Physician Parent Loses Custody over Covid-19 Fears

Pediatrician treating girl with her mother.

Covid-19 & Parenting

Even before Colorado issued statewide stay-at-home orders, parents all across the state were concerned and worried about parenting time and custody exchanges as more and more stories about Covid-19 filled the news. After Gov. Polis issued the stay-at-home order, Chief Judge Bain of the 4th Judicial District issued Chief Judge Order 20-16 Regarding Court Operations Under The Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) Advisory, which further clarified for panicked parents that yes, you must follow the court orders absent an agreement from both parents or a new court. 

And as if they do not have enough to worry about, now the very same first responders we count on to protect us are being discriminated against solely because they are helping others.

A New Battleground for Essential Workers? 

Despite courts across the country issuing orders that Covid-19 restrictions will not affect child custody, those essential workers who keep the country running and keep us safe can add courtroom drama to their challenges.

“I think it’s not fair, it’s cruel to ask me to choose between my child and the oath I took as a physician,”

Physician/Mother

Per CNN, a Florida judge issued a shocking order out of Florida, removing a child from the custody of her mother, an emergency room doctor. Dr. Theresa Greene was not a bad parent – on the contrary, she and her ex-husband shared equal custody over their four year-old daughter.

But her ex-husband convinced a judge that Dr. Greene, by savings people’s lives, had a higher risk of exposure to Covid-19, so the father should have temporary sole legal custody to protect the child.

Which means mom doesn’t know when she might see her child again in person even though she has tested negative for Covid-19 according to news reports. The circuit court judge did give her a consolation – daily video calls, and the promise of make-up parenting time on the back end. Pretty small comfort to a mother not able to see her 4 year old for the foreseeable future.

The decision is being slammed, rightly, nationwide, and Dr. Greene is appealing the decision. As her attorney said:

“Dr. Greene and I are disappointed with the court’s decision. We believe that the decision sets out a very dangerous precedent that could have a major impact on healthcare providers around the country who are risking their own lives while fighting to save others.”

4/15/2020 Addendum – the Dr. Greene’s saga continues, but The Hill reports that the Florida Court of Appeals has temporarily set aside the trial judge’s ruling, so the case has time to work its way through the system properly.

Doctors are not the only ones dealing with these fights in Florida. A Florida firefighter also faced an emergency motion to limit all contact until the state of emergency ends in Florida. It’s worth noting, much like Colorado’s state of emergency, a tentative end date is set but it is not set in stone, so who knows how long custody would’ve been effected. 

Luckily, the judge in that case disagreed that the father’s firefighting career posed a danger to the child and denied the motion. What happens with parenting time in that case is still up in the air, but at least the father did not lose custody of his child due to the pandemic. 

At this point, there is not a set trend in what courts are doing in response to these pandemic related motions. We have a doctor in New Jersey who lost custody in a same day emergency hearing and a California firefighter who beat his ex-wife’s request for temporary custody.  

Battlefield Colorado?

So far we’ve not seen any Covid-19 orders from Colorado courts hit the news. Guidance from the courts here in Colorado make it clear that judges will be skeptical of any Covid-19 arguments to restrict parenting time. 

Under Colorado Law, a motion to restrict parenting time must show that there is imminent physical or emotional danger to the child. C.R.S. 14-10-129 The courts have not defined what imminent means, or what physical or emotional danger actually entails so it’s up to the judge on a case-by-case basis to decide. What is clear though is that it can’t be mere speculation or concern about a parent. 

See our blog post on Parenting Time Exchanges During Covid-19 for more information. It seems unlikely that we’d see a Colorado judge restricting parenting time due to Covid-19 but only time will tell.

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