Coronavirus is already sparking delicate custody battles in Colorado

A sheriff’s deputy enters the Arapahoe District Court grounds (AP File Photo / Brennan Linsley).

AURORA | Navigating a custody battle amid the pandemic-triggered relocation to home school, job insecurity and asking to stay indoors can all lead to a pesky cocktail, attorneys have warned over the past few weeks.

Separated parents have had to adjust quickly when it comes to parenting together in 2020 as the courts are largely closed and governments have sometimes issued vague mandates to stay at home as much as possible.

The seemingly indefinite closings of schools and other public spaces, where children are often passed from one parent to another, has added another wrinkle to what can already be an uncomfortable process.

However, healthy parents in Colorado must continue to swap custody of their children, lawyers say, as the parenting plans are court orders exempt to travel on public health under Governor Jared Polis’ recent ordinance.

“Some parents have asked,” Can we only keep the children at home while we order? “Said Christopher Griffiths, shareholder and chief financial officer of Griffiths PC, a family law firm in Lone Tree handles cases in the greater Aurora area.” And the long story is ‘no’. “

However, once a parent is confirmed to have the virus, the situation quickly becomes gnarly. While the judicial orders are still a bit fuzzy, Griffiths doesn’t believe a court would require a healthy parent to send a healthy child home to a sick parent.

“It would be too dangerous,” he said.

Jason Owens, a Massachusetts family law attorney who has written a number of blogs about the intersection of virus and family law over the past few weeks, said there are shades of gray associated with a parent’s certainty that their ex-spouse is COVID -19 signed.

If a parent has compelling evidence that parental leave poses a measurable risk of transmission – or … the child may expose containment measures – that parent should alert a judge to these concerns as soon as possible, ”Owens wrote on his website. recently featured in the New York Times.

Whether or not Aurora residents would be able to see a judge in the 17th or 18th district is difficult at best, according to Griffiths, who mostly handles cases in the 18th district.

The chief judge of that court issued an updated order on Tuesday that continued the vast majority of hearings through April 17. The decision also suspends all calls to the jury scheduled until May 15. A similar order was made in the Adams County District Court in Aurora’s northern pocket.

“The court only deals with emergencies, so some people are forced to find out,” Griffiths said. “… The most important thing we tell our customers is to look for alternative solutions. Clients who wanted to go to court are considering an agreement because the court cannot help. “

He suggests clients videoconferencing, holding hearings with private judges, or postponing a divorce altogether.

The national divorce rate has been falling in recent years. According to the US Census Bureau, the latest number is 7.7 divorces per 1,000 women over the age of 15. The Colorado rate was one point higher, giving the state the 16th highest divorce rate in the country two years ago.

While local courts still hear “public safety issues” including recommendations for people in prison, hearings for permanent protection orders and hearings on parental leave restrictions, a hearing before a judge could prove extremely difficult unless mitigating and dangerous circumstances present at Griffiths.

“What the judicial system classifies as an emergency and what the average person classifies as an emergency are quite different,” he said. “To the court, it’s someone holding a gun or having marijuana on the table in front of kids, not ‘We haven’t figured out our summer vacation plans and he or she won’t speak to me.'”

It is unclear how many parental leave applications and parental leave applications have been submitted in the past few weeks. A court administrator in the 18th District referred a reporter to the county court administrator’s office. A spokesman for that bureau said the data was not immediately available.

One of the most pressing issues facing Griffiths’ current customers is a disruption in communication between parents regarding their possible exposure to the virus. Resettlement of children with a parent outside the county or state has also proven problematic.

“It’s like happened three times recently when one party said, ‘I think I have the coronavirus and I have the runny nose,” Griffiths said. “And then the other party says,’ Okay, the kids are not coming, ‘and then the person who says they are sick says, ‘Oh, it’s just the runny nose that doesn’t worry about it,’ and that’s causing this huge problem. “

Owens said parents who appear nonchalant about the virus could use their words against them in the future.

“P.Arents and those with disapproval of the virus or containment measures such as social distancing are likely to pose a greater risk to the community than the type of international travel that has been perceived as a greater risk in the past few months, ”he wrote. “A parent who sends an email or text message sarcastically denying the other parent’s coronavirus concerns can see this Message come back to bite them in a future custody hearing. “

Griffiths said these future hearings could be months or years later due to the delays the virus shutdown is likely to cause.

The most important thing people need to know is to get in line, ”he said. “The judicial system has already lagged … you started legal proceedings six to nine months earlier. You’ll likely leave a year later. “

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