Client: I am worried about my custody arrangements in light of the current coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. How do all the orders and proclamations impact my parenting plan? Can I leave the state for a pre-planned trip?
Lawyer: First, check the specific rules in the State you are in as well as those in the states where you plan to go. If you plan to travel outside of Washington, then you should research the rules and any shelter-in, social distancing, or lock-down rules in the state you are visiting.
Second, you need to read your parenting plan/residential schedule closely to make sure that you understand it and that there are no loopholes. You likely have a court order that did not contemplate this pandemic.
Third, depending on how much you get along with the other parent, you should consider agreeing on some basic rules. Within a family unit, creating an effective social distancing plan can be as simple as adopting rules for parents and children to follow within their respective homes. Even for divorced or separated parents, social distancing and staying healthy when children are going back and forth between two households can be achieved by agreement.
Divorced or separated parents with good co-parenting relationships may be able to agree on social distancing measures that both households will follow to meet their children’s best interests. And for parents of children who are high-risk or vulnerable. Perhaps it is easier said than done, but it is essential for everyone’s well-being to reach clear agreements on how to keep their children safe.
Client: But what if parents can’t agree? What if one parent continues to work outside of the home in a high-risk area? What if one parent refuses to social distance and has friends (or others) coming in and out of the home, or continues to take the children on play dates or to public places?
Lawyer: The social distancing and shelter in place orders usually do not directly affect custody orders, so you should expect to follow your current custody arrangement. But if you believe sending your child to your ex’s home would put your child’s health or safety at risk, you should speak to your child’s other parent and try to agree on a modified custody plan. This would be temporary and outside of the court record, but nonetheless, should be acknowledge and/or signed if possible, even by email/text. If that fails, you’ll need to contact a local family law attorney and/or see if you can obtain an emergency temporary child custody order from your local family court. Many courts do not consider these issues and will reject hearing the matter because is does not fit the definition of an emergency. So, you must go back to the other parent. If communication fails, then your lawyer could suggest setting up a mediation via teleconference to see if a temporary agreement can be hashed out.
If you have additional questions, call Van Siclen, Stocks & Firkins.