Coronavirus Concerns Lead to Custody Battle

05/20/2020



Recently, NBC news reported on the story of Dr. Theresa Greene, an emergency room physician, and a divorced parent of a four-year-old daughter who splits her time equally between mom and dad. That is however, until the father, Eric Greene, asked for an emergency order demanding sole custody until the pandemic is over, and got it.

In his court order, Circuit Judge Bernard Shapiro wrote, “In order to protect the best interests of the minor child, including but not limited to the minor child’s safety and welfare, this Court temporarily suspends the Former Wife’s timesharing until further Order of Court. The suspension is solely related to the outbreak of COVID-19.”

Florida courts have long recognized that there can be extraordinary circumstances that can affect agreed upon parenting plans. However, such an order requires a true emergency situation, such as where a child is threatened with physical harm or is about to be improperly removed from the state. Trial courts have to make every reasonable effort to allow both parties to be heard before issuing an emergency modification order. When prior notice isn’t possible, an opportunity to be heard should be made as soon thereafter as possible. If an order doesn’t make such a showing, they are consistently overturned unless there is evidence of a sufficient emergency.

Trial courts, however, are required to enter emergency temporary orders modifying custody of a child even though sometimes the court has to do so without even giving prior notice to the other side. If the Court’s ruling stands, the doctor would not be able to see her child until May 31st, when the Courts may reopen, leaving the child for 60 consecutive days with the father, barring any access to the mother.

Lawyers for Dr. Greene challenged how this decision could possibly be in the best interest of the minor child and questioned whether it is the stance of the Family Court that if any medical professional who may come into contact with Covid-19 patients should have their timesharing suspended indefinitely.

After a filing a writ with the Third District Court of appeal, the appeals court ruled in favor of the motion to stay the order while the appellate court continues to decide on the judge’s initial order. Temporarily, the doctor will continue to split custody time with her ex-husband, but this is an ongoing case, one that other co-parenting medical professionals on the frontlines are surely paying close attention to.