Child custody and parenting time orders assume the world will continue to operate as usual. Schools will stick to their normal schedules, jobs will pull parents away at times and vacations will happen as planned.

What happens in the event of a widespread emergency – be it a pandemic, natural disaster, or something else entirely? With everything else in a state of upheaval, do custody and parenting time orders change as well?

Assume you must follow the existing order

Generally speaking, unless you obtain a new court order modifying child custody or parenting time arrangements, you are expected to stick to the existing schedule. That includes during statewide emergency situations (barring an order from an official, such as the governor).

For example, the most recent stay-at-home order specifically lists acceptable reasons for travel. Among them? Transporting a child as part of a custody agreement. In addition, the Michigan’s Supreme Court issued a reminder noting “all court orders for a child’s custody, parenting time and support are still in force.”

Parents, the court said, should continue adhering to these orders.

What if something needs to change?

Family dynamics do not cease to exist during an emergency. If you have concerns about your child (or children) and their safety, the current arrangement may not make sense. But getting a new court order is not always simple during these types of situations.

The most straightforward path to temporarily modifying the current agreement? Talk to your former partner.

Michigan’s court system is currently encouraging concerned parents to “work cooperatively to find an alternative solution” that is in the best interests of the child. That might mean making changes to the living arrangement, temporarily, in order to protect a child. Alterations to parenting time should also be discussed. That might include:

  • Virtual visitation
  • Make-up parenting time in the future
  • One party agreeing to forego their scheduled parenting time

These changes should be put in writing or recorded in a digital communication such as email. If there is a dispute in the future, this can help set the record straight.

If you cannot come to an agreement, you will likely be expected to follow the existing court order. If you feel your child’s health and well-being are in serious risk, many county courts will allow parents to file emergency motions digitally. This is something your attorney can likely help with.

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