Single Parent in Clark County? You Need to Know This About Your Custody and Child Support Agreements
Co-parenting, custody, and child support agreements can be stressful at the best of times — add in a global pandemic and its effects, and it can all become overwhelming overnight.
This is especially true if you live in Clark County, Washington. The county has recently made some big changes to how they're doing family law during the COVID outbreak, leaving many of my clients confused and stressed. Here's what you need to know:
Hearings are suspended
The Clark County Superior Court has suspended all but the most urgent family court hearings through April 24th. This suspension may be extended, and it definitely won't end earlier. If you had a hearing scheduled before then, it has been stricken, and you will need to file a new notice of hearing for after April 24th. If you have an emergent issues (such as temporary restraining orders, child safety concerns, and the like) you may request a special set hearing by contacting the office of the judicial officer assigned to your case.
Rulings still apply
Despite the courts being mostly suspended, all family law orders are still in place. This includes:
— Child support
If you're paying child support, you still need to pay your child support. If you can't pay your child support because of lost earnings or unemployment due to COVID, you can call the Washington State Division of Child support to talk through your options. If you're on the other end of this situation, and your co-parent is not paying child support, you can not withhold parenting time from them. Your parenting time agreements still stand.
— Parenting plans
If you have a court-ordered agreement for parenting time, you have to follow it. While schools are out of session, this is not considered a break or a holiday, so you should follow your normal schedule as much as possible. For instance, if your agreement states that one parent gets the child after school, use an approximation of the time the exchange normally would have happened if school was in session. You can not withhold parenting time if you feel the other parent is not following social distancing guidelines or the particular kind of schedule you have set up in your home.
— Child exchanges
Child exchanges are deemed essential by the county, so if you're living in an area where you're allowed to go out for things like groceries and walks, you still have to do your child exchanges. This still applies if your child is sick with something that's not COVID.
If your parenting plan requires your parenting to happen in a public place, you should do it at a place like a large park or on a hike. If you can't make that happen, then the parenting time should be done long-distance via computer or phone. This also applies if your parenting time has to be supervised, and you can't get a supervisor.
What's more, if your parenting time is impacted by COVID and related issues, you and your co-parent should try to work out an agreement about make-up time after this is all over.
— Impossible or dangerous circumstances
If you're in a circumstance where you truly can't follow your parenting agreement — for instance, your child would have to get on a flight and they can't do that — then you and your co-parent need to work out a way to give each other as much access as possible to the child via video conferences or phone calls.
I know that's a lot of information, but long story short, you need to do your best to follow your parenting plan and be as flexible as you can with the whole situation. This is a really good time to take things slowly and try to work together to solve problems that arise during these weird times.
And, if you need help with that, I'm here for you. I've converted my mediation practice to being completely online now, and am more than happy to help you work through whatever you're experiencing. (And because I've adjusted my work schedule to accommodate people during this time, I've often got appointments available on short notice!)