For divorced parents, stay-at-home order can pose some unique challenges

KING COUNTY, Wash. -  Some divorced parents are ending up embroiled in legal battles as they wrestle with the stay at home order.

“These are unprecedented times,” said one King County man.

Q13 FOX is not identifying the man in order to protect his daughter.

“My daughter cried for a couple of days,” said the man.

He has a blended family and when the COVID-19 outbreak happened the man says his ex-wife had an unexpected reaction.

“She said she was fearful and didn’t want the kids to go back and forth between houses, I tried reasoning and it didn’t work, I sent the governor’s amended order that said parenting plan had to be complied with,” said the man.

The man who is in the tech industry says he’s been taking all the necessary precautions against the virus and working from home. He says his ex-wife’s refusal to comply with a parenting plan in place for years was taking a mental toll on him and his other children.

He wasn’t sure if the courts would hear his case during a pandemic but he tried anyway.

“I was pleasantly surprised that when I got an email saying we will treat this as an emergency,” said the man.

King County Superior Court Judges may not be ruling from the bench like normal times but they are hearing cases via telephone and video conferencing.

“There is a path to the courthouse I can sometimes be a little delayed we are here and it’s happening,” Chief Judge for Unified Family Court Janet Helson said.

Judge Helson says she is only hearing cases deemed an emergency.

She understands that people are scared and have valid concerns over safety but if anyone is maliciously or irrationally using the stay at home order to keep a child away from a parent, there will be consequences.

“They are violating a court order and they are not acting in the child’s best interest and they will be held accountable,” Helson said.

And that kind of advice is something Attorney Monica Cary is also emphasizing to divorced parents.

“If your child is being withheld from you is that you keep a record of it because courts are retrospective because courts look at people’s behaviors from the past,” Cary said.

Cary says this is a period of time when divorced parents can work on reshaping their paradigm.

“It’s important to remember kids are feeling a lot of loss they don’t see their teachers, they don’t go to school they may not be seeing friends,” Cary said.

Both Cary and Helson say most divorced parents have managed to work together and thrive during these difficult times.

As long as the two sides can amicably agree, a parenting plan can be tweaked from what the court initially ordered.

“They don’t need to come to court at all, it’s best if they write it down which can even be an email,” Helson said.

Judge Helson recommends getting the agreement in writing even if it is an email between one parent to another to avoid any misunderstandings.

She says many families will be making tough decisions as parents navigate raising kids during a time when there is no school, isolation and layoffs.

She says every parenting plan will have to be case by case but the goal is to do what is best for the child.

Unfortunately for the dad who talked to Q13 News on Friday, it ultimately took a judge’s order siding with him to get his daughter back.

“It took me almost 40 days to resolve all of this, fortunately I was able to navigate the system get the right authorities to listen but I don’t know if other people have that luck,” said the man.