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Withholding Visitation: What Will Family Law Judges Do?

Rich Harris

Scenario: My ex-spouse lives in Iowa. She refuses to allow me to have my kids for court-ordered visitation (or, “parenting time”), alleging that the COVID-19 pandemic is far more widespread in Colorado than Iowa, and my kids’ health may be compromised if they come to Colorado. What do I do?

Sadly, we have seen multiple instances of this in just the past couple of days. As both legitimate fears and hype-induced panic set in, family law attorneys are getting calls about violations of custody orders. When can a parent validly withhold visitation due to legitimate safety concerns. And, what can the parent whose access to his or her kids is prevented due in the face of bad faith actions to use the pandemic to perpetrate a grudge?

In the State of Colorado, while we may not know a lot about the trajectory of the spreading COVID-19 virus, the good news is that the law is clear – a parent cannot unilaterally withhold parenting time without a valid court order. In practice, this means that, if a parent fears that their child may be endangered by a visit with their Ex, whether due to the virus or for any other reason, they must seek protection from a family law judge. Such protection can be in the form of a protective order or a motion to restrict parenting time.

Access to the family law courts is, unfortunately, limited right now. In Colorado, the Supreme Court issued a public directive essentially closing the entire judicial system until at least April 3, save for certain, limited urgent matters, or those matters involving certain constitutional protections. The good news is that this does include hearings on withholding parenting time or, in extreme situations, child abductions.

Be sure to check your actions with a qualified family law attorney. Violating court orders is a serious business, and the penalties could include substantial “make-up” time for the aggrieved parent, court fines and attorney’s fees, or even jail.

For more information and personalized counsel, contact our attorneys at The Harris Law Firm today by calling (303) 622-5502.

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