial Circuit/Miami-Dade Administrative Order 20-06 and the 17th Judicial Circuit/Broward County Administrative Order 2020-30, both of which became effective as of April 2, 2020. Additional Judicial Circuit Domestic Relations Administrative Orders can be found in the links below:
Both the Miami Dade County’s Administrative Order 20-06 and the Broward County’s Administrative Order 2020-30 apply to all new and existing family law matters and cases regarding parental responsibility and time-sharing disputes within each Circuit’s Family Divisions. The Miami-Dade Administrative Order also includes the Unified Children’s Court Division.
Applications and Terms of the Orders
- The Orders shall not supersede or modify any existing domestic violence injunction, criminal “no contact order” or dependency order.
- Judges are free to amend or modify the Orders in any case should the circumstances warrant the same.
- The Orders shall remain in effect until the first of the foregoing to occur resumption of non-essential in person hearings or a subsequent temporary order issued by the Court. Any subsequent order entered which does not modify the Administrative Orders will remain in effect until otherwise ordered.
- Finally, any part of the Orders not changed by a subsequent order shall remain in effect.
Contact with Both Parents; Shared Parenting. (Regular Timesharing)
- The parties are expected to adhere to all existing orders, including temporary orders, final judgments and agreements on parental responsibility and timesharing schedule.
- Unless otherwise prohibited by an existing Order, each parent is prohibited from unreasonably restricting access of the children to the other parent.
- Miami Dade County Only:
- The parties’ regular timesharing schedule shall continue in effect until the last day of school as determined by the school district or official in which governs the parties parenting plan. The parties summer timesharing schedule will immediately begin on the last day of the 2019-2020 school year.
- Broward County Only:
- The same as Miami Dade’s Order set forth above, except that if the school designated in the parenting plan has ended the 2019-2020 school year prior to the original 2019-2020 official school calendar date, the parties shall continue regular timesharing, as though school were still in session, until the date designated as the last day of school in the 2019-2020 official school calendar.
Timesharing Schedules During Shelter in Place/Lock down Orders**
- Miami Dade County Only:
- In the event the Governor of Florida and/or any other government official(s) issues an order that requires parties to “shelter in place”, no timesharing exchanges can take place. The parties shall abide by the directives applicable to their locality. Once the shelter in place orders are lifted, parties are to resume time-sharing as previously ordered or agreed upon.
- Broward County Only:
- In the event that the Governor of Florida and/or any other government official issues an order that requires parties or a party to restrict movements as a mass or partial quarantine or suppression strategy to mitigate or slow the spread of COVID-19 (often referred to as “shelter in place” or “stay at home” orders), and including, but not limited to, individual orders to self-quarantine (hereinafter collectively referred to as “any governmental order”) the parties are to discuss their family’s best methods to meet the requirements of the child(ren)’s school, remain with siblings if possible and be safe. If the regular timesharing and exchange can occur and be consistent with any government orders, then regular timesharing shall continue as Ordered by the Court and, if necessary, as further described above. If there is any governmental order issued that does not allow a parent or parents to move about the community freely, the parent with the majority of time sharing (183 overnights) shall keep the child(ren) until governmental order is lifted or a Court Order is entered.
- The Court will have jurisdiction to consider all appropriate remedial measures, including make-up timesharing, upon the Court’s resumption of normal operations. The Parties should assume that any parent losing time because of the measures taken for COVID-19 will receive make up timesharing, and that the Court will sanction behavior that it deems unreasonable. Upon the lifting of any governmental order, the parties are to resume their regularly scheduled timesharing. This shall continue until the parties are able to secure hearing time with the Court in the interim. The parties are strongly encouraged to work cooperatively with each other, and if appropriate, voluntarily agree to make-up time sharing schedule as a result of any timesharing lost due to COVID-19
- Both Administrative Orders require the parties to communicate with each other as required by any method established by order, parenting plan or agreement as to where the exchange of the children will currently take place if the original location was either school or day care center. There are specific nuisances which exist in each county’s order as to what happens when the parties cannot agree on the exchange location.
- Miami Dade County Only: In the event, that the parties are unable to agree on an exchange location, then the parties shall file a motion with the Court, which shall be decided in accordance with any subsequent Administrative Orders related to Covid 19 procedures.
- Broward County Only: In the event, that the parents cannot agree on an alternate exchange arrangement, the exchanges shall take place at the police station or sheriff’s office that tis located closest to the school or daycare. The closets police station or sheriff’s station shall be determined by the distance shown on Google Maps, Apple Maps or some other similar mapping program or website. Motions filed related to this subject will likely be ruled upon without hearing.
Communications Between Parent and Children
- All communications approved, ordered or agreed upon between the parties as set forth in their parenting plan should continue to be honored at minimum and the Courts stress a need to permit an increase in the parties communications plan with the other parent, particularly given the need the children will have to have more “regular and consistent contact” with the other parent to alleviate fears and concerns the children may be experiencing which also includes the use of video conferencing.
- Unless otherwise ordered previously, video and phone contact should be not be monitored or interrupted by the co-parent or any other third party, unless there are specific Court Orders in place as to those issues.
Emergency Motions and Expedited Hearings. (Miami Dade order, likely applicable in all Courts and Cases in Florida per existing rules)
- The court may set an emergency hearing which will be handled remotely in accordance with Florida Supreme Court Orders AOSC20-16, AOSC20-17 or any subsequent Administrative Orders adopted thereafter, which includes administering of oath using communications equipment.
- Parents are strongly cautioned that unreasonable, hurtful or destructive behavior may be sanctioned by the Court in accordance with Chapter 61 of the Florida Statutes.
Communication (Miami Dade order, likely applicable in all Courts and Cases in Florida per existing rules)
- The courts expect all parties and attorneys to cooperate in the scheduling of telephonic and electronic hearings, as well as all other court activities such as mediation, depositions and meetings if necessary. The parties and attorneys are required to comply with all existing procedures regarding cancellation of existing appointments and should make a good faith effort to cooperate in converting existing appointments to virtual or telephonic venues.
- Finally, the Court requires parties to discuss any motion before a party sets a hearing. This requirement can be accomplished either via telephone or exchange of emails and texts.
Self-Represented Parties (Miami Dade order, likely applicable in all Courts and Cases in Florida per existing rules)
- The court sets forth particular locations in which self-represented individuals can seek help and information regarding filing a pleading, setting a hearing and overall how self-represented individuals are required to comport to the rules.
Proceedings (Miami Dade order, likely applicable in all Courts and Cases in Florida per Florida Supreme Court Order)
- The Court’s preferred method of resolution is to effectively conduct remote hearings without the need for in person appearances in accordance with Judicial Administrative rules implemented and the Florida Supreme Court.
- Parties are also encouraged to review each judge’s webpage for any additional rules or procedures in which each judge may have implemented individually.
Other Judicial Circuit Domestic Relations Administrative Orders on Timesharing
- 5th Judicial Circuit: serves Citrus, Hernando, Lake, Marion and Sumter Counties
- Administrative Order Regarding Emergency Temporary Standing Order Regarding Parenting in Domestic Relations Cases -2020-21
- 15th Judicial Circuit: serves Palm Beach County
- Administrative Order: IN RE: Mitigating Measures in Response to COVID -19 12.510-03/2020.7
- 16th Judicial Circuit: serves Monroe County
- Administrative Order IN RE: COVID-19 EMERGENCY PROCEDURES 2.077
Unfortunately, the orders do not entirely address all of the parties and attorneys concerns as to what to do in different situations, such as how does a parent determine which parent the children should shelter in place with in Miami-Dade or whether time sharing exchanges are considered essential travel and permitted under the State’s and separately city’s lockdown orders which do not address timesharing exchanges as essential under Broward’s order.
Of particular note, Miami-Dade did take judicial note and adoption of CDC guidelines, which may later prove to be a reference source in which the Courts can gauge a parent’s behavior during the crisis or in the event an emergency motion is required to be filed due to the lack of adherence by one parent to the CDC’s public safety guidelines.
The Courts promise more clarification and guidelines will be forth coming, however if you are in a situation which has not been addressed in these orders, it is best to contact an experienced family law attorney to discuss whether or not a motion should be filed and/or to see if with additional communications and possibly through the use of a virtual mediation or coparenting session the issue or dispute can be resolved.
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