Do I need to follow my parenting plan due to the COVID-19 Stay in Home Orders?
Many parents are wondering, do I need to follow the Court Ordered Parenting Plan if I have concerns over COVID-19? How do the stay in home orders affect my parenting plan?
The answer is very complicated. In short, the Court expects you to follow the Court order. Failure to follow the Court orders can result in Contempt of Court. If you are held in contempt two or more times in a three year period, you could lose parenting time or even primary custodial parent status. Under RCW 26.09.260 a basis for modification is “The court has found the nonmoving parent in contempt of court at least twice within three years because the parent failed to comply with the residential time provisions in the court-ordered parenting plan, or the parent has been convicted of custodial interference in the first or second degree under RCW 9A.40.060 or 9A.40.070.” Additionally, if you are held in contempt you will be ordered to pay attorney’s fees to the other party.
In order to avoid following the Court order, the best practice is to obtain a new Court order.
However, obtaining an emergency or expedited Court order has become increasingly complicated. The Clark County Courthouse is currently operating under Emergency Docket Rules, placing limits on the number and types of hearings it is accepting. The latest Clark County Superior Court Emergency Orders are here: www.clark.wa.gov/superior-court
What do you do if you have legitimate health concerns about a child exchange due to COVID?
What if you or your child is at risk of exposure? Do these risks to health outweigh the risk of being held in contempt? Will the Court excuse contempt of court based on the health risk factors in your individual case?
I have dealt with parents who are illegitimately using COVID as an excuse to withhold parenting time; I’ve also encountered parents who have serious concerns about their own health and what they could be exposed to if the regular parenting schedule occurs. There is no black and white answer at this time – we don’t know how the Courts will handle this but we can give advice on best practices.
The best thing you can do for your child is to work something out with the other parent. The time, hassle and expense of going to Court can be enormous strains financially and emotionally.
What can be done to mitigate risk? Can you agree to share daily temperature readings for the child and parents? Agree not to leave the house?
“Makeup time” should be granted without hesitation. If you feel strongly your child should not be in the other parent’s home at this time, be prepared to offer full makeup time and let the other parent have full discretion on when that time will occur.
Additional best practices can be found on this link from The Association of Family and Conciliation Courts (AFCC) and the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers (AAML) – “Guidelines for separated parents during the COVID-19.” www.thecenterforfamilylaw.com/afcc-aaml
If you cannot work out an agreement with the other parent, we are here to help. We are still “open” and working during COVID and accepting new clients. All appointments will be by phone for the foreseeable future.