While the ongoing coronavirus pandemic has disrupted the daily lives and routines of many families, one mother recently found her world turned upside down. A Florida emergency room doctor temporarily lost custody of her child because of her profession and the close proximity it puts her to potentially infected individuals. While she is appealing the emergency order granting full custody to her ex-husband, the case has stirred debate over the cost healthcare and other frontline workers are being asked to pay.
"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," Dr. Theresa Greene, an emergency medicine physician in Miami, told CNN. "Yes it is severe and there is danger, and we're being very careful. We use every thing we can. I've actually worn [personal protective] equipment above and beyond to protect myself and my child."
With Florida's number of confirmed coronavirus cases continuing to rise — the state has over 20,000 confirmed cases as of April 13 — Greene's ex-husband sought an emergency court order last week temporarily granting him full custody of the couple's 4-year-old daughter until the current pandemic is over. In his ruling on the case, NBC Miami reported Circuit Judge Bernard Shapiro said the court was not issuing its ruling lightly and stressed the temporary basis of the order.
"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," Shapiro's ruling read, according to NBC Miami. "The suspension is solely related to the outbreak of COVID-19."
In a statement to CNN, an attorney for Greene's ex-husband said his client had requested the order grant his ex-wife "future make-up timesharing for each day missed during this challenging time." The order also grants Greene daily video communication with the child, according to CNN. "Mr. Greene and I have the upmost respect for Dr. Greene's commitment to her critical work during this pandemic," attorney Paul Leinoff told the news outlet. "We recognize and genuinely appreciate the sacrifices that she and all healthcare workers are all currently making to save lives and prevent further illness in Florida and around the world."
But to Greene, the order suspending her custody rights feels far from appreciative. In fact, Greene told both CNN and NBC Miami that she felt the judge's ruling was discriminatory. "How can you tell me because I'm divorced that I can't come home and, obviously after a shower, that I can't come home and hug my daughter?" she told NBC Miami. "It's really discrimination against divorced parents."
While some on social media have characterized the ruling as a necessary measure to ensure a child's physical health, critics have cautioned it could set a dangerous precedent. "What's to stop the father from using this same argument about any disease that the ER doctor [could] potentially can be around," one Twitter user questioned. "The flu is much more severe in children than COVID-19 is, so does that mean all healthcare workers lose custody of their children [at] flu season?" Another said, "This is disgusting — we need to support our frontline health care workers, not punish them."
In his statement to CNN, Leinoff said his client's emergency order for full custody should not be applied to every couple or situation: "The Greenes' temporary timesharing dispute was presented before the Court based upon the specific facts of this individual family and a decision was reached based upon the best interests and safety of a minor child, limited to the temporary circumstances presented by COVID-19. The Court's ruling was not intended to serve as a blanket rule, nor should it."
While Greene told NBC Miami and CNN she plans to appeal the court's decision, she currently has no plans to step away from her job as an ER doctor. "I won't abandon my team at work or the patients who will increasingly look to me to save their lives in the coming weeks, but it's torture," she told CNN of being separated, even temporarily, from her 4-year-old.
If you think you’re showing symptoms of coronavirus, which include fever, shortness of breath, and cough, call your doctor before going to get tested. If you’re anxious about the virus’s spread in your community, visit the CDC for up-to-date information and resources, or seek out mental health support. You can find all of Romper’s parents + coronavirus coverage here, and Bustle’s constantly updated, general “what to know about coronavirus” here.