No one could predict that a global pandemic in 2020 would change the world as we once knew it. School-aged children face sudden and radical changes to their educational environment that no other generation of Americans have undergone. Many children have stopped attending classes at school and are attending classes online via zoom. Extracurricular activities have stalled, and some children must wait until next year to engage in competitive sports. Without notice, this new reality changed the landscape for many negotiated and well-settled parenting agreements, visitation schedules, and parenting plans. Oftentimes, court-ordered parenting schedules are centered around the children’s school and extracurricular activities. For fighting parents, this can leave one parent without any parenting time, if school or an extracurricular activity is how the parties exchanged the children without communicating or seeing one another, especially for parents subject to an Orders of Protection. Without a formal school schedule, it could cause further disagreements regarding pick-up and drop-off times, and the existing court orders no longer applies so police enforcement may not be an option. There are an unlimited number issues this pandemic may cause for separated parents.
When government officials started announcing school, business and court closures, the Domestic Relations Circuit Court of Cook County addressed some of the more common parenting issues that could arise from this pandemic by entering Administrative Order 2020 D 8. Specifically, this Order mandates that despite global changes, the parenting order that was previously entered by the Court remained enforceable and that the parties were required to adhere it. The pandemic did not constitute a “change of circumstances” that would deny a parent the right to spend time with their child. The regular parenting schedule still controlled when the parents had possession of their children. This Order further clarified that online learning and even school closures due to the pandemic were not considered “a day-off from school.”
However, the reality of Covid-19 is that changes may be appropriate. One parent could be an essential worker and the other parent may work from home via zoom. With this situation, a modification of the parenting time is appropriate if the parties can successfully reach an agreement. The Domestic Relations Court did not want to limit the parties’ ability to agree to a modified parenting schedule so the Order further provides, “nothing herein prevents parties from altering a possession schedule by agreement if allowed by their court order(s), or courts from modifying their orders. Parties are strongly encouraged to act in the best interest of their children and are strongly admonished from taking acts that would imperil the physical health of any child, including unnecessary or discretionary travel.” So, if parents can agree, situational changes are welcomed.
The main focus in every case before a Domestic Relation judge is determining what will serve the best interest of the children and applying it. It is in best interest of all children to maintain a loving relationship with each of their parents, if possible. Administrative Order 2020 D 8, plainly states that this pandemic alone, cannot and will not cause a child to lose the ability to spend time with both of their parents for any significant period of time.