Twelfth Circuit Chief Judge Kimberly C. Bonner last week signed an Administrative Order on Parenting Procedures in the Family Division During COVID-19 Pandemic. The Administrative Order covers divorce and parenting/custody matters in Sarasota, Manatee, and DeSoto Counties.
In essence, the Administrative Order directs parents to follow any parenting plan that has been established and cooperate in making alternate arrangements if exchanges were to take place at now-closed schools or daycare. If a parenting plan has not yet been established, the Order directs parents to permit and facilitate access of children to the other parent. The Administrative Order reads, in part, as follows:
WHEREAS, the World Health Organization has declared the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) a pandemic, the Governor of Florida has declared a state of emergency exists, and the Surgeon General and State Health Officer have declared a public health emergency exists, and the Florida State Courts must take steps to mitigate the effects of COVID-19 on legal proceedings and participants in those legal proceedings; and
WHEREAS, since March 17,2020, the Florida Supreme Court has issued various Emergency Administrative Orders found at https://www.floridasupremecourt.org/Emergency , which include ordering the cancellation or postponement of all non-essential in-person hearings, and this court entered Administrative Order 2020-4.2, setting forth COVID-19 Emergency Procedures and Mission Essential Functions; and
WHEREAS, on April 1, 2020, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis entered Executive Order 20-91, referred to as a “Safer at Home” order, which orders all persons in Florida to limit their movements and personal interactions outside of their home to only those necessary to obtain or provide essential services or conduct essential activities; and
WHEREAS, it is necessary to reduce the number of “emergency” filings and hearings in family division cases until non-essential in-person hearings resume; and
WHEREAS, it is in the best interests of the parties and child(ren) that parents continue to perform their duties and responsibilities of co-parenting, share the additional responsibilities of parenting through this time, and that the parties comply with all existing court orders and court rules; and
NOW THEREFORE, pursuant to the authority vested in me as Chief Judge of the Twelfth Judicial Circuit of Florida, under Rule 2.215 of the Florida Rules of Judicial Administration, it is hereby ORDERED:
1. APPLICATION AND TERM OF THIS ORDER.
a. This Order is intended for all family law matters regarding parental responsibility and time-sharing, to be utilized and complied with immediately in all existing and newly filed Family Division cases in the Twelfth Judicial Circuit. However, this Order shall not supersede or modify any existing injunction for protection, criminal “no contact order,” or dependency order which is in conflict with these provisions.
b. This Order shall remain in full force and effect until further order of the Court. This Order does not preclude an individual Judge from modifying or amending a previously entered order in individual cases where the Judge deems necessary. Any part of this Order not changed by a subsequent order shall remain in effect.
2. CONTACT WITH BOTH PARENTS; SHARED PARENTING
a. The Court expects all parties to continue to adhere to all final judgments, temporary orders, settlement agreements, or other orders of the Court awarding parental responsibility and/or decision making and/or time-sharing. The Governor’s Executive Order 20-91 does not restrict or prohibit time-sharing. Executive Order 20-91 does not excuse parents of their obligation to comply with time sharing and other provisions in their parenting plans, which includes transportation. Should one parent be unable to exercise time sharing due to COVID 19, that parent must immediately notify the other parent, by whatever means available, so that alternative means of contact may be arranged.
b. Unless otherwise prohibited or restricted by an existing Court Order, each parent shall permit and facilitate access of the child(ren) to the other parent.
c. Regular time-sharing as set forth in a Parenting Plan shall continue until the date the School District or Official governing the child(ren)’s school as designated in the parties’ Parenting Plan, announces the last day of school at which time summer time-sharing shall begin as per the Parenting Plan. If a child’s school has ended classes for the 2019-2020 school year, the summer timesharing schedule incorporated into any current Final Judgment or current Order shall begin immediately.
d. Exchanges that were to take place at a child(ren)’s school or daycare that is not currently open should be arranged between the parents in writing by email, text, or a parenting computer application. In the event the parents cannot agree on an alternate arrangement, a motion shall be filed with the Court to be handled in accordance with any subsequent Administrative Orders related to COVID-19 procedures.
e. Video-conferencing and/or phone or other electronic contact shall be honored as set forth in the parties’ Parenting Plan or as agreed to by the parties and should be increased to “regular and consistent contact” to alleviate fears and concerns the child(ren) may be experiencing during this time.
b. The parties and attorneys shall comply with existing procedures regarding the cancellation of existing appointments (i.e. medical and school appointments, etc.). Wherever possible, parties and attorneys shall make good faith efforts to cooperate in converting existing appointments to virtual or telephonic venues.
DONE and ORDERED in Chambers, Sarasota, Florida, this 2nd Day of April, 2020.
Kimberly C. Bonner
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