Oregon is now several months into the coronavirus pandemic, and COVID-19 has impacted nearly every aspect of our lives. The courts are no exception, and many people have questions about how to access legal services and make court filings. This post provides answers to some of the most common questions our attorneys are getting about family law in Oregon during the COVID-19 state of emergency.

Note that the information presented below is subject to change or may not be accurate by the time you read it. The pandemic has created lots of uncertainty and changing circumstances. We will do our best to keep this information current, but you should consult with an attorney or court staff for the most up-to-date information. Last updated November 30, 2020

Are Oregon Family Courts Open During the Pandemic?

Yes, although most courts are subject to restrictions on in-person appearances. You can make most court filings online (subject to some restrictions). You can also make court filings in-person, although many courts have reduced hours of operation and other restrictions in place to protect public health.

Courts in Oregon are all part of the Oregon Judicial Department (often abbreviated as OJD), the Judicial Branch of the Government of the State of Oregon. The head of the Oregon Judicial Division is the Chief Justice of Oregon, the Honorable Martha L. Walters. Chief Justice Walters is responsible for setting state-wide policy for Oregon courts.

As of this writing, there are several Chief Justice Orders in place, including:

  • CJO 20-0216 limits the number of people who can appear in-person in Oregon Court buildings and designates certain types of cases that will get priority treatment in court, including Family Abuse Prevention Act (FAPA) hearings (commonly known as restraining order hearings), and hearings involving violations of child custody orders. It also prioritizes criminal trials and hearings, delays certain non-priority civil trials and hearings, and encourages use of remote hearings when allowed by law.
  • CJO 2020-046 mandates the use of face masks or other protective face coverings, and sets social distancing requirements for all people entering a court building or courtroom. It allows judges some discretion for temporarily removing their face coverings and for allowing other people to temporarily remove their face coverings if necessary for clear communication in the courtroom.
  • CJO 2020-047 permits all courts to conduct legal proceedings by remote means unless in-person proceedings are required by law.

The most up-to-date information on Chief Justice Orders can be found on the Oregon Courts’ Coronavirus Response Page and on the Oregon State Bar’s COVID-19 Response Page.

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In addition, each circuit court in Oregon is led by a Presiding Judge, who is allowed to make certain local rules that govern how that county court will operate. In counties where coronavirus outbreaks are especially bad, the Presiding Judge for the local circuit court may implement additional restrictions. You can find information about the applicable circuit court for your county using the OJD’s Find Your Local Circuit Court tool.

If you need help finding the rules that are currently in place for your court, The Commons Law Center can help. Call or text us during business hours at 503-850-0811 or schedule a free 15-minute consultation with us.

For specific information regarding Multnomah, Clackamas, and Washington counties, see our COVID-19 Family Law Court Guide for the Portland Metro Area.

Do I need to appear in-person if I have a court hearing?

Probably not, but for some hearings the courts can require that you appear in person.

Chief Justice Order 2020-047 strongly encourages remote hearings for court proceedings when allowed by law, but some types of hearings may be required to be in-person.

Hearings that may need to take place in person in Oregon include:

  • Hearings on immediate danger motions, meaning you are asking a judge for a court order to stop or prevent a situation that is causing or threatens to cause immediate danger to a child.
  • Hearings on applications for orders of assistance to obtain custody of a child held in violation of a custody order, meaning a parent (or other person) is holding a child when they do not have legal custody of that child.
  • Hearings involving protective orders, also known as restraining orders, including applications or motions for new orders and renewals of orders already in place. Types of protective orders in Oregon include:
    • Family Abuse Prevention Act (FAPA) orders
    • Elderly Persons and Persons with Disabilities Abuse Prevention Act orders.
    • Sexual Abuse Protection Orders
    • Extreme Risk Protection Orders
    • Emergency Protection Orders
    • Stalking Orders

What are the Remote Means for appearing in Oregon Courts?

The two main ways of participating in remote trials or hearings in Oregon courts are telephone and online video conference using the WebEx platform. While the rules allow for appearance by “other two-way electronic communication or simultaneous transmission,” in practice courts only seem to be using the phone or WebEx.

The main thing that courts seem to be trying to accomplish is making sure everyone participating in a particular hearing is using the same means to attend. The preferred tool for many courts is WebEx, since it allows for both audio and video participation. If one of the participants in the hearing (whether individuals, attorneys, or judges and court staff) cannot access WebEx for any reason, then the court’s usual response is to hold the hearing via telephone instead. In some instances where people can access WebEx but are not able to participate by video, then the court might continue to use WebEx as a platform but ask all other people to turn their video off so that the proceeding is more like a conference call than a video conference.

Some specific questions about remote participation include:

Can I use my preferred video app (Zoom, FaceTime, Skype, Google Meet, Teams, etc.) to participate in a remote hearing?

Probably not. Oregon Courts have approved the use of WebEx as their preferred video conference solution. Judges and court staff have been trained on WebEx, and have had the necessary software installed on their computers.

While some individual judges may technically approve other means for a hearing, it is unlikely that they would do so because they would need to make sure that all people participating in the hearing have the necessary tools and training to use other platforms.

However, many other activities in family law, such as parenting classes and mediation, are using other platforms. You should check your local courthouse website to find out how they are conducting these activities.

What if I can’t install WebEx to participate in an Oregon Court hearing?

If you cannot participate in an Oregon Court hearing via WebEx for any reason, be sure to let your attorney and/or the court clerk know as soon as possible. If you cannot participate using WebEx then the judge will likely decide to hold the hearing over the phone.

What if I don’t have a strong enough internet connection or cell signal to do a video hearing?

If you cannot have a good video call because you don’t have fast or reliable broadband or you are in an area without a good cell connection, be sure to let your attorney and/or the court clerk know as soon as possible. If you cannot participate using WebEx then the judge will likely decide to hold the hearing over the phone.

Some public and private agencies will let you connect to their WiFi for participating in remote hearings. These include many libraries and schools in Oregon. You may need to park nearby the WiFi hot spot and conduct the hearing from your car in order to maintain connectivity while also engaging in appropriate social distancing.

What if I don’t want to turn my video on because I don’t feel safe or I don’t want to reveal my location?

If you do not feel safe participating in a remote hearing via video you have two options. You can find a location that is safe, such as a friend or relative’s house or a location with a strong WiFi signal where you can park nearby and participate from your car. Be sure to maintain appropriate social distancing if you will be in contact with other people at a safe location.

If you cannot find a safe location or still can’t safely attend the hearing by video, be sure to let your attorney and/or the court clerk know as soon as possible. If you cannot participate using video then the judge will likely decide to hold the hearing over the phone.

What if I want to participate by video but the other party is only available via phone?

Judges in Oregon are being careful to make sure that all parties to a remote hearing have a fair and equitable experience. That often means making sure that all participants in a hearing are using the same method so that nobody is at an unfair advantage or disadvantage due to technology limitations.

What this might mean for you is that a judge could decide to hold a hearing via telephone because another party (or occasionally a lawyer) participating in the hearing does not have access to WebEx or a strong enough internet connection to do a video call. While this can be frustrating, it is important that all parties to a court hearing have equal footing.

How soon can I get a court hearing during the pandemic?

It depends. The courts are very busy and, like many places, are challenged by the state of emergency. If your case is one of the types that the courts have designated as high priority, then you might be able to get a hearing within a matter of days or weeks. Cases not designated as urgent are more likely to take several months or more to get a hearing. The speed at which you can get a hearing also varies greatly by county. An attorney or a court clerk might be able to give you a more definite answer based on the particulars of your case.

High-priority hearings for family law in Oregon include:

  • Hearings on immediate danger motions, meaning you are asking a judge for a court order to stop or prevent a situation that is causing or threatens to cause immediate danger to a child.
  • Hearings on applications for orders of assistance to obtain custody of a child held in violation of a custody order, meaning a parent (or other person) is holding a child when they do not have legal custody of that child.
  • Hearings involving protective orders, also known as restraining orders, including applications or motions for new orders and renewals of orders already in place. Types of protective orders in Oregon include:
    • Family Abuse Prevention Act (FAPA) orders
    • Elderly Persons and Persons with Disabilities Abuse Prevention Act orders.
    • Sexual Abuse Protection Orders
    • Extreme Risk Protection Orders
    • Emergency Protection Orders
    • Stalking Orders

How do I enforce my child support or spousal support order in Oregon during the pandemic?

If your ex-spouse or co-parent is not making their court-ordered payments to you under a support agreement, it is important to file your case in court as soon as possible in order to preserve your place in line for an eventual hearing. Oregon courts are accepting new filings seeking enforcement orders, but these cases are not designated as high priority for hearings so it may be several months before you can get a hearing. Still, filing a case may help bring your ex-spouse or co-parent to the negotiating table or encourage them to resume payments. You may also be able to reach out to the Department of Justice Division of Child Support to receive an answer.

Attorneys from The Commons Law Center are able to help most Oregonians make the required court filings for an enforcement order. You can take our quiz to see if you qualify for reduced-fee legal help, you can schedule a free 15-minute call with our office team, or you can call or text us during business hours at 503-850-0811.

What can I do if I can’t make my child support or spousal support payment in Oregon during the pandemic?

If you have become unemployed or have had your financial circumstances change due to the pandemic and you are no longer able to make your child support or spousal support payments, you should consider filing a motion in court to modify your support order. It is important to file your case in court as soon as possible in order to preserve your place in line for an eventual hearing. Oregon courts are accepting new filings seeking modification orders, but these cases are not designated as high priority for hearings so it may be several months before you can get a hearing. Still, filing a case may help bring your ex-spouse or co-parent to the negotiating table or encourage them to understand why you cannot make payments.

Attorneys from The Commons Law Center are able to help most Oregonians make the required court filings for an modification order. You can take our quiz to see if you qualify for reduced-fee legal help, you can schedule a free 15-minute call with our office team, or you can call or text us during business hours at 503-850-0811.

How can I change my parenting plan or visitation schedule in Oregon during the pandemic?

The Oregon State Family Law Advisory Council has strongly recommended that Oregon parents stick with their existing parenting plan as much as possible, and Oregon courts seem to be following this recommendation. The general rule is that the pandemic itself is not a changed circumstance sufficient to warrant a change to a parenting plan.

If you do need to make a change to your parenting plan, you should try to come to a negotiated agreement with your ex-spouse or co-parent. If that doesn’t work, you can file a case in court to modify your agreement. Unless your child is in immediate danger, modification hearings are not considered high-priority hearings at this time, therefore it may be several months or more before a judge can hear your case.

Attorneys from The Commons Law Center are able to help most Oregonians make the required court filings for an modification order. You can take our quiz to see if you qualify for reduced-fee legal help, you can schedule a free 15-minute call with our office team, or you can call or text us during business hours at 503-850-0811.

About the author 

Staff Attorneys

Articles co-written by our team of attorneys.

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