Last week, an emergency room doctor from Miami lost custody of her four-year-old daughter amid increasing coronavirus fears.
The order was granted by Judge Bernard Shapiro of the Eleventh Judicial Circuit of Florida. The reasoning behind the ruling is that the child should remain with the father to limit the risk of possible exposure to the coronavirus:
"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," the court ruling states.
The doctor, Theresa Green, previously split custody with her ex-husband, Eric Greene, for two years. He requested an emergency order for full custody last week.
Losing Custody During Coronavirus Because of Your Job
The recent outbreak of coronavirus has led to increased divorce rates, divorce inquiries, changes to child custody orders, and even refusals of visitation orders. It has also had a huge effect on how parents are co-parenting. Amid fears of exposure to coronavirus, many parents now face issues related to exchanging children, stay-at-home orders, and more.
"The unknown relevant consideration is whether doctors and nurses truly have a higher probability of infection compared to the general public at large. Some recent studies are showing that vast percentages of the public may have the infection, and are asymptomatic," says Matthew Irwin, a family lawyer from Men's Rights Family Law Firm in Cape Coral, Florida.
Greene states that she has done everything in her power to protect herself and her daughter. She feels that the order discriminates against her and other frontline healthcare workers:
"I think it's not fair, it's cruel to ask me to choose between my child and the oath I took as a physician," Greene told CNN. “If I was married I'd be given the opportunity to go home to my child, no one could tell me I shouldn't do that.”
Greene says that she has been wearing full PPE (personal protective equipment) while treating patients. She also states that she has been taking every measure possible to protect herself and her child.
What Are In the Best Interests of the Child?
According to Irwin, removal of a parent's custody rights is typically only done when a child is put at risk:
"Florida law prohibits removal of a parent’s time-sharing unless there is competent substantial evidence that a child is in danger of physical harm. Arguably, the father in this case presents just as much risk as the mother. That, combined with the fact that child mortality rates are extremely low from COVID, make this ruling subject to appeal for lack of requisite evidence." Irwin states.
Eric Greene's attorney, Paul Leinoff, states that the court’s decision was reached based upon the child's best interests and safety:
“A decision was reached based upon the best interests and safety of a minor child, limited to the temporary circumstances presented by COVID-19,” Leinoff said in a statement.
So, should a custody agreement be changed to protect a child from exposure to coronavirus? A child’s best interest is paramount when determining a child custody order – but most custody orders don't take into account the extenuating circumstances and events that occur during a global pandemic.
The fact is, there are no straight answers to these types of questions because they are all so new.
The Future is Unclear
This ruling raises yet another concern among healthcare workers working the frontlines of the pandemic: is it right to force someone to decide between saving a life and raising a child?
While the ruling does provide for "future make-up time-sharing" and daily video calls, Greene states that she has no way of knowing when she will be able to see her daughter, as the future of the pandemic is still unclear.
She is now appealing the order.