Mayor Hancock has issued a Stay-at-Home Order that applies to the City and County of Denver. The order, which goes into effect at 5pm on Tuesday, March 24, 2020, orders all people in the City & County of Denver stay home, with exceptions for essential activities.
Many parents are now looking for guidance on how that order affects parenting-time exchanges. This is not an easy question at all, and we are dealing with variations of this question in many, many cases right now.
One thing we definitely recommend is that you read the actual Stay-at-Home Order. Page 10 of the order allows “essential travel,” which is defined to include “travel to care for elderly, minors, dependents, persons with disabilities, or other vulnerable persons.” It also includes “travel required by law enforcement or court order.” That language strongly suggests that travel to facilitate parenting time exchanges is still allowed. Many court orders regarding parenting time also include some language requiring the parents to pick up the children, drop off the children, or meet and exchange the children at a specific location, which should help you explain why you are traveling, if necessary.
Because this crisis is bringing out the best and the worst in people, we have been seeking advice from lots of sources. As of right now, the Colorado Courts have not issued any general directives or guidelines regarding parenting time issues. County Courts in some other jurisdictions have issued general guidelines in which they told people there should be no deviation from the normal parenting-time schedule unless the child or someone in the child’s home has tested positive for COVID-19. They encouraged people to be reasonable and work together and cautioned parents that anyone taking improper advantage of the court’s present inability to hear matters could face sanctions when full court operations resume.
Closer to home, some of our retired judges and people who have been practicing family law in Colorado for a long time have been reminding everyone that using COVID-19 as a basis to restrict parenting time should only be done when there is more than just a generalized concern, and parties could face severe sanctions if they file a motion to restrict that lacks sufficient basis.
This is a very scary time, and the health risks involved are serious ones, which makes balancing all the issues difficult. As you attempt to figure out the best way to manage your own parenting plan while keeping your children and the rest of your family safe, please try to be reasonable and to remember that your children are also anxious and confused about everything that is going on. If you cannot exchange your children safely, consider the many ways we have to let children stay in touch with loved ones using our phones, computers, and other means. If you are having trouble working things out in your own case, we are happy to speak with you about your options.