TAMPA, Fla. - There’s no question that the COVID-19 pandemic caused unimaginable stress on families across the country. And in some cases, it’s playing out in family court.
Hillsborough Judge Wesley Tibbals has been busy. “Our courts are still working and we’re doing the best that we can,” Tibbals said.
He said he is seeing some cases involving medical professionals fighting for shared custody of their kids. It’s no surprise some cases can get contentious.
A parent in a custody dispute may be looking for a legal edge or advantage over the other parent, and these days, the pandemic could be it.
“In some cases, it’s just an overreaction to a potential exposure when, at least the facts, don’t bear out that this is a real danger to a child,” explained Tibbals.
Tibbals said there is always that potential of a parent abusing the process, but it won’t happen in his courtroom. “Hopefully we’re not going to see one party be in the position of punishing a healthcare worker. I think that would be unfair,” he offered.
In one extreme case, a South Florida doctor said she lost temporary custody of her child because of her daily exposure to COVID-19 patients.
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Certainly, more factors played a role in the judge’s decision, however, Dr. Theresa Greene doesn’t see it that way. “I really have no certainty and the end of the pandemic, I mean no one can say when that will be," said Dr. Greene.
Back in Tampa, another scenario playing out early on in the pandemic was custody sharing orders being ignored -- essentially, one parent takes advantage of the health crisis and refuses to share their child with the other parent.
Tibbals said that won’t be tolerated. “Unless it’s been changed, you need to follow that order already in place,” Tibbals explained.
Recently, the chief judge in Hillsborough County put out an administrative order reminding parents they are legally obligated to follow court orders.
Map of known COVID-19 cases:
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