Oregon parents who share custody, visitation, or parenting time face special challenges during the COVID-19 epidemic. With schools closed, vacations cancelled, and public places shut down, it can be hard to know how to handle parenting time or how to manage transitions.
Fortunately the Oregon Statewide Family Law Advisory Counsel has issued specific guidelines for Oregon Courts to consider during the Coronavirus pandemic. While courts are not obligated to adopt these guidelines, they are still helpful for parents wondering what to do. Multnomah County Circuit Court has formally adopted these recommended guidelines. Washington County Circuit Court has chosen to follow them as well.
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The guidelines are as follows:
Follow Your Existing Parenting Plan as Closely as Possible.
Unless specific circumstances exist that would prevent a parent from safely participating in their scheduled parenting time, then both parents should follow their existing plan. The main thing that might prevent following the plan would be the illness of either parent or the children, in which case parents should follow Oregon Health Authority (OHA) and Centers for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines to isolate sick individuals as much as possible to prevent the spread of the virus.
COVID-19 is Not a Reason to Deny Parenting Time.
Unless otherwise ordered by the court, parents are considered fit to care for their children and make decisions regarding the day-to-day aspects of parenting while the children are in their care. This day-to-day care includes following the Oregon Health Authority and your local public health directives regarding social distancing and sanitation-related measures (such as frequent hand washing).
Follow your Children’s School Calendar as if School Were in Session.
Most parenting plans are calibrated to school calendars for breaks, holidays, and vacations. Although Oregon schools are closed during the state of emergency, parents should assume that school is in session for purposes of their parenting schedules. To the extent that your child’s school is providing at-home instruction or education plans, both parents should work with their children to follow the teacher’s schedule.
Travel for Purposes of Following Parenting Plans Should be Allowed.
Under the Governor’s current guidelines (as of March 27, 2020), travel is restricted except for “essential activities.” Caring for minors, dependents, and/or family members is generally considered an essential activity. If you are traveling to exchange your children, you may want to have a copy of your parenting plan with you to show to authorities in the event you get questioned about your purpose for travel. All non-essential travel (e.g. for vacations) should be avoided under the Governor’s Executive Order.
Follow all Social Distancing Guidelines and Public Closures During Exchanges.
All parties should follow the OHA and CDC guidelines for limiting the spread of the virus. This means engaging in social distancing during exchanges. If your exchange or parenting time is supposed to take place in a public place that is closed, both parents should agree on an acceptable alternate location that is still open if possible. All parties, including children, should avoid touching surfaces during exchanges and parenting time.
Supervised Parenting Time Should Continue if Possible.
If parenting time is ordered to be supervised, and the supervisor is unavailable due to COVID-19-related issues or government orders, the parties should work collaboratively to ensure parenting time continues to occur in a manner that promotes their children’s safety and wellbeing, such as finding an alternative supervisor. If that is not possible, then the parenting time should be conducted virtually via video conferencing or by telephone.
Parents Should Maintain Transparency and Communication.
Unless the parties are restrained from communicating, parents are encouraged to communicate about precautions they are taking to slow the spread of COVID-19. A parent is not permitted to deny parenting time based upon the other parent’s unwillingness to discuss their precautionary measures taken, or belief that the other parent’s precautions are insufficient.
Parents Should Plan to Make-up Parenting Time Missed Due to the Epidemic.
If parenting time is missed due to COVID-19-related issues or government orders, parents are encouraged to work collaboratively to schedule makeup parenting time that promotes their children’s safety and wellbeing.
Remember that it is public policy under Oregon Law to:
- assure that minor children have frequent and continuing contact with parents who have shown the ability to act in the children’s best interests;
- encourage such parents to share in the rights and responsibilities of raising their children;
- encourage parents to develop their own parenting plan and grant them discretion in developing such a plan; and
- consider the best interests of the children and safety of the parties in developing a parenting plan.
Finally, you should know that Oregon Courts are largely closed during the Governor’s State of Emergency except for certain essential activities. That means it will be difficult, if not impossible, to obtain enforcement orders or other judicial intervention for the time being. It is strongly encouraged for parents to work together to maintain a proper relationship and promote the best interests of their children during these difficult times.
If you have questions about your rights or responsibilities under your parenting plan, or if your co-parent is not following the above guidelines and you need help determining what to do, you may contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call us to request an appointment with one of our staff attorneys. Because we are a nonprofit, we will need to ensure that you are income-qualified prior to meeting with you, but we can refer you to other resources if you do not qualify for our help.