We've received a lot of questions about shelter at home, quarantine, and parenting plans. Here's what you need to know. In general, you must follow your current parenting plan during any shelter-in-place order during the COVID19/Coronavirus crisis. Period. There will always be exceptions, but here's what you need to know.
1. Your parenting plan is a Court order. This is true in Idaho and Washington, where we work, and in many other states (please consult an attorney in your state if you are unsure). That means, if you do not follow your parenting plan, you are violating a Court order. The court doesn't enforce parenting plans unless one parent comes to the court and asks for enforcement, but technically not following a parenting plan means you are in contempt of court. This is civil contempt (versus criminal). Civil contempt does have penalties, including fines and possible jail time (jail time is a severe, and rare civil penalty). Your parenting plan is a court order whether or not it came from a mediation, a trial, a hearing, or an agreement. The only non-court ordered parenting plans exist between parents who never chose to file their parenting plan in an appropriate court. Those are not enforceable, and they are never a good idea.
2. What if the other parent will not give me my child(ren) as the parenting plan requires because of COVID_19? Again, this is technically a violation of the parenting plan. Document all the communications between you and the other parent. Save emails and texts, take notes of oral communications. Do not record any phone calls in Washington state unless you have actual, spoken consent from the other parent, as it is illegal (an actual crime in a two-party consent state). But, you are unlikely to be able to enforce the agreement and make the other parent provide visitation right now because courts in Washington and Idaho are only hearing emergency motions. Emergency motions in family law are things like domestic violence. Absent that, you can file a motion with a court, but it is unlikely to be heard until May in either state. Courts will not look kindly on a motion for contempt that is based on things like slightly late drop off or pick up - quite honestly, the court will view you as a jerk for doing that. So stop doing this during this pandemic and at all other times. Unless your parenting plan has a strict rule about how long you need to wait for drop off or pick up and unless the other parent is violating that regularly (like, every drop off and pick up), you are wasting the court's time.
3. Be reasonable. Try to be flexible with the other parent with school closures, school at home, and work from home. It is always a good idea to be reasonable, even if the other side is unreasonable. Take the high road; go high when they go low. If you are able to accommodate schedule changes with the other parent for the purpose of COVID_19/Coronavirus circumstances, then do it. Always assume that any email or text message you send will be read by a judge. A judge will not take kindly to you behaving badly, calling names, or being unreasonable, even if the other parent started it. Be an adult for your child, especially now. Adults do not name call or curse at the parent of their children.
4. What parenting plan do I follow? It is super unlikely that your parenting plan has a residential/visitation/custody schedule that says what you need to do in a pandemic. Since that is so unlikely, follow the parenting plan that best fits the circumstances. If your child is in school, even if s/he is doing school online at home, follow the school year plan. If your child is not school age, follow the current plan. If there's some exception in your plan that you reasonably believe applies, follow that plan.
5. What if the other parent is not social distancing or practicing other COVID_19/Coronavirus guidelines? This is tricky. In general, you still cannot withhold visitation from the other parent because they are not taking Coronavirus seriously. There's no law in Washington or Idaho at least that would allow you to keep your child(ren) from the other parent because they are not washing their hands enough. You likely do not have much say in this barring some extraordinary provision in your parenting plan.
6. What if there is violence towards me or my child? Immediately call the police/local law enforcement. Courts are still hearing protection orders, and they will provide you protection. Contact your local county courthouse immediately if you or your children are victims of violence.
7. What about child support? Like a parenting plan, child support is a court order. So, if you must pay it, keep paying it. If you have been laid off or are working less, unfortunately you are unlikely to be able to go back to court right now for a modification of what you must pay (again, this is not one of the emergency categories in Washington & Idaho that courts are limiting hearings to for now), so pay what you can. If you make payments that are less, absent a written agreement from the other parent, you may be responsible for any back support amounts that are not paid plus interest. If your financial changes are permanent, you will be able to go back to court to modify your child support payments, but be patient until the Courts re-open. If the other parent is not paying you, you can file a motion to enforce a child support order, but again, it is not getting heard at least until May in Washington or Idaho. If back support is needed, it will be collected at a later date if you can't get a hearing date before May.
If you aren't in Washington or Idaho, contact a lawyer in your state. If you need help in Washington or Idaho, contact us. Stay safe!
Every day there's new information from your home state and the federal government during the COVID_19/Coronavirus crisis. Since it's the beginning of the month, we want to explain the current status of rent payments (and mortgage payments) and dispel any misinformation.
1. Do I have to pay rent during Coronavirus? The short answer is yes. This is in every state. Unless your landlord has told you you can skip a month(s), you have to pay your rent. The same is true for your mortgage. Unless you've been granted a forbearance of deferment for your rent or mortgage, or if your landlord has offered rent forgiveness, you must pay.
2. But, what if you can't afford it? Pay what you can. Most states, including Washington and Idaho, have put a moratorium on eviction (renting) and foreclosure (mortgages). That means you can't be removed from your rental home or the house you own during the current shelter-in-place rules if you cannot pay because of the Coronavirus and your finances. It does not mean you cannot get kicked out for rules violations of other varieties. For example, Idaho has made clear that if you are using illegal drugs (including recreational marijuana), you can still be evicted. But, to be as clear as possible, it does not mean that you will not owe the rent or mortgage amounts you did not pay during the COVID_19 crisis. Those payments will be due at some point, and as of right now, there's no clarity if they will all be due immediately upon people being able to return to work and/or a lifting of any shelter-in-place/stay at home orders.
3. So, what should I do? If you can pay your rent or mortgage, pay it. If you can't or don't think you can pay it in full, pay as much as you can, as it may be due later.
4. If there is a rent or mortgage forgiveness order made by your state or the federal government, we will update this post. But, neither Washington nor Idaho nor the federal government have made any rule or law about rent or mortgage forgiveness.
If you have more questions, contact us (for WA & ID). Stay safe!
It's a scary time, but we are here to help. This post contains resources for Washington State residents needing financial relief with closures of schools and businesses. We will continue to update this post as we receive new information. Below are some options:
1. Washington State Paid Sick Leave. This has been mandatory for employers since January 2018. As an employee, you earn one hour of paid leave for each 40 hour period you work. This kicks in after your 90th day of employment. Your employer cannot penalize you or threaten your job if you take or use paid leave. We have blogged about this before, so here's what you need to know specifically about sick leave and Coronavirus.
If your place of business has been closed by a government official you can use Washington State Paid Sick Leave. So, if Gov. Inslee, for example, closed your employer's business, you can use paid sick leave if you are not being paid during this time.
If your child's school or day care has been closed for Coronavirus, you can use paid sick leave to stay home and provide care to your child.
An employer cannot require you to work from home if you've requested to use your paid sick leave. But, if you choose to work from home, you cannot use paid leave.
An employer that voluntarily chooses to close its business does not have to, but can offer, paid leave.
An employer cannot force you to use paid sick leave if you do not want to do so, but an employer can send you home if you exhibit symptoms of Coronavirus
If you have Coronavirus or any other illness, you can use paid sick leave.
Your employer may offer broader paid time off or sick leave beyond the Washington state program. Check with your employer for more details. Paid sick leave is run by the Washington State Department of Labor & Industries (L&I). More info is here: https://lni.wa.gov/workers-rights/leave/paid-sick-leave/index.
2. Paid Family & Medical Leave. This is a companion to the L&I program that is run by the Employment Security Department. You may know this agency as unemployment. This leave is available for Washington employees who have worked 820 hours during the past year in Washington. Self-employed people can opt-in to the program. but do not receive it automatically. Generally you can receive 12 paid weeks, but may be eligible for up to 18 weeks paid.
You can use it if you or a family member have a serious illness. You must apply: https://paidleave.wa.gov/.
3. Unemployment. This is always offered through ESD/Unemployment Office. You must have worked at least 680 hours (during the last 12-18 months) with part of those hours in Washington to receive unemployment in Washington State. If you have been laid off by your employer during this Coronavirus outbreak, you are likely eligible for paid, weekly benefits. You have to be an employee (not an independent contractor or self-employed person), but you can happily here: https://secure.esd.wa.gov/home/. Note that unemployment is not for people who are sick - it is for people who are mentally and physically able to work but currently cannot and cannot find a job at this time.
4. Other Paid Leave Programs. Your employer may offer options and some counties like King offer additional paid leave programs. Info for King County is here: https://www.kingcounty.gov/audience/employees/pay-benefits/WA-paid-family-medical-leave.aspx.
Remember, these options apply to employees only. How do you know if you are an employee? One quick way is to look at your paycheck. Do you have taxes deducted and does your employer give you a W-2 each year? You're an employee. If you are self-employed, you may have opted in to the Paid Family & Medical Leave program. Some options for you:
5. Food Stamps or Basic Food. Food stamps are called Basic Food in Washington State. Benefits are based on family size and family income. You need to apply. More information here: https://www.dshs.wa.gov/esa/community-services-offices/basic-food.
6. Welfare or TANF. Washington state operates a program called Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). TANF provides temporary, supplemental income for families in need. You have to apply, and you must be eligible. Eligibilty includes having family resources of less than $6,000. The amount you receive depends on the size of your family, the income you earn, and any other benefits you are already receiving (like unemployment). Apply here: https://www.dshs.wa.gov/esa/community-services-offices/tanf-and-support-services.
All blog posts are written by members of the GIANTlegal team, unless otherwise indicated. Information contained in our blog does not constitute legal advice, nor does it create an attorney-client relationship.