By Dominique Sciullo-Craig, Esq.
The recent social and economic pandemic of the Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19), is presenting novel questions for most families who have turned to the courts to resolve their marital or family law disputes. A line of Florida Supreme Court Administrative Orders now limits in-person, court appearances to “essential” proceedings until July 2, 2020. Family law matters, including dissolution or paternity matters, fall outside of the categorization of “essential” with limited exceptions for dependency and domestic violence hearings.
What we can glean from the latest Administrative Order is that most family law hearings will proceed with the technology available to the court (including telephone or video communication means). Some courts have even adopted special measures to address COVID-19 concerns. For instance, on April 17, 2020, the Palm Beach County Circuit Court entered an Administrative Order requiring a hearing within five days, where possible, for motions filed raising timesharing issues stemming from the COVID-19 public health emergency.
Although the State is currently in Phase 1 of the Governor’s Plan for Florida’s recovery, it is uncertain how long this phase will last or what the future holds. Here are some helpful tips related to timesharing from the resources currently available to practitioners:
- Most parenting plans allow for the parents to mutually agree in writing to change the timesharing arrangements, so try to agree on written changes to the timesharing arrangement for the duration of the coronavirus closures. Even in Phase 1, all persons in the State must limit their personal interactions outside of their home, except as permitted by the Governor’s Executive Order. Account for these requirements in any timesharing changes.
- If there is no parenting plan in place or the parents cannot agree, then act reasonably based on the best interests of the child(ren) and assume that the court will give makeup timesharing to the parent who has been denied timesharing.
- Be compliant with local, State, and Federal government restrictions/guidelines and with the provisions of the parenting plan in place. 
- Be transparent and make reasonable efforts to communicate and coparent, including putting communications to the other parent in writing, i.e. requests for in-person timesharing or timesharing through other means.
- Attempt to facilitate alternate means of timesharing, such as telephonic, video, or other electronic calls if in-person timesharing is not feasible given travel restrictions.
- Keep track of any timesharing that is denied by the other parent.
- Avoid bringing an “emergency” motion before the court, if possible, where there is a disagreement regarding timesharing or other non-urgent issues.
Considering the emotional strain that the confinement and lack of routine are having on children, particularly teenagers, it is important now more than ever to co-parent, amicably resolve timesharing disputes, and keep matters out of court. Ultimately, however, where there is a dispute that comes before the court, the court will consider the best interests of the child, including make-up timesharing, so parents are better served to communicate and cooperate to keep their children safe and connected to their family.
Each family’s circumstances are different, which makes it important for a parent with questions related to timesharing to consult with their attorney to address their individual issues.
 The American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers and Association of Family and Conciliation Joint Statement titled “Seven Guidelines for Parents who are Divorced/Separated and Sharing Custody of Children During the COVID-19 Pandemic”