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Orlando Judge Denies Orange County COVID-19-Related Temporary Custody Request


If you have concerns about child custody and the possibility of modifying your time-sharing schedule during the coronavirus pandemic, you may have been following the story of Tabatha Sams and Stephen Thilmony, two Florida parents who share custody of their 21-month-old child. Thilmony works as a firefighter and emergency medical technician (EMT). Given Thilmony’s line of work, Sams was concerned that their child would be unnecessarily at risk of exposure to the novel coronavirus. Accordingly, Sam took steps to try to suspend Thilmony’s portion of time-sharing until the pandemic ends. According to a recent article in the Orlando Sentinel, a judge recently denied Sams’s order to modify child custody due to coronavirus risks.

This case is important for parents in the Orlando area to consider because it suggests that courts will not agree to deny parenting time to one parent who may be exposed to the coronavirus due to his or her essential job. We want to tell you more about this case, and then to say more about co-parenting during the pandemic.

First Responders Cannot Be Denied Time-Sharing Due to Coronavirus Exposure Risks 

The case started to discuss above began when Sam asked Thilmony to give her full custody during the pandemic, and for Thilmony to avoid seeing his child until the risks associated with the COVID-19 emergency had eased. Sams argued that having the child stay with her all the time, instead of splitting time with the other parent, “would help protect the boy from exposure to the new coronavirus because his father is a first-responder.” Thilmony did not agree to Sams’s request, and Sams asked an Orange County judge to modify custody on a temporary basis. More specifically, the article says that Sams requested “temporary custody until Florida’s state of emergency due to the viral pandemic ends.”

Orange County Circuit Judge Vincent S. Chiu heard the case and rejected the mother’s request. According to Chiu, “there was no evidence Thilmony was failing to take proper safety precautions or otherwise acting in a way that would endanger” the child. Judge Chiu specifically cited Thilmony’s testimony, in which he explained that Osceola County Fire Rescue “employs extensive policies and procedures to avoid exposure to COVID-19.” Thilmony’s fiancé is an emergency room nurse, but he also testified that she “works in a separate area of the hospital from where COVID-19 sufferers are treated.”

Implications of the Court Case 

The judge ultimately said that “there is no evidence indicating the continuation of time-sharing would subject the minor child to any risk of harm specific to the actions or behavior of the father.” Further, Judge Chiu underscored, “all of the evidence presented would be generally applicable to any number of individuals engaged in essential occupations necessitating interaction with the public.”

 Accordingly, the court ruling suggests that a parent’s occupation—which may or may not place him or her at higher risk of exposure to the coronavirus—is not a reason to modify a time-sharing arrangement as long as that parent is taking proper safety precautions. The court did leave open the possibility that the situation might be different when a parent who works in a field with increased exposure who is not taking a high level of safety precautions. Thus, simply working in a healthcare field while taking precautions is not sufficient to modify child custody. Parents in Orlando should keep this in mind when weighing whether to pursue a child custody modification.

Contact an Orlando Child Custody Attorney 

If you have questions about child custody, you should speak with an Orlando child custody & timesharing attorney as soon as you can. Contact Anderson & Ferrin to learn more about how we can assist you.




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