The COVID-19 pandemic continues to greatly affect South Carolina and the rest of the country, and our essential healthcare workers are on the front lines. They’re doing the most difficult work in the nation and deserve the utmost respect. Unfortunately, this can put many family custody agreements into disarray. And, as one ER doctor works tirelessly to care for the people of her city sickened by the coronavirus, she found herself served with an emergency court order that changed her child custody agreement and separated her from her daughter.
In early April, Dr. Theresa Greene, an ER physician in Florida, was served with an emergency child custody order from her ex-husband Eric and his attorney. Although Dr. and Mr. Greene have had shared custody of their daughter since their divorce two years ago, Mr. Greene filed for a temporary full custody order, citing concerns about their child’s exposure risk to the COVID-19 virus.
His request was granted, with Florida Circuit Court Judge Bernard Shapiro stating, “The Court does not enter this Order lightly but given the pandemic in Florida and the recent increase in confirmed COVID-19 cases, the Court finds in order to insulate and protect the best interests and health of the minor child, this Order must be entered on a temporary basis.”
Dr. Greene successfully appealed Judge Shapiro’s decision, which was overruled on April 14 by Miami’s Third District Court of Appeals. For now, she may continue sharing custody of their daughter per usual, but this legal battle is not over. “While we are beyond grateful for today’s ruling, we know that this matter is far from over. We will continue to work diligently for Dr. Greene, her daughter and all the other first responders and medical professionals,” said her attorney.
Child custody issues in South Carolina
The Supreme Court of South Carolina recently issued a memo regarding the operation of trial courts during the coronavirus pandemic. Under the section titled “Family Court,” the memo contained the following information.
Family Court. The following additional guidance is provided regarding the Family Court:
- Granting of Uncontested Divorces. The Family Court may grant an uncontested divorce without holding a hearing where:
- The parties submit written testimony in the form of affidavits or certifications of the parties and corroborating witnesses that address jurisdiction and venue questions, date of marriage, date of separation, the impossibility of reconciliation and the alleged divorce grounds.
- The written testimony must include copies of the parties’ and witnesses’ state-issued photo identifications.
- Any decree submitted by any attorney shall be accompanied by a statement, as an officer of the court, that all counsel approve the decree and that all waiting periods have been satisfied.
- Should either party request a name change in connection with a request for divorce agreement approval, that party shall submit written testimony to the Family Court in the form of an affidavit or certification addressing the appropriate questions for name change and the name which he or she wishes to resume. This relief shall be included in any proposed Order submitted to the Court for approval at the time of the submission of the documents related to the relief requested.
2. Consent Orders under S.C. Code Ann. § 63-7-1700(D). Where all the parties consent and the Family Court determines a child may be safely maintained in the home in that the parent has remedied the conditions that caused the removal, and the return of the child to the child’s parent would not cause an unreasonable risk of harm to the child’s life, physical health, safety, or mental well-being, the Family Court may order the child returned to the child’s parent without holding a hearing.
3. Hearings Generally. With respect to all contested hearings in family court, including agency matters and private actions, both temporary and permanent, all hearings should be conducted in accordance with section (c)(3) of this order.
This deadline may be extended, depending on how conditions with this pandemic develop. However, what this means is that, aside from criminal matters, judges are only hearing family court cases that need immediate emergency relief. These can include domestic violence or child custody orders if the child’s welfare is in danger.
In order to prevent misunderstandings and health issues, we recommend the following guidelines when sharing custody:
- COVID-19 is not a reason to deny parenting time or defy child custody orders. Parents are considered fit to care for their children, following local and state health directives, unless otherwise directed by the court.
- If a parent or household member is sick or diagnosed with coronavirus, inform the other parent as soon as possible and work together with a healthcare provider to ensure the safety of your child.
- Put a “pandemic plan” in place for your child and the other parent in case of unforeseen circumstances.
At Holland Law, I want to remind you that I’m here to consult with you regarding all matters of family law. Whether you need me to review a temporary custody plan for this difficult time, or assist you with an emergency order, I can help. To schedule a consultation in either our Fort Mill office on Gold Hill Road, or in our Rock Hill office on Oakland Avenue, please call 803-288-3885 or contact us online. Our team serves clients in the York, Lancaster, and Chester County communities.