Published on:

COVID-19 Conspiracies and Custodial Interference

We’ve all experienced trying times during the pandemic. From school and business closures throwing a wrench in our daily plans to mask-wearing as the new normal, the pandemic has brought about many disputes and concerns, especially among divorced parents who share custody of their children. One Washington State father, Richard John Burke, is paying the price of his actions related to the pandemic after pleading guilty to three counts of first-degree custodial interference in late August.

Burke shares three sons aged 6, 7, and 10 with his ex-wife. On March 24, Burke was supposed to return his three sons to their mother pursuant to a court-ordered parenting plan.  Instead he communicated to his ex-wife that he would be keeping his three sons for an additional four days.  Then, on March 28, Burke failed again to return the children to their mother. On March 29, the children’s school called the mother to let her know Burke had contacted them to state the children would no longer be attending school and to unenroll them immediately.

Burke pushed conspiracy theories about masks and the COVID-19 vaccine. He believed that the children’s school’s masking policy was “an absolute crime,” and also stated that one of his sons “will never be vaccinated again.” Upon deciding that he needed to take extraordinary measures to “protect his boys,” Burke fled with the three children. A judge authorized a $500,000 warrant for Burke’s arrest, and he was eventually taken into custody in Santa Rosa, New Mexico.

The day following Burke’s arrest, Burke’s ex-wife was reunited with her three children when she drove to New Mexico to pick them up.  Although Burke’s ex-wife stated that the children had been traumatized by the experience, they are back in school and making new friends.  The Snohomish County Superior Court Judge, Edirin Okoloko, called Burke’s actions “selfish.” He also admonished Burke for hurting everyone involved and reiterated that, had the sentencing recommendation been different, he would have pursued the maximum sentence in light of Burke’s actions.

The pandemic has posed challenges for some parents when it comes to following a custodial scheduled ordered by the court. It is extremely important to follow a court order as noncompliance can result in you being held in contempt of court. If you are unsure of how to handle your situation and the circumstances that have been posed by the pandemic, consult with an attorney to figure out the best option for your scenario.