As a parent, you’re concerned about coronavirus and want to do everything possible to safeguard your kids — and yourself — from this fast spreading health risk. But as a divorced co-parent, you’ve also got the added pressure of needing to coordinate COVID-19 precautionary measures with your ex.
Could COVID-19 disrupt your parenting plan? When is it not safe for your kids to travel to see their other parent? What about international custody? The family law attorneys at Reed Longyear have been fielding a lot of calls from parents with urgent questions about coronavirus and its impact on residential schedules.
Please note that the information below is generic. Parenting plans are as unique as the families to which they belong. To get answers that directly apply to your situation, we offer attorney consultations via phone and video conference during Governor Inslee’s “Stay Home Stay Safe” order. Please email email@example.com to schedule an appointment to discuss your questions.
Question: I’m having a hard time juggling working from home and parenting when the kids are out of school. What can I do?
Answer: If possible, now is a great time to work with your ex to figure out a temporary residential schedule that applies while the schools are closed. If you both work similar hours, can one or both of you adjust your schedule? For co-parents on decent terms, creating a temporary parenting time schedule may only take a matter of hours to arrive at a workable agreement. High conflict co-parents may be better off enlisting the help of a mediator to get a schedule in place without delay. An attorney will be able to help you understand your options.
Question: Do the children have to go to my ex’s house during the “Stay Home Stay Safe” order? Can’t they just stay with me?
Answer: The Governor’s order does not affect your residential schedule and you should plan on your children going to your ex’s house for their regularly scheduled visitation.
You may be tempted to disregard your order and refuse to exchange the kids for any number of reasons. Before going this route, be aware that unilaterally deciding “I am not letting the kids see you,” without first getting an agreement from the parent or going to court, can land you in hot water. Washington courts take interference with custody and visitation seriously. Potential remedies for refusing to follow parenting orders include basically anything the court thinks would be fair and appropriate, including changes in the parenting plan.
To ease your mind about the children going to your ex’s house, try to establish some agreed rules for hygiene, travel, and activities at both houses based on government recommendations. Reducing your risk and your children’s risk for contracting coronavirus means that when your children are in your care, you are taking precautions such as frequent hand washing, limiting crowd exposure, following the Governor’s orders regarding staying home, and not traveling to coronavirus hot spots and/or avoiding unnecessary travel. If your child has a compromised immune system or other underlying health condition, more rigid procedures may be needed to limit your child’s exposure. As part of parenting time planning, you and your ex should try to establish protocols that you both agree to follow to protect the health of everyone in the family.
Question: I’m concerned that my children will be exposed to the virus at my ex’s house. Do I really have to let my kids go to there for visitation?
Answer: It is important in this stressful/fearful time to open lines of communication if you can. Try calling your ex to talk over your concerns. For all you know, your ex is also worried about the kids being exposed to the virus at their house, too, and wants to discuss alternatives. Could your ex do video chats with the kids instead of having visitation? Can you come to an agreement that you will give the extra visitation time in the summer vacation to make up for lost time over the next month and/or until the COVID-19 crisis wanes? If you can reach your own agreement, enlist the help of your lawyer to put it in writing.
Question: What should I do if someone in my household or my ex’s household contracts coronavirus?
Answer: Right now, while everyone is healthy, is a great time to talk with your ex about a contingency plan if someone in your family gets sick or requires quarantine. If one of you contracts coronavirus, where will your children stay? Do you have someplace to go to remain in isolation as needed/directed? Is your health insurance and life insurance up to date? Do you and your ex know the symptoms of COVID-19 and have current contact information for your child’s doctor and your own? Do you have a stock of basics at home in case you and your children must remain in isolation: water, non-perishable food, toilet paper, etc.
Question: My ex and I have a horrible relationship and do not communicate well at all. What points can I focus on to make sure we’re on the same page with protecting our child from coronavirus exposure?
Answer: One of the best ways to deal with a high-conflict parent is to stick to the neutral facts. To make sure you are on the same page, consider taking the following steps:
- Make sure you are fully informed about the virus by visiting the CDC’s website, Washington State’s official coronavirus website, and the county website where you and your ex live. Review the latest recommendations on COVID-19.
- Ask your ex to let you know if anyone they know has tested positive for COVID-19, and request to keep the child away from that person and from anyone else that person might have been in contact with.
- Teach your child good hygiene— including good hand washing techniques and not touching their face with their hands. Make sure your child understands that these practices should be performed wherever they are — your house, at school, at their other parent’s home. Let your ex know that you are following these precautions and ask for their support.
- You can also consult with your child’s pediatrician for guidance and share any helpful or necessary information with your ex. This is especially important if your child is immunocompromised or has another underlying health condition.
Question: What else should I be thinking about?
Answer: Try to be flexible when things “get back to normal.” If your residential schedule over the next few months is significantly disrupted, be prepared to possibly entertain changes to your summer and/or holiday schedule to make up for lost time.
In addition, consider getting help from a family law lawyer. Whenever you make a change to your parenting time or custody schedule, it’s important to have a family lawyer help you put these changes in writing. If you must give up significant parenting time due to emergency school closures, for example, having this properly documented will help you get this time back in the future. If you and your ex feel stumped on how you can arrange emergency closure parenting time, a family law attorney can walk you through your best options.
Have more questions about child custody, parenting time, and COVID-19? We can help. Reed Longyear attorneys are offering consultations via phone and video conference during Governor Inslee’s “Stay Home Stay Safe” order. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule an appointment to discuss your questions.