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Co-parenting conflicts during coronavirus outbreak leads to court decisions

Posted at 2:53 PM, Apr 15, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-15 14:53:03-04

A Florida mom fighting COVID-19 on the front lines has now won her fight with the legal system to get custody of her 4-year-old daughter back.

Emergency Room physician Dr. Theresa Greene had timesharing of her daughter temporarily taken away because she comes in contact with patients who have coronavirus.

"I never thought a judge would grant it,” she said. “I had more faith in the legal system. From what I heard, as other precedence in different states, that this wasn’t something that would happen to me.”

She appealed the judge's decision and won, restoring her timesharing effective immediately. But this situation is not unique. Family law attorney Whitney Wolfe says law offices across the country are now dealing with similar situations.

"We’re seeing them unilaterally withhold parenting time,” Wolfe said. “Meaning they’re telling the other parent, ‘Hey, you can’t have parenting time’ and some of them may even be violating court orders.”

If the parents have a court order that requires a certain schedule, Wolfe says they could be in violation of that courts order. Many judges are saying that's not allowed.

"COVID-19 or Coronavirus, generally, isn’t a good enough reason to deny a parent parenting time," said Wolfe.

Dr. Greene’s attorney, Steven Nullman, says because the judge granted the motion, he’s concerned about more cases like this.

"In my career, we’ve never experienced a pandemic like this, obviously, and we’ve never had a situation where courts are being forced to make this decision," said Nullman. "We believe that it sets a dangerous precedence. Where does it stop?"

In some states, there is a specific limitation on when a parent can legally withhold parenting time. The parent has to test positive for the virus.

Wolfe says the best way to prevent a situation like this from happening is to have a conversation with the other parent about what to do in case one of the parents comes down with symptoms. But if one parent is withholding time and you have a court order, Wolfe suggests talking to your attorney.

"The type of motion that’s going to give people the most relief is a motion alleging parenting time dispute, so they can attempt to recover some makeup parenting time," said Wolfe.

If there is not a court order, she says to try to communicate about why the parent believes their time is important and document any efforts made to try and continue the arrangement that has always been in place.

In Dr. Greene’s case, she says she just wants to make sure this is something no other parent has to go through.

"That’s part of the reason why I’m here fighting. First and foremost, it’s for my daughter, but I have a lot of physician divorced moms who fear the same thing is going to happen to them," said Dr. Greene.

Dr. Greene’s ex-husband did not want to comment.

His lawyer said in a statement, “Mr. Greene and I have the upmost respect for Dr. Greene’s commitment to her critical work during this pandemic. We recognize and genuinely appreciate the sacrifices that she and all healthcare workers are all currently making to save lives and prevent further illness in Florida and around the world…The Court’s ruling was not intended to serve as a blanket rule, nor should it.”