Co-parenting can be difficult under the best of circumstances. The added fear and emotional turmoil of the current COVID-19 pandemic and the stress of remaining at home during Governor Inslee’s Stay Home, Stay Healthy orders are fraying nerves and causing uncertainty over what we can and cannot do. The Order encourages everyone to remain home and to limit unnecessary travel, which has left some parents worried about parenting plans and transporting children between households to exchange custody. Additional worries exist over the health and safety measures that may differ between the parent’s households or in some cases about the risk of coronavirus exposure where one parent is considered an essential worker and is therefore continuing to work outside of their home.
Parenting Plans during COVID-19
When Parenting Plans are issued by a court in Washington they are binding court orders and must be followed by all parties. Courts may modify Parenting Plans when there has been a substantial change of circumstances in either the parent’s life or the child’s life and the change to the Plan is in the child’s best interest. The existence of the Stay Home order and general fear of contracting COVID-19 alone are not considered to be a substantial change by the Court but there are exceptions for emergencies. Governor Inslee has clarified that the Stay Home, Stay Healthy orders were not intended to prevent compliance with a private Parenting Plan.
In a media release from March 26, 2020, the governor encourages parents who are co-parenting under a 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.” While communication with your child’s other parent may seem difficult, really focusing on the best interest of your child while assessing the situation with fairness to everyone in mind may go a long way towards finding an avenue for communication and compromise during these unprecedented and extremely demanding times. The Association of Family and Conciliation Courts has issued some basic guidelines for co-parenting during the COVID-19 Pandemic which may be helpful.
Temporary Modification of a Parenting Plan
During the current Court closures, if parties cannot resolve the issues between themselves or mutually agree upon temporary modifications, the Courts may hear emergency matters on parenting issues where the health and safety of a child or adult is at risk due to COVID-19. In such a situation, the Court may allow a temporary modification of a Parenting Plan or non-parental custody order based upon the facts of the individual case. Any party seeking a temporary modification may request an immediate Order and Order to Show Cause in the Ex Parte Department ‘if it is an emergency and there is an imminent threat of irreparable harm” due to COVID-19 issues.
If the Court grants a hearing, parties and their attorneys will be notified and the matter will be heard telephonically. Any temporary modification order will be limited to the duration of the Governor of Washington’s Proclamation or Orders limiting travel or contact due to the current COVID-19 emergency. At that time, the parties shall immediately resume the prior Parenting Plan or non-parental custody order unless they have filed a Petition for Modification or they have obtained an Ex Parte Emergency Restraining Order.
If you find that your situation cannot be resolved with open communication and cooperation, you may need to seek the help of the Court to protect your child’s best interests. Please contact us at email@example.com or (253) 236- 4079 if you have questions about your Parenting Plan.