The current Stay Home, Stay Healthy Order may impact your parenting time/schedule if there is a court ordered Parenting Plan. While we cannot predict what an individual judge will order in a specific case, parenting is an extremely important right and responsibility. The court is required to first consider the child’s best interest.
This article provides some general guidance based on our interpretation of Governor Inslee’s March 23, 2020 order, his additional proclamation of March 26, 2020, and other information. We do not know how the courts will interpret the Governor’s Order as applied to Parenting Plans, but we can provide general guidelines for parenting while there is a Stay Home, Stay Healthy Order*.
This information is not intended to be legal advice for any specific case and it is provided for general informational purposes only. The below information is provided as of March 31st, 2020 and, as things are progressing daily, may not constitute the most up-to-date information.
- The Governor’s Stay Home, Stay Healthy Order does not change a current court order setting a parenting/residential schedule. His proclamation of March 26, 2020 clarified that the Stay Home, Stay Healthy Order does not prohibit compliance with court ordered parenting time.
- If you have court ordered parenting time, the schedule set forth in that order must be followed and residential time with children must be permitted where possible. If the government is permitting people to leave their homes to obtain groceries, gas, go for walks, etc., the court may find that child exchanges to comply with a residential/parenting plan are also essential. This, of course, depends on the specific circumstances of your situation such as a household member being diagnosed as having the virus, exposure to the virus, certain employment considerations, and children and/or household members who have health conditions that may place them in a high-risk category.
- If you are paying child support, you must continue to pay your child support obligation. If you are unable to pay your child support for any reason, you may discuss your options with the Washington State Division of Child Support at (800) 442-5437. If you are the parent receiving child support, you may not withhold parenting time because the other parent fails to pay child support.
- If your child’s school is closed, the courts have given no indication that parents are to treat the closure like it is spring break, a holiday or the summer schedule. Absent extenuating circumstances, parents should follow the regular school schedule, the holiday and school break schedule and all other residential schedules set forth in their current parenting time order.
- If your parenting time is to occur in a public place, find a place that allows the public to be present that is still safe. This may mean that your parenting time happens at a location that is an essential service, that you meet for a walk on a sidewalk or that it happens at another location open to the public. Do not violate or cross boundaries that are currently posted as closed. If there are no available public places (keep in mind that, for example, malls, restaurants, play areas are all closed), you should work with your children’s other parent to find an alternative. You might be able to agree to use the other parent’s porch. In some situations, it may not be possible to find a solution to accommodate in-person visitation and, if that is the situation, then consider other means of connecting children with their other parent for his/her residential time virtually.
- If your parenting time is supervised and the supervisor is unavailable to supervise the in-person parenting time and there are no alternative agreeable supervisors, you may have to schedule online-supervised parental time via Skype, FaceTime, video chat or telephone.
- Parents should try to comply with the ordered times, and, if a parent’s parenting time is going to be occurring remotely, realize that the full amount of parenting time may not be possible with online residential time.
- A sick child should still be exchanged at regular times unless the parenting order states that sick children stay with one parent, or the parents agree otherwise. If you have to take a child to the hospital, you should inform the other parent as soon as possible.
- Generally, the Court considers that each parent will protect the child when the child is with them. You should not withhold a child simply because you believe the other parent may not strictly enforce social distancing guidelines, hand washing or follow the same protocols you may be following in your home. Governor Inslee’s statement encourages parents with a residential and/or parenting plan to communicate with one another during this difficult time in order to both maintain family relationships and to protect the best interests and health of each child.
- Your children’s best interests are paramount and if the children are unable to be with a parent for their parenting time, the other parent should be offering make-up time and ample video and telephone calls between the children and the parent who with whom the children are losing their time. Makeup time should be liberally allowed for a parent whose parenting time has been impacted due to the Stay at Home Orders when in your child’s best interests.
- If you have an attorney, your attorney may be a good resource for you during this time.
If you have questions about how Stay Home, Stay Healthy may affect your specific Parenting Plan, please contact one of our family law attorneys.
The Governor’s orders and proclamations can be found at: https://www.governor.wa.gov/office-governor/official-actions/proclamations.
Child Visitation and Remedial Services Proclamation: https://www.governor.wa.gov/sites/default/files/proclamations/20-33%20-%20COVID-19%20DCYF%20Visitation-Remedial%20Services%20%28tmp%29.pdf
Additional information can be found on the Washington Courts’ dedicated COVID Response web page at www.courts.wa.gov/COVID19
American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers published Seven Guidelines for Co-Parenting during COVID-19: https://cdn.ymaws.com/aaml.org/resource/resmgr/newsletter/2020/03_2020/aaml-afcc-covid19-guidelines.pdf?fbclid=IwAR2FPD5uNXJN2AccM1ynQTy-ljbqonevmusV6Y1pgfTKBbvGefgPhLEKk8M
*The recommendations in the above article follow the Clark County Washington, Superior Court recommendations that can be accessed here: https://www.clark.wa.gov/superior-court/covid-19-family-law-information and the Spokane County Washington, Superior Court recommendations that can be accessed here: https://www.spokanecounty.org/DocumentCenter/View/31383/COVID-19-Family-Law-Information