By Shayla McKee
While the world struggles to cope with the stress of the novel coronavirus, we find that the stress in our homes is no less. Navigating a co-parenting relationship at the best of times can be difficult, but nothing can prepare us for parenting under these new and developing circumstances.
On March 23, 2020, Washington State Governor Jay Inslee issued Proclamation 20-25: Stay Home – Stay Healthy. This order requires all Washington state residents to remain in their homes except when performing essential activities. These activities include exercise outdoors, purchasing groceries and necessary supplies, and seeking medical attention. This also includes the exchange of children under valid Parenting Plans and Custody Orders. Specifically, the proclamation allows for the care and transportation of family members in another household and in your household for necessary supplies and services and for essential health and safety activities. This would include the court-ordered exchange of children between parents.
Why should this be considered an essential activity?
Under the United States Constitution, the right to parent one’s child is a fundamental constitutional right, that the government cannot and should not interfere with unless actual harm will befall a child. In the present environment, those limitations still apply. Though Gov. Inslee has closed most work places until at least May 4 (at the time of publication) and all schools for the remainder of the school year, there has been no guidance from either the Executive Branch or the Judicial Branch of our state government indicating that the exchange of children would constitute actual harm to the children in question. Currently, each county judiciary is issuing its own guidance for these circumstances, if any guidance at all. Skagit County has issued some of the clearest guidance, which can be found at the link below. If you are unsure about how your county is handling these developing circumstances, or your county has not issued updated guidelines to help, the most prudent choice may be to follow your school district’s calendar in combination with your parenting plan.
How does this affect your family?
While it may feel like things are not or should not proceed normally at the present time, the court expects us to continue following its orders. We know that the court does not look kindly on withholding children in the best of times, and we can only imagine how poorly received contemptuous actions will be when taking advantage of an ambiguities during an international crisis.
How should you proceed when it comes time to exchange your child?
The best rule of thumb we have currently is to follow the letter of the law and comply with orders. If exchanges are scheduled to occur when school is released on a Friday, the exchange should still occur at the same time, though the location may need to change. This includes schedules for spring break, summer break, and other holidays addressed in your parenting plan. For additional contact, parents should take full advantage of FaceTime, Skype, Zoom, and other videoconferencing services, especially if a child must be isolated from a parent due to travel restrictions, illness, and visitation restrictions.
What should you do if you believe your child has been exposed to the virus?
As with any illness, the best course of action is always to talk to your child’s other parent first about your concerns, to see if you can come to an agreement as to how to address this concern. The next step is generally to speak with a medical professional about your concerns and follow their recommendations.
We at Brewe Layman understand that this situation is frightening and frustrating, and we are here to help in whichever way we can. Our office remains open for phone consults and other electronic contact in order to answer your questions and address your concerns. This article is intended to impart general legal information and is not a substitute for legal input from an attorney who is familiar with your particular situation.
Please consult the links below for additional information: