No. If the two parents agree to what is best for their child, you do not have to follow the Parenting Plan. This is always the case. In fact, in our experience, judges prefer when the parents come together and decide what is best for their children. On April 1, 2020, the Arizona Supreme Court wrote to parents regarding the COVID-19 Pandemic, “[T]he Court strongly encourages all parents to first attempt to work together to resolve any issues, even if coordinating parenting time or making adjustments to exchange locations becomes more challenging in the days and weeks to come. If you both agree to modify your parenting plan, you are encouraged to put your agreement in writing and sign it, if possible.”
You will read throughout the answers to the questions that the best solution is almost always having the two parents work together to reach a solution. If you cannot agree, you fall back onto your Parenting Plan. If you or the other parent does not believe the current Parenting Plan is appropriate for this situation, they can request a modification from the Court.
Yes, parenting plans are in effect and must be followed. On April 2, 2020, the Arizona Supreme Court wrote, “As a general policy, the family department has concluded that allowing children to maintain regular access to each parent is in their best interests and the transporting of children for the start and end of each block of parenting time is part of the essential business that is authorized under the Governor’s Executive Order. While the facts of any given case shall dictate the result, it is the general view of the family department that existing parenting plan schedules remain in effect and enforceable.”
Once a parenting plan is ordered by the Court, it remains in effect until is modified by the Court or the child turns eighteen. This is true even during the current health situation. The parents always have the option to change the Parenting Plan by agreement. Some parents, for example, may have different work hours or travel restrictions because of the current situation and need to change a plan to accommodate their new schedule.
The best practice is to come to an agreement with the other parent in order to resolve this outside of the Courts. The two of you can make agreements and abide by those agreements without notifying the Court. In that instance, we still recommend putting those agreements in writing and stating that whether the new plan is intended to be temporary or permanent.
If you cannot come to an agreement, you may need to ask for court intervention. In that case, you may need to hire an attorney to help you file a Motion for Temporary Orders with the courts. Be aware, though, that if the Court signs a new parenting plan, that plan will remain in effect until modified, and you cannot modify for one year, unless there’s an emergency.
Mom and Dad should begin by having an honest conversation about the risks. Even though their parenting plan and the law does not directly address this situation, there needs to be a remedy. If they cannot come to a resolution, they can seek legal help as a last resort.
Since family courts have never dealt with a pandemic of this nature, it is unknown what any given judge would do. But when presenting problems to the Court, it is always helpful to present solutions. You could draft a new temporary plan that mandates isolation/social distancing, just as many intact families are now doing. Keep in mind that the children’s best interests are paramount. In this case, that means having parenting time safely with both parents.
The Arizona Supreme Court has further ordered that you can file a Motion for Temporary Orders regarding parenting time or support without a Petition (under normal circumstances, both would be required to be filed to get a temporary order). This allows parents to file for temporary relief during this crisis without changing their Parenting Plan as a whole when things go back to normal (i.e., once the threat of the virus is over, the normal Parenting Plan would resume). Usually, you have to wait a year to modify a Parenting Plan. That appears to not apply to temporary modifications due to the Coronavirus.
This is a time for co-parenting. While recognizing that co-parenting is not easy, and recognizing that some people are even impossible to co-parent with, and a time where the rules of what we are going to do in both households should be discussed by both parents. Whether you do it by phone, email, in-person, or text messaging, this conversation is important.
Importantly, the conversation should not devolve into a blame game or name-calling. To that end, avoid using accusatory language, keep your cool, and focus on the issue at hand. Talk about what you are doing or want to do and ask if they are willing to do the same.
If they are not agreeable, as discussed in the prior question, we can discuss whether the situation is serious enough to warrant court intervention.
We caution parents from withholding a child from the other parent because you do not believe they are taking the pandemic seriously enough. On April 1, 2020, the Arizona Supreme Court wrote, “A parent is not permitted to deny parenting time based upon the other parent’s unwillingness to discuss precautionary measures taken, or belief that the other parent’s precautions are insufficient.”
You should follow the schedule that you would have followed if life was normal. The rule here is, “If, under normal circumstances (i.e., school being in session), would Father have the children? If yes, Father gets the children. If no, Father does not get the children. The Coronavirus has not extended his summer parenting time beyond that of what it would normally be.
On April 1, 2020, the Arizona Supreme Court defined what school breaks mean in a parenting plan. The Court wrote,
While schools are closed, parenting time should continue as if the children are still attending school under the school calendar of the relevant district.
Since the spirit of the agreement also contemplates sharing, the parents might have to come to a temporary agreement for how the kids can travel to Colorado during the summer safely.
No, she cannot. Mother cannot unilaterally change a court order. On April 1, 2020, the Arizona Supreme Court wrote, “The COVID-19 pandemic is not generally a reason to deny parenting time. However parents should use common sense during this health emergency to protect the safety of their child(ren).”
You have the right to file a Petition to Enforce Parenting Time, just like always. We would encourage settlement and try and figure out why the other parent took this action. You can get help from the court if she refuses. She can also petition the court to modify the parenting plan but has to meet legal hurdles to do so.
Most likely not. Most parenting plans, like yours, assign holidays and special events with terms like “odd years” and “even years.” If this is the case, then next year, an odd year, will not be your year.
You do have some options, though. You can talk to the other parent and ask them to agree to give you next year’s birthday. Or you can make the best of it: Throw your daughter a nice, creative celebration on her birthday while still practice social distancing. Then, on her half-birthday, maybe you can throw her the big party you had in mind. That way you would actually get two birthdays this year and will be ahead of the game.
The best exchange practice for social distancing is to have the receiving parent drive to the other parent’s home and for the other parent to send the child out to the receiving parent’s car. This negates the need for the receiving parent to the exit the vehicle and allows the child, if necessary, to go back in the home and retrieve any items the child may have forgotten to bring with them. If this will not work for you, the Supreme Court suggests choosing a location where few people congregate to limit exposure to items that may have been touched. If your usual exchange location is closed, find somewhere nearby. If it is necessary to have supervised exchanges you should follow the guidelines in your parenting plan. If that person or agency is unable to supervise, you can or agree an on alternative person to supervise the exchange.
As of April 1, 2020, there is no order restricting the travel deemed essential and “necessary travel” for parenting time exchanges. If travel for exchanges becomes restricted, parents should work together to encourage and facilitate contact and communication between the other parent and child to keep things as normal as possible.
This is something that the other parent and you should discuss and see if a different arrangement can be reached, such as either ground travel or postponing the start of parenting time. On April 1, 2020, the Arizona Supreme Court gave guidance to parents in your situation. It wrote, “If the children’s exchange under the parenting plan includes long distance or air travel, parents should review the CDC travel guidelines and discuss whether ground transportation for the exchange is preferable or possible … If the parents cannot agree, the parties shall seek direction from the court..”
No, you do not. As of this time, the police cannot ask for documentation that your travel is essential. As the Arizona Supreme Court explained on April 2, 2020, “Pursuant to section 2e of Governor Ducey’s Executive Order, no person will be required to provide documentation to support their essential activities.”
This is your decision (unless there’s a Court order in place regarding the grandparents having access to the child). The advice from experts, though, has been that this is a time to skip visits between children and their grandparents. While it may hurt in the short term for both grandparent and grandchild to not see each other, it is the best way to ensure there are many future visits between them. If the grandparent is tech savvy, this may be a great time for visits to happen on Zoom or Skype.
The coronavirus does not suspend the Court order. On April 1, 2020, the Arizona Supreme Court wrote, “Third-party visitation orders, including grandparent visitation, shall remain in effect unless modified by the court consistent with these guidelines.” But this may be a time to talk with the grandparent and ask that for the safety of the grandparent the visits be suspended. You can offer makeup visits when the world returns to normal. If the grandparent is not agreeable to suspend their visits, then the visits need to continue until the Court orders otherwise.
As of April 1, 2020, the Arizona Supreme Court reaffirmed that the stay-at-home order does not alter your parenting time schedule. We advise parents to continue to follow the order. If circumstances require a change, parents should either come to an agree or if agreements cannot be reached, they may want to consider filing with the court to change the order. The Supreme Court also stated that, a parent who refuses without good cause to comply with a parenting time order is subject to legal penalties, which may include being held in contempt of court, fines, and sanctions.
Ultimately, you’ll need to work together to make the right decision for the safety and well-being of your child and any others that could be exposed to the parent who tested positive. We would encourage you to self-quarantine and suspend parenting time while allowing ample visual or videoconference parenting time during the suspended time. Down the road, the Court may order for suspended parenting time to be made up when appropriate and requested. If you cannot agree, you should consider filing an emergency motion.
No, you cannot. Rather than quit paying your child support, you should file to modify your child support payments. Under Arizona law, your child support obligation is your first financial priority. Ideally, you would pay the full amount, but if you can’t pay the full amount, you should pay as much as you can. We’ve met many people who did not modify their child support when they went through a financial hardship and instead just quit paying child support. They often find themselves in dire financial circumstances as result. The law is not on the side of the person who falls behind on child support. By law, child support accrues interest at ten percent annually, child support cannot be discharged in bankruptcy, and the court will not go back and look at what the child support should have been in the past. The best strategy is to pay your child support and modify it when these difficult circumstances first arise. Your worst financial strategy is to not pay any child support.
No one knows for sure of the outcome, but the courts are still open and lawyers are still practicing. So, if you have suddenly lost your job, you might consider modifying your child support and/or your spousal maintenance. First, the Court will determine if the loss of job meets the legal standard for a modification. Then the Court will determine what the new child support amount should be.
Child support is generally modifiable. Spousal maintenance is different: if you have an agreement for spousal maintenance, you most likely have language in the final paperwork that the payment are non-modifiable. Can they still be modified? If the two of you agree to a modification, it can be.
Normally, you can only file for a long-term modification of child support. But during this time, the Arizona Supreme Court has authorized the filing a motion for a temporary modification of child support. Which one you file might depend on what has happened with your job during the coronavirus.
Not at this time. The Arizona Supreme Court has only authorized temporary modifications by motion for parenting time and child support.
Most likely, depending on the circumstances. The Court generally holds a trial/evidentiary hearing before ruling on temporary orders motions, absent an emergency. The changes to the Rules of Family Law Procedure concerning temporary orders are brand new, on a temporary basis, and may impact how the Court moves forward with certain motions. The Court could proceed without a trial or may delay certain hearings depending on the reasons for needing a modification. We recommend talking to one of our attorneys about your specific situation to discuss more on modifying your parenting time or child support orders.
If you are unable to see your child, we suggest phone calls and video chats when possible. Explaining to your child that it’s not that you don’t want to see them but you are aiming to protect them. Between you and the other parent you may want to ask for more time with your child in the future as make-up time.
When you share joint legal decision-making, you cannot withdraw your child from or change their school without the two of you agreeing to do so. Without such an agreement and you do not want your child in school on May 1st, you may want to consider filing a Petition to Modify Legal Decision-making and an Expedited Motion for Temporary Orders Re: Legal Decision-making.
If you decide to file a Petition to address the school issue, you will need to ask for either sole legal decision-making or joint legal decision-making with final decision-making authority on a temporary basis. The concern, though, is there may not be enough time to get a ruling from the Court before May 1st.
Without an agreement or a change in legal decision-making, the children remain in the school they are enrolled. This puts parents in a quagmire: Do you send your child to school and risk their health or do you not send them and risk their grades and running afoul of the state’s truancy laws? The school is not putting parents in a good position with their decision to reopen.
Another option for you is to voice your concerns directly to the school. Ask the school if they have or will consider creating any alternatives for students who do not wish to physically resume the school year on May 1st. You are likely not the only parent with this concern. Additionally, there remains a distinct possibility that a state or local government may not allow school to resume on that date.
This is a situation where you might want to consider filing a Petition to Modify Legal Decision-making. The urgency here is not as great because we’re talking about school resuming in August. Aa petition filed now might still be pending come August because the Courts do not move quickly. So you may need to request temporary orders.
There are some things you may want to consider before filing a Petition. First, you will be asking the court to make a permanent change. While the Arizona Supreme Court has authorized temporary modifications of parenting time and child support by motion, it has not made a similar allowance for legal decision-making. Second, once a permanent change of legal decision-making is in effect, the Court cannot change legal decision-making or parenting time for at least one year absent an emergency.
This means if you have other custody concerns, such as wanting a change in parenting time, those concerns should be raised in the Petition. Additionally, if either legal decision-making or parenting time has been decided by a Court order in the last year, the same law that requires a one-year waiting period may also bar your Petition from being considered unless the judge considers your situation to be an emergency.
You’ll need to unenroll your child from the private school and file an Affidavit of Intent with your home public school district, indicating that you wish to home school your child. A.R.S. § 15-802 requires such an affidavit to be filed whenever a student is starting or terminating home schooling or private schooling. An Affidavit of Intent can be found here: https://www.afhe.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/affidavit_of_intent_to_homeschool_rev2019.pdf.
Yes, you can. For initial petitions, the two downtown courthouses (ECB and CCB) are open and accepting in-person filings. All other satellite courthouses closed to the public. In Arizona, law firms have been designated as an essential service and will remain open during this pandemic. A divorce started now might not go to trial until the end of the year or possibly even the start of next year. Filing now may put you ahead of the game.
This is dependent on a variety of factors. The decision whether to get divorced is 100% yours. Things to consider are joint financials, living arrangements, safety of home life, the current state of parenting time, etc. If you are concerned about your spouse’s spending habits, you may need to sever the marriage to protect yourself from responsibility of debts incurred.
Yes, it is possible. In fact, you can have Best Law Firm draft and file your Court documents, alleviating the need for either of you to step foot in the Court room. Some documents will need to be notarized and we suggest safe ways to do so.
We suggest starting in mediation to reach an agreement you are both comfortable with. Best Law Firm is offering Zoom video mediations to help resolve family law issues, and we can also assist with Court paperwork to help avoid needing to step foot in the courthouse.
We are doing consults over phone or video conference, so there’s no reason to delay being fully informed while you are considering your options. We have met with many people in your situation—people who are pondering a divorce and just want to learn more about the process and what their life might look like after divorce. That is an important conversation to have with an attorney so that you can make an informed decision. We do not push you, one way or another, on whether to divorce. That is your choice, but we will make sure you are fully informed.
It depends on whether you have established yourself as a legal parent and whether you have also taken the next step to establish custodial rights with the Court.
If you are not a legal parent, you have no rights. If you are a legal parent, then you have rights, but no “teeth” because nothing to enforce. But if a parent is going to be unreasonable, they may get away with it in the short term, but the Court will not be pleased and could affect how the Court rules on legal decision-making and parent time, and the Court may even sanction the Mother. For these reasons, we encourage fathers to establish their rights and for mothers to be cautious in withholding children from fathers.
That said, if you haven’t established your rights, the mother of the child can make the decision to withhold your child from you at any time. This is true all the time, not just with the on-going pandemic. If you are an established father with the Court, she cannot do that.
We’d encourage you to try to reach an agreement with the mother regarding your child regarding visitation. If you cannot reach an agreement with mother, you should consider establishing your legal rights as a father through the courts. To do this, you will need to file a Petition to the Court to legally establish paternity, a parenting plan, and possibly child support.
Yes. If you were never married and you never legally established your rights with the court, the mother gets to decide what happens with the child until you establish your rights. A mother changing her mind regarding access is one of the risks you run by operating outside a Court order. Courts move slowly, so you may want to consider filing to establish your rights and requesting temporary orders. The good news is that the Courts will likely disapprove of her decision withhold the children from you when an agreement was in place, but it is also a possible a Court might side with her because of the on-going circumstances.
As stated above, if you were never married, and a Court has not issued a Parenting Plan, the mother gets to decide what happens with the child and the terms by which she will allow you to see your child. You can either let her inspect your house or you can file with the Court to Establish and wait for a Court order to be in place.
She cannot permanently block you from establishing paternity. You always have the right to go to Court and establish paternity and request the Court order a DNA test. It may be slower than usual right now because the Courts are operating under some restrictions for the safety of their staff. Additionally, labs that normally handle paternity testing may be prioritizing other testing right now to help combat the coronavirus.
During this time, we suggest exercising parenting time in the parent’s house. Now more than ever it is a safe place to avoid exposure to others and germs. Other activities like riding bikes, playing catch, or simply taking a stroll around the neighborhood for fresh air and conversation. Please be mindful of social distancing, following the CDC recommendations, and abiding by Arizona’s Stay at Home Order.
Though child support is voluntary at this stage, we recommend you consider continuing to pay it. Under Arizona law, child support is not related to access or visitation. Child support is for your child, not your child’s mother. Also, if you ever plan on legally filing for paternity, the support payments can help your case and help you avoid back payment of child support. If you continue to make voluntary payments, make sure you keep copies and records specifically labeled in case you need to produce them at a later date. If you’re paying by Venmo or some other electronic means, label it “child support.” This prevents her from claiming those payments were gifts.
Yes. The Court is accepting new petitions and motions. In-person hearings regarding “essential services,” including Order of Protection Petitions, Contested Hearings on Orders of Protection, Emergency Motions for Temporary Orders, Hearings on Emergency Motions for Temporary Orders are being heard downtown at East Court Building and Central Court Building, checking in at ECB only. All satellite courts are CLOSED to the public (e.g., Northeast, Northwest, Southeast). Telephonic Status Conferences at all courthouses can continue during this time. Courts do not work quickly under normal circumstances, and we expect them to take even longer under the circumstances here.
Yes. We are fully equipped to handle our business as usual using remote technology. Our physical office, however, is not currently open to the public other than extreme circumstances. We can, and will, continue to serve our clients with the highest level of professionalism.
For our current and new clients, we are offering phone and video conferencing. As a team, we are practicing social distancing and following the guidelines of the CDC, WHO, and government officials to be socially responsible during this pandemic.
Absolutely. The Courts remain open and we are accepting new clients. Family law issues, now more than ever, need attention and resolution and we are here to help.
During this time of concern, we are fully functioning remotely and in office on a need-only basis. Technologically speaking, our business operations remain stable and highly effective to meet our client’s needs. The government deemed law firms as an essential service, and we are taking this very seriously to ensure there are no gaps in representing our clients.
Notes from Judge Cohen’s April 23, 2020 Virtual Townhall about COVID -19 and its Impact on Family Court
The Hon. Bruce R. Cohen, Presiding Judge, Family Department Maricopa County Superior Court discussed all of the COVID-19 Changes the Family Court.
Arizona Supreme Court Statewide Guidelines or Parenting Time (April 1, 2020)
Arizona Supreme Court’s Covid-19 Page:
Maricopa County Superior Court Family Department Update (4/2/2020):
Link to AZ Courts Administrative Orders for Judicial Branch:
Admin Order 2020-59 Regarding Updates to Notaries under Rule 14(a) and Temporary Orders Motions under Rules 47-48, ARFLP (4/3/2020):
Temporarily, the written verification for the following documents can be signed without notarization if accompanied by a copy of the filer’s driver’s license or other government-issued ID is attached:
Prior to this order, all other documents in family court could be signed without a notary, although certain documents would need to be signed under penalty of perjury (such as a verification for a Petition or Response). Those rules remain in effect.
Association of Family and Conciliation Courts Website:
Seven Guidelines for Parents Who Are Divorced/Separated and Sharing Cstody of Children During the COVID-19 Pandemic:
News Articles and Other Information Related to Divorce and Child Custody:
To donate to the Navajo Nation Medical and 1st Responder Assistance see below: