Child custody arrangements amid coronavirus: Statewide family law panel issues guidance

By Noelle Crombie | The Oregonian/OregonLive

A statewide family law panel on Wednesday issued guidance to parents who share custody or parenting time, hoping to clear up questions that have emerged since the governor ordered Oregonians to stay home except when traveling for essential work, buying food and similar critical supplies or returning to their own homes.

The Oregon Statewide Family Law Advisory Committee said the goal of its recommendations “is to encourage the parties to follow their parenting plan as closely as possible, as doing so will ensure a level of consistency and stability that is in the children’s best interests.”

The committee is made up of 16 members, including judges, trial court administrators, mediators and evaluators, attorneys, family court service providers and representatives from state agencies. Members are appointed by the chief justice of the Oregon Supreme Court. The panel advises the state court administrator on family law issues in the courts.

The recommendations:

Definition of Spring Break, Summer Break/Vacation or Holidays: While the schools are closed, parenting time shall continue as if the children are still attending school in accordance with the school calendar of the relevant district. “Spring break,” “summer break/vacation” or other designated holidays, means the regularly calendared breaks/vacations or holidays in the school district where the children are attending school (or would attend school if they were school aged).

The closure of the school for public health purposes will not be considered an extension of any break/vacation/holiday period or weekend.

Denial of Parenting Time: 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 County Public Health directives regarding social distancing and sanitation-related measures (such as frequent hand-washing).

Parenting Time in Public Places: Governor Brown has forbidden all nonessential gatherings, regardless of size. If the parenting plan states that parenting time will occur in a public place, parenting time should continue at locations that are permitted under the health and safety guidelines for the state, such as a large park or nature hike.

Public places where people routinely touch common contact surfaces (such as parks and play equipment) should be avoided. However, activities where parents and children can maintain social distancing and avoid such surfaces are encouraged. If that is not possible, then the parenting time should be conducted virtually via videoconferencing or by telephone.

Supervised Parenting Time: 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 videoconferencing or by telephone.

Governor’s executive orders regarding travel: The governor has issued executive orders that restrict travel except for essential activities, which generally include caring for minors, dependents and/or family members. Therefore, unless otherwise directed by the governor or other executive order, the parties should continue to follow the parenting plan as written while such orders are in effect.

Exchanges: During the exchange of the children, all parties should follow the CDC guidelines for limiting the spread of the virus, which may mean choosing an alternate location for the exchanges that has less people congregating and less touching of public items (changing from the restaurant to the grocery store parking lot for example).

Safety-Related Issues: Our first responders must remain available for true emergencies and for support related to the COVID-19 outbreak. Please do not call them for parenting-related disputes but rather only in the circumstances of real, immediate, and significant safety-related reasons.

Transparency: 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.

Makeup Parenting Time: 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. Local courts are strongly encouraged to order makeup parenting time, when appropriate.