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Family Law Experts Issue Recommendations for Co-Parenting During Pandemic

Lots of families are struggling with how to best protect and parent children as the world responds to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, divorced parents may have additional concerns, such as “Is it safe to allow my children to travel to their other parent’s house for parenting time?,” “How can supervised parenting time continue if it was usually held at a restaurant?,” and “When is spring break, anyway?”

While each family may decide to approach these issues differently, the Oregon Statewide Family Law Advisory Committee (“SFLAC”) has issued recommendations for families who cannot reach their own agreements. Some common issues are addressed, such as:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

The full list can be found here: http://courts.oregon.gov/programs/family/sflac/SFLAC{45ef85514356201a9665f05d22c09675e96dde607afc20c57d108fe109b047b6}20Documents/SFLACGuidelineForParentsDuringCOVID19Pandemic.pdf. SFLAC is a panel of judges, trial court administrators, mediators and evaluators, attorneys, family court service providers, and representatives from various state agencies who advise the State Court Administrator on family law issues in the courts.

National groups The Association of Family Conciliation Courts (AFCC) and the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers (AAML) provided a joint statement last week with additional guidelines for co-parents. These can be found here: https://www.thecenterforfamilylaw.com/afcc-aaml. The consensus among professionals is that while parents should be mindful of protecting their children from infection and transmission of the disease, it is also important to continue following the parenting plan or other court orders unless doing so becomes impossible.

If you have additional questions about how to appropriately co-parent in this stressful and uncertain time we recommend that you reach out to a family law attorney.

Emily Clark Cuellar is a litigator at Samuels Yoelin Kantor. Her practice is centered around families, and her passion is helping families navigate all the various obstacles they may face. Her practice focuses on domestic relations and fiduciary and probate litigation.

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