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Child custody issues arise amid Colorado's stay-at-home order

One aspect of the COVID-19 crisis that may have slipped under the radar is what happens with family law and child custody cases? An expert explains.

DENVER — Colorado's stay-at-home order has parents who share custody of their children seeking legal advice about the order and its impact on the custody of their kids. 

We spoke with Suzanne Griffiths with Griffiths Law in Lone Tree to help answer some of those questions.

(Editor's note: Responses have been edited for context and clarity.) 

9NEWS: How have the courts been addressing disputes regarding children during this time of COVID-19?

Griffiths: The unfortunate situation is courts are only dealing with emergencies at this point, so we have motions to restrict parenting, endangerment situations, and we have protection orders for domestic violence; anything beyond that, we really have very little court assistance available.

This does add a new element for many families that split time with children. What if a co-parent were to argue that a child would be in a danger because of a stay-at-home order or because of COVID-19 exposure?

Griffiths: Currently, the stay-at-home order allows for an exception for travel. So all parents are expected to travel and transport their children between homes. So, there's really no exception unless there is illness, or a positive COVID test, etc. The position hold is essentially, if you can go to the grocery store and you can buy liquor at the liquor store, you can transport your children. 

Say you are someone who pays child support, maybe you lost your job or were furloughed due to COVID-19. Is there an allowance for that?

Griffiths: At this point in time, the courts are not doing anything about people who are in financial difficulties. What clients are doing is they are essentially contacting the other spouse and saying, 'I cannot pay, would you give me a break?' And if they won't give them a break, some are just not paying, some are trying to pay what they can. 

We are recommending that people file motions to modify child support now, to get retro-activity, but these are things that are going to get resolved down the line. Courts are dealing with life-and-death and endangerment situations, and financial issues at this point are not considered an emergency. 

If the courts are not available, are there other avenues that parents or people in this situation can travel that might be able to help them? 

Griffiths: Judges are telling people to be solution-orientated. Try to find a solution. We are referring people to mediators, we're doing mediation, arbitration, domestic decision-makers to try to resolve disputes with parents. But essentially people are on their own, and if they can't work it out, it's a problem. Most parents are being great and they are working things out. We're all in tough situations, and they really are trying very hard to work things out for the most part.

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