During these unprecedented times during the Covid-19 outbreak, it seems like everything is uncertain and up in the air. On Friday, March 20, 2020, Governor Pritzker enacted Executive Order In Response to COVID-19 (COVID-19 Executive Order No. 10), otherwise known as the “Shelter In Place” order. The order provides that all residents of the State of Illinois must stay home, practice social distancing and that all “non-essential businesses” must cease operations (with certain exceptions). This order left many parents with questions, such as “Do I still have to hand over my children to the other parent?” Before Governor Pritzker clarified his initial shelter in place order, the answer was that we simply didn’t know. However, as the governor has expanded his order, we have more clarity. Pursuant to Section 14(e) of the order, it provides:
Essential Travel. For the purposes of this Executive Order, Essential Travel includes travel for any of the following purposes. Individuals engaged in any Essential Travel must comply with all Social Distancing Requirements as defined in this Section:
…(e) Travel required by law enforcement or court order, including to transport children pursuant to a custody agreement. (Emphasis added)
So in short, the answer is yes, you must continue to comply with your parenting agreement. COVID-19 is not an excuse to deny the other parent his or her court-ordered parenting time. However, this would obviously not apply if the child(ren) has been somewhat exposed to the virus and is in self-isolation or is experiencing symptoms of the virus. If this is the case, the parent in possession of the child in self-isolation should clearly communicate to the other parent that the child is exhibiting symptoms of the virus. Remember that the most important thing at this time is the child’s best interests. During this time, communication with the other parent is key, and you should both utilize your best judgment.
Additionally, all courthouses in the State of Illinois have now closed except for hearing emergency matters. You may also be wondering, “If the other parent doesn’t give me the children during my parenting time, isn’t that an emergency?” Unfortunately, the answer is we are not 100% certain. If you find yourself in a parenting time dispute that cannot be resolved by direct communication, you should have a copy of your court order handy and call the police on the non-emergency phone number. Explain to them that you have a court order that states it is your time to have your children, and your ex will not turn them over. Often times, the police will review the order, make a phone call, and resolve the matter without further escalation.
Unfortunately, sometimes police deem these cases to be “civil matters,” and are unwilling to get involved. In that case, you should contact an attorney. Sometimes attorneys can get their pont across in a way that others can’t. That includes threats to bring the matter to the court’s attention. Please keep in mind that because the courts are only hearing “emergency” matters, there is a chance that the court might not deem a matter an emergency unless the health and safety of the child(ren) is at risk. Many courts have provided in their orders that any attorney who brings an emergency motion that is not really an emergency can be subject to sanctions.
If the court does determine that your case is not an emergency, you may still be entitled to some relief such as make-up parenting time, a finding that the other parent is in contempt of court, and reimbursement of attorney’s fees, if the court finds that the other parent’s non-compliance with the court order and the Governor’s Order was willful and without compelling cause or justification.
If an “ordinary parenting” time dispute might not be considered an emergency, it is likely that situations involving travel with the children may be viewed as more of an emergency. For example, if the parent in possession of your children is insisting to still take the children on an airplane or on a cruise, the Court is much more likely to find the matter to be an emergency and make a ruling right away. A few judges have so far determine that traveling is not in the children’s best interest due to the high possibility of contracting the virus. With the most recent order from the governor, it appears fairly clear that vacation is not considered “essential travel”.
We understand that there are many questions during this unprecedented time. If you have questions regarding parenting time during the COVID-19 outbreak, please contact us to speak with one of our experienced attorneys.