Parenting Plans in Times of Covid-19

A Covid-19 outbreak that started in China in December of 2019 has become a pandemic. Its origin is reported to be from a seafood and meat market in the Hubei capital called Wuhan. By the middle of January the following year, it began sweeping rapidly across Asia and other continents. Covid-19 has now spread to around 70 locations with the United States and Italy getting hit the most.

As of 22nd March 2020, Covid-19 resulted in more than 350,000 confirmed cases and more than 15,000 deaths globally. Not only that, but the coronavirus crisis also rendered many business operations paralyzed, creating a considerable impact on the economy worldwide.

Aside from this, Covid-19 is also causing a lot of problems in different aspects of people’s lives. For co-parenting individuals, this pandemic has put them in situations they were not prepared for. What will happen with the legal custody in case one of the parents gets ill with the virus? What about child support and medical expenses in case the child gets sick with the virus? Let’s have a look at that and more in this article.

Washington Parenting Plans: An Overview

The Washington Parenting Plans outlines the functions of parents as authority figures in the life of their child or children. As described in Chapter 26.09 of the Revised Code of Washington, here are the parenting functions that each must divide and share:

  • Sustain the child’s physical care. It entails providing the child with food, clothes, physical care, supervision, health care, and other essentials.
  • Nurture the child’s emotional security and stability by maintaining a loving, nurturing, and stable relationship with the child.
  • Protect the child from being exposed to a parental conflict that may result in emotional and mental distress.
  • Provide for the child’s needs without modifying the plan as he or she grows. It includes financially supporting the child’s fundamental needs for education, health care, and the likes.
  • Protect the child’s best interest and to exercise sound judgment about what is right and best for the child.
  • Encourage the child to have good relationships with his or her siblings, friends, and relatives.

The objective of parenting plans is to thoroughly explain the responsibility and authority of each parent concerning the child. Aside from working out a parenting-time schedule, the parenting plan will also discuss how the parents will share responsibilities and decision-making rights (in case of mutual decision-making authority). There will even be parenting plans provisions for resolving conflicts or disputes that may arise in the future.

The Impact of the Coronavirus Pandemic in Parenting Plans

A lot of parents may already be experiencing unexpected situations brought about by the coronavirus crisis.  Perhaps one of the parents is furloughed without pay, and thus won’t be able to fulfill his or her financial duty to the child. Can it be a ground to modify child support? Maybe one of the parents tested positive for Covid-19 and requires quarantine measures. Will parent-time still happen?

The time to think about a contingency plan for the said scenarios would be now — if they haven’t, yet. The first thing both parents will have to do to is to go over their existing parenting plan. Chances are there may already be provisions as to what will happen if one or both parents become ill and unable to look after the child.

But whether or not this kind of situation is covered in the custody or parenting order, it is advisable to reach out to the other parent. A pandemic is an unusual situation, and it is good if both parents harmoniously agree on a contingency plan.

There may be a lot of possible scenarios to cover, but the core consideration would most likely be about:

  1. What will happen to the parent-time if one of the parents gets infected with the coronavirus?
  2. What will happen if the mutual child gets sick with the coronavirus?
  3. What will happen if a member of either household tests positive for coronavirus?
  4. What if one of the parents, a member of either household, is suspected of carrying the virus (PUM or PUI)?

It’s an emergency that quite understandably warrants immediate decisions from both parents. Realize, however, that any decision both parents may arrive at will not permanently change the parent-time and custody orders.

Obviously, in this case, the only reasonable course of action is to forfeit parent-time temporarily. It is for the sake of the child’s safety if a parent or a member of either parent’s household tests positive for Covid-19.

In the meantime, both parents may arrange for a virtual time between the child and the sick parent. It will allow the ill parent to still spend time, albeit virtually, with their child. They can video chat and even enjoy online games together. If this is not possible, the sick parent may have extra parenting time to make up for the times not spent together due to the illness.

Keep in mind that this is just a temporary set-up and that the court order still holds significant bearing. A good assurance that this set-up is only temporary is to put it in writing. Indicate that the regular parenting schedule will resume when both parents and any member of their households is clear of Covid-19.

Practical Tips on Co-Parenting in Times of Covid-19

Co-parenting can be already stressful; add a pandemic, and it becomes even more complicated. Here are some practical co-parenting tips to get through these difficult times:

  1. Both parents must work together.

A child’s daily contact with friends and other support system has become limited, if not stopped altogether. It may leave the child feeling left out, bored, and frustrated. At this point, their parents are the only support they see that they have.

It’s an excellent time for both parents to demonstrate the stability of this support system to the child and preserve their confidence in this system. Work together and be flexible and even generous with parenting possibilities for the child’s benefit. Focus on what is best for the child.

  1. Keep the other parent informed.

Send the other parent updates that may impact a child’s parenting time with them. If changes are inevitable, talk about how to make the transition as smooth as possible.

  1. Minimize online media exposure.

Internet may be rife with sensationalized news coverage and rumor-type items that may promote fear and panic. Parents should limit their child’s exposure to these, and clarify any misinformation the child may have picked from the internet.

  1. Help the child understand.

Parents should have a conversation with the child about the current outbreak at a level that he or she will understand. Include what the family and the community are doing about this situation. Encourage the child to ask questions and provide the appropriate answers.

  1. Schedule some activities.

Amidst social distancing and home quarantine, some people still find a productive, creative, and fun use of their time. Encourage the child to do something new — read a new book, try listening to a new album, or try some new series. Parents may also consider having their child participate in an online learning opportunity offered by some educational institutions.

  1. Maintain the child’s emotional stability.

He or she may be coping with a disrupted parenting pattern in times of a dreadful health climate. The child’s nervous systems may be on high alert, always anticipating unpleasant events and missing out on love and connection. Help the child cope and keep his or her emotional stability. Always reassure him or her how much he or she is loved and appreciated.

Parenting and Financial Considerations

The coronavirus pandemic disrupts the typical parenting plans, among other things. It is a legitimate fear that a child may get infected with the virus from spending some parent-time with the other party. It is completely reasonable to worry about the child’s financial support now that most businesses are shutting down due to the pandemic. But one cannot just withhold what had been agreed on regarding the parenting plans.

It is common sense to keep the child out of the danger’s way; one, as a parent, would naturally and instinctively act on this impulse. But don’t let panic and fear get in the way of rational thinking.

  • Agree on a decision.

Discuss the situation and try to come up with a mutual decision, always with the child’s best interest in mind. The guidelines described earlier in this article would be helpful to avoid conflicts about parenting plans.

  • Communication is key.

The concerned parent should reach out to the other and make sure that he or she understands the other parent’s unease. For instance, both parents should discuss which one of them would stay home with the child in case the child gets sick or needs to be quarantined.

Plan on who will care for the child while the school is closed and he or she must be home. Avoid unnecessary arguments as it’s already a stressful time for everybody by maintaining open communication.

  • Prepare to be flexible about finances.

As business operations are put to a halt, lay-offs and other work crises result in lesser or no income. It’s a problem for parents who are providing regular child support.

If in an amicable relationship, the custodial parent may agree to delay child support payment of the other parent. In this situation, the agreement should be done in writing. But what if this is not the case and the other parent still demands payment?

In Washington, a court can adjust child support amounts, but only after a petition to modify is filed with the court, and only under certain circumstances. But with the present Covid-19 crisis, this is yet to be known. It is best to consult with an experienced attorney for guidance and advice.

Let an Expert Family Lawyer Be Your Ally in These Stressful Times

With regards to a court order, many parents are opting to stretch a little when reasonable and needed, especially in times like this. When this happens, a few modifications in child support and custody agreements may be necessary to fit the current circumstances.

To help you make a better decision about modifications and parenting time choices in times of Covid-19, seek the help of an experienced family lawyer at Whalley Law. Contact us today for family law assistance in Pierce, King, & Kitsap County.