What happens to child visitation agreements during the COVID-19 pandemic?
Ever since the novel coronavirus took the country by surprise, government officials and lawmakers have been scrambling to come up with ways to keep society functioning. While the COVID-19 pandemic has changed most aspects of life in Oregon, certain things still remain the same. Generally, parents who had a valid parenting plan in effect before the pandemic should still try to follow the plan, even in light of Governor Brown’s shelter-in-place order.
Due to the safety and logistical issues the COVID-19 pandemic raised, the Oregon Statewide Family Law Advisory Committee recently met to issue a series of recommendations to help parents confront the various issues they are dealing with. The Committee, which consists of judges, trial court administrators, mediators and evaluators, attorneys, family court service providers and representatives from state agencies, provides the following recommendations to parents:
- Definition of Spring Break/Vacation/Holidays: While the schools are closed, parenting time shall continue as if the children are stillattending school in accordance with the school calendar of the relevant district.Parents should treat holidays the same as they would under the parenting plan, and COVID-19 related school closures do not extend any holiday or vacation.
- Denial of Parenting Time: The Committee notes that “COVID-19 is not a reason to deny parenting time.” In addition, unless otherwise ordered by the court, parents are considered to be fit to care for their children and make all decisions regarding the day-to-day aspects ofparenting while the children are in their care.
- Parenting in Public Places: The Committee acknowledges the difficulties of visiting children in public places given the Governor’s shelter-in-place order. Thus, the Committee recommends conducting visits in areas where social-distancing protocol can be followed. If that is not a viable option, parenting time should be conducted virtually.
- Supervised Parenting Time: In situations where the designated supervisor is unavailable due to COVID-19 related issues, the parties should try to find an alternate supervisor. If that is not possible, virtual visitation should be made available.
- Governor’s Executive Orders Regarding Travel: While the Governor has banned all non-essential travel, caring for minor children isconsidered to be essential.
- Exchanges: The Committee recommends that parents take special precautionswhen exchanging children during visits, ensuring they follow proper social-distancing protocol.
- Safety-Related Issues: The Committee reminds parents ofthe urgent need for medical professionals, and strongly recommends parents refrain from calling upon emergency workers for child custody related issues. Of course, in the event there is a real and immediate safety-related issue, parents should call 911.
- Transparency: Unless the parties are restrained from communicating, parents should communicate about precautions they are taking to slow the spread of COVID-19. Parents are not permitted to deny parenting time based upon the other parent’s unwillingness todiscuss their precautionary measures taken, or belief that the other parent’s precautions are insufficient.
- Makeup Time: If parenting time is missed due to COVID-19-related issues, parents should work collaboratively to schedule makeup parenting time thatpromotes their children’s safety and wellbeing. Local courts are being strongly encouraged to order makeup parenting time, when appropriate.
Again, while these guidelines are not laws, judges are likely to find them persuasive and, absent a compelling reason, will likely follow the recommendations closely.