Our Seattle Visitation Law Firm is Here to Help You During COVID-19
Washington courts are currently limited in their ability to decide family law issues as a result of COVID-19. Therefore we recommend considering other options for dealing with issues that arise during this unique period. Those options include mediation, collaboration, and arbitration, all available to be done remotely to keep everyone safe. Your Seattle visitation attorney can discuss these options with you in more detail. The family law team at Seattle Divorce Services is here and available to assist with any or your concerns.
Certainly shelter in place orders raise many issues about complying with or modifying current visitation arrangements and other child custody issues. In general, I would expect any decision maker (court or arbitrator) to focus less on whether visitation should happen and more on how to make visitation arrangements happen as safely as possible. Therefore that is probably the best way to look at these stay at home order issues ourselves.
How Does Shelter in Place Affect Child Visitation in Washington? Do We Still Have to Follow Our Parenting Plan?
If you already have a parenting plan in place, I would certainly caution against taking self-help measures and refusing to follow the plan.
Likely the best option in these cases is to try to work out some temporary adjustments to your plan with the other parent. If you are not able to come to an agreement on your own about how to do visitation safely during the shelter in place period, consider hiring a mediator or arbitrator to help.
Pro tip: When talking to your spouse about changing arrangements, avoid attacking, accusing, or threatening. Those tactics just cause the other person to withdraw and get defensive, making it even harder to come to agreement. Instead, invite the other person to help you come up with a solution that works for both of you and your children. People like to help, and asking for help tends to strip away defensiveness.
How Can We Protect Our Children During the Coronavirus Risk Period?
Be aware that there is the possibility that Covid-19 risks could go up and down for some time, whether there is currently a shelter in place order or not, if there are waves of infection going around as people try to go back to more normal life. And that it is not just a matter of protecting the children, but also of protecting the rest of the family from having the children bring home infections.
One possibility is to cut down on the number of transfers between homes by extending the stays. For instance, instead of having children spend half of each week with each parent, you could start having them spend a week or two at a time with each parent. Simply doubling the amount of time each parent currently has would cut in half the number of exchanges needed.
You could also agree that there will be no stops while transporting the children. If there are no stops, there should be no increased risk of infection. If there is concern about having no control over each other’s home environments, you might be able to reach some agreements on what measures are used in both homes to safeguard the children. If there is something you want the other parent to do that they are not 100% convinced is needed, you might try offering to do something they would like to see that you are not 100% convinced is needed. (Some quid pro quo always helps.)
You could even agree to the children staying with one parent until restrictions are lifted, but specifically agree with the children will get to spend an equal amount of time with the other parent after the restrictions come off (or at some other future time, such as during upcoming school breaks).
Another tool that many families are taking advantage of is video conferencing. While not the same as a physical visit, being able to see and talk to each other on a screen still helps keep connections going and relieve stress about extended absences. Even setting up daily video visits could give the children something to look forward to, and give the parent in place a small break.
Do some brainstorming with your Seattle Child custody lawyer to come up with other strategies that might work for your family during this shelter in place period.
What If The Other Parent Is Denying My Visitation Because of COVID-19?
First of all, the other parent does not have the right to take unilateral action halting parental visitation during the Coronavirus crisis, even under shelter in place orders. However, when and if the issue gets before a court, consideration may well be given to their reasons for taking such drastic action. Make sure you are not acting in such a way as to give the courts reason to feel the other parent’s actions were justified.
Make sure you are taking all reasonable precautions to protect your household from infection, and complying with(if not even going a bit above and beyond) any and all government orders and recommendations. DO NOT be that parent that is taking the kids to play with friends, going in closed parks, or engaging in other social activities that may be seen as risky.
This may be a good time to make some concessions to the other parent’s concerns about the safety of visitations during Coronavirus. Cooperation rather than fighting during this stressful time can pay dividends down the road. Even if the attempt to work out cooperative solutions is not successful, being able to point to the efforts you made to be cooperative may go a long way with the court if you do end up there in the end.
Agreements could include deferring some child visitations until it is safer to have them, having longer periods of time with each parent so there are less exchanges, doing more video visits, and agreeing to specific sanitation and social interaction measures for both households.
If the two of you just cannot come to agreement, consult with a Seattle child custody or child visitation lawyer to determine what other steps could be taken. This is of course complicated by the partial court shutdowns, but hopefully the courts will be open again for all types of matters in the near future.
However, it may be possible to at least reach agreement to submit the issues to mediation or arbitration. If the other parent is acting out of genuine concern for the children rather than simple vindictiveness, bringing in an outside professional can help. This might even involve both of you talking to a child specialist or pediatrician.
Let Our Seattle Child Visitation Law Firm Answer Your Questions
When you need to discuss child visitation or your parenting plan during the COVID-19 outbreak, call us at 206-784-3049 or use our Request An Appointment form to make an appointment for an initial consultation where we can further discuss the specifics of your case. To help keep you safe during this Coronavirus crisis we offer both phone and video conference appointments.