COLUMBUS (WCMH) — The doctors and nurses, firefighters and EMTs are on the front line in the war against the coronavirus, but now they are taking fire from an unexpected direction.

Health care workers are putting in long hours, taking care of the sick, and looking for ways to end the global pandemic

“I’m scared, I’m hurt, I’m exhausted,” said nurse Tiffany DeMarcus. “I’m really at a loss and I really feel there is nothing to protect myself at this point.”

DeMarcus needs protection — not from coronavirus.  As a long-time nurse, she already knows how to do that. But from the father of her young daughter.

“I was told by her father that I could not have her back because I was exposed to COVID-19 because I am a nurse,” she said.

DeMarcus said she is learning that health care workers, first responders, across the country are facing this same problem: ex-spouses defying court orders and refusing to share custody because they claim to fear coronavirus exposure.

“It’s breaking my heart,” DeMarcus said. “It is breaking my heart for my daughter, it is breaking my heart for other people in my position, it is breaking my heart for their children. It’s instilling fear in our children that we are sick and that they can’t be around us.”

It’s almost as if first responders and healthcare professionals have to choose between their careers and their children.

“I have been asked by many people if I can just quit my job so that I can just be a mom and I am very angry,” DeMarcus said. “I am a single mom. This is how I provide for my children. I can’t afford thousands of dollars in legal fees to fight.”

But, here in Franklin County, that might not happen.

“You have a court order,” said Domestic Court Judge Dana Preisse. “You are to follow whatever shared parenting or custody plan that you have until there is another court order and to punish these folks because they are saving lives and are out there on the frontline, you know, it’s just not right.”

Preisse said she conferred with other judges on the Franklin County bench, and they agree court orders for shared parenting must be enforced, even for health care workers.

“I mean, they are constantly exposed to different things at their worksite, so this doesn’t really change that,” Preisse said. “I understand the fear in the other parent, but I also think people could be taking advantage of that situation.”

Preisse said the parent who is withholding the child can be charged with contempt of court, can be ordered to pay all the attorney fees, and can be sent to jail for up to 30 days.