Update: Clarifying parenting responsibilities during the COVID-19 Outbreak (Oregon)
After publishing this article, my office learned that Multnomah County issued an order clarifying parenting responsibilities during the COVID-19 outbreak. Effectively the order states that for Multnomah County cases (https://www.courts.oregon.gov/rules/Documents/MUL-PJO-ParentingTimeDuringCovid19.pdf), the outbreak is not to be used as a reason to deny parenting time. This time period will count as if the school year were still in effect, and if parenting time is missed then makeup time should be offered.
It is likely that other counties will follow suit as well. So most likely this is an indication that courts will not look favorably upon someone who denies parenting time based on this outbreak. If you feel your child is especially at risk, there are other options available like obtaining an immediate danger order. Talk to a local family law attorney (see our contact information below) to see if your situation warrants such an undertaking.
How is COVID-19 Impacting Parenting Plans
Nearly all of my clients are calling to ask me how covid-19 is impacting parenting plans, especially considering the new stay at home order from the Governor of Oregon. The situation of course being where two parents split time with their children in some form. The question more specifically is, does the parenting plan I have need to be followed even in light of the quarantines. There isn’t a great answer to this question yet. Obviously this is a completely unprecedented event we are experiencing in the modern age, so there isn’t a clear rule in place.
Does the Oregon Stay at Home Order Address Parenting Plan Logistics?
For instance, the stay at home order issued by the Oregon Governor does not address parenting splits either as an allowable exception, or as a prohibition. So here, since I can’t offer a clear answer, what I can do is walk you through how I am viewing these situations.
Ways a Divorce and Custody Lawyer is Thinking About Parenting Time During Covid-19
First thing to know is that a court order for parenting time is the law, meaning it has to be followed unless there is a permitted exception. For example, some exceptions are when there is impossibility. Meaning, let’s say you are supposed to take the child to his father’s house, but there is a terrible snow storm and it’s not safe to drive. In that case, it is impossible for you to provide that visit, but the expectation is that you would offer make up time for the lost visit.
So one possible way to view this covid-19 outbreak is in that light. A parent who feels they shouldn’t exchange time right now, could refuse to provide the parenting time during this epidemic, but they must be sure to offer makeup visits for the lost time.
Be careful here. I’m not saying this is the correct interpretation, but I think it is an OK way to look at this situation in some circumstances.
The opposite perspective also exists though. For example, the other parent in this situation could easily argue that because the stay at home order doesn’t prohibit parenting exchanges, that the court order needs to be followed.
I think both perspectives are reasonable. When both sides are reasonable, that means it may later be up to a judge to decide who was more reasonable. For instance, if you were to decide to deny the other parent their time, and the other parent were to file a motion with the court to enforce their lost time, you would have to be ready to convince a judge later that your choice was reasonable under the circumstances.
That job, of convincing the judge you acted reasonably under the strange circumstances, becomes easier or harder depending on the specific details of your situation.
For example, let’s say you have a situation where the other parent lives alone, is able to work from home, and is very carefully obeying the stay at home order. In that case, it would be somewhat difficult to convince a judge that you acted reasonably in keeping your child at home with you. On the other hand, what if the other parent has multiple roommates, is still going to work, holding parties at their house in violation of the quarantine, and generally acting like an idiot during these times? Well, that would probably be a lot easier to convince the judge that you were the reasonable one in protecting your child (and society) from that dynamic and exposure.
Consult With a Custody Attorney about Covid-19 and Your Parenting Plan
The best advice I can offer is to consult with an experienced custody attorney who can talk through your situation with you and help you decide which course is best for you. They can advise you of the possible consequences of the choices you will have to make, and can help guide you through this decision.
Tom Brasier is an experienced family law attorney specializing in custody, parenting plans, divorce, including contested divorce and uncontested divorced, and helping people work though the particulars of a divorce situation to find solutions that work for their needs. Brasier Law is a Portland, Oregon family law firm that helps people throughout Oregon and Washington. This article is not meant to replace the advice of an attorney. Please seek consultation with your attorney for the specifics for your case. You can reach Tom by calling 1 (503) 855-4777 or by using the contact form below.