When you drafted and agreed to your Parenting Plan, you never imagined it being tested in ways we’re experiencing now under the Illinois shelter-in-place guidelines. You may find yourself arguing about whether the Governor banned all travel, or whether your child’s school district’s switch to e-learning now makes this “summer break” and changes your schedule. Your kids are scared and looking to you and their other parent for answers and reassurance.
Do I have to give my children to the other parent for visitation during the Shelter in Place order?
Yes. The Shelter in Place order is not a basis to deny parenting time. In fact, Governor Pritzker specifically called travel for visitation “Essential Travel” and allowed for parenting exchanges in his Executive Order, under item 14e:
Travel required by law enforcement or court order, including to transport children pursuant to a custody agreement.
If you have reason to believe that your children will be endangered by traveling to your ex’s home, please make every effort to communicate your concerns to your co-parent and offer reasonable alternatives and a plan for makeup time. If your situation is high-conflict, your attorney can guide you and communicate on your behalf.
Can I call the police if my co-parent does not turn over the children?
In a civil matter such as custody, the police will typically only be able to document that an exchange has not occurred – they will not be able to enforce your Parenting Plan and will likely refer you to your attorney or the civil court for enforcement of the order. Please consider the strain that the pandemic has put on our emergency services, including your local police department, and exhaust all other resources at your disposal before calling the police.
What if I want to go to court to enforce my visitation?
Because of court closures in Illinois, circuit courts are defining “emergency” very narrowly right now, and most courts are only hearing emergency matters at this time. It is very unlikely that your judge will consider missing time with your child temporarily because of the pandemic to be an emergency that is worth risking the life of the judge and court staff to have your case heard in front of a judge. Your attorney can advise you further on your specific case, but generally, you are unlikely to get an “emergency” hearing at this time if the only complaint is that your opposing party did not follow the parenting time schedule due to the shelter-in-place orders.
Your best options: Common Sense, Civility, and Prioritizing Your Children
The best way to get your family through this time of uncertainty and stress is to put the well-being of your children first and foremost in all decisions. Your children crave a schedule and stability right now. With school closed and isolation from their friends, your child’s relationship with their other parent should be a priority to you in order to maintain your child’s mental health and connection to the outside world. This may require a huge amount of work (and fear and compromise) on your part – but your kid is worth it.
School closures create more time in the day for things like video chat between your child and their other parent. Even if your visitation hasn’t been altered due to exposure or travel restrictions, are you creating the time and space for video communication?
Common sense works in the other direction as well. Do you work in an essential role that causes you to leave the house every day, be exposed to large groups of people, or even work in a medical setting where you may potentially be exposed to COVID-19 regularly? Do you know that you may have already been exposed? Have you considered the risk to your children and the reasonable fears of your child’s other parent? We understand that you want to see your children and you’re scared too, but now may be the time to limit in-person contact with your children for their own safety. Consult with your medical provider via telemedicine if you have questions about your level of exposure, and consider switching to video chat temporarily to exercise your parenting time. Self-quarantine may be the best choice for your children’s health and safety – and they should be your top priority.
You may have such a high-conflict relationship with your opposing party that compromise and civility is just not possible. Please reach out and schedule a Free Initial Consultation with one of our attorneys to discuss the numerous options that we have to get your family through this and find a path forward for you. We’re available at (815) 200-8802.