Family law can often center around exceptionally challenging times for an individual and their family. However, one unexpected result of the pandemic has been a surge of people “falling in love”. The result means they might solidify their commitment in their relationships or expand their family. This is a trend we did not expect to see, especially with all the media coverage on sky-rocketing divorce rates.
Over the past nine months, there has been a marked increase in couples who want to confirm their commitments to each other or solidify their intentions by entering into a cohabitation agreement. Still, others decide to get married. In addition, we’ve seen some couples take steps to expand their families through adoption, surrogacy and other assisted-reproduction options. Many of these decisions were made as a result of spending time with a loved one under shelter-in-place guidelines. Conversely, the pandemic has created situations where couples were separated and realized now they want to be together and/or start a family
In our family law practice, we are seeing an increased request for:
The number of parties who have decided to take the plunge and get married has increased significantly over the past eight months. For some, this decision is prompted by the experience of sheltering in place, and for others it has happened due to a period of unwanted separation. Regardless, we have seen an increase in the number of people contemplating marriage and request a Prenuptial Agreement. We’re finding that couples have often set very short timelines to move forward with marriage. Many of the reasons that often lead to a longer engagement are not currently available to couples. For example, the size limitation on gatherings means that the long advance period for a large ceremony or reception are no longer applicable. Instead, many couples are electing to prioritize their commitment to each other legally, and either opting out of a large celebration, or simply planning to have the gathering of friends and family when limitations are lifted.
It is no secret that many couples are finding themselves in a much more serious situation than they were “pre-COVID”. For others, who were not cohabitating prior to the pandemic, the absence of their significant other was a prompt to take the plunge and move in together. Whether planned or not, this has led to many couples evaluating their partnerships, both emotionally and financially. Many people have decided to take the next step during this time to formalize domestic partnerships or cohabitation arrangements.
Domestic Partnerships and Cohabitation Agreements are similar to Prenuptial Agreements. They allow parties in a relationship to clearly outline their intentions and create a common understanding regarding their living situation and financial arrangements, but without the requirement that the parties marry.
Another trend we are experiencing is couples who decide to grow their families through adoption. This is an exciting decision for many couples who are spending significantly more time together while sheltering in place. This experience has prompted them to have more serious conversations, including the decision to start a family. Adoption has provided an avenue for those who want to expand their families, including individuals who are single, unmarried couples, married couples and same sex couples. Adoptions in Oregon are available through private agencies, public agencies or through independent adoptions, so there are multiple pathways for those who want to adopt a child. This wide choice of options can make the dream of being a parent come to fruition.
This option offers a different possibility to those looking to expand their families. We’ve seen increased interest in this option during this pandemic. Oregon has long been a surrogacy-friendly state, despite there being no formal laws in Oregon related to surrogacy. Because of its progressive nature, Oregon continues to attract couples and individuals from a wide variety of backgrounds and places. This includes international clients, who may not have surrogacy as an option in their home state or country. Intended parents in Oregon have the added benefit, in the vast majority of cases, to obtain pre-birth orders, which allow them to be legally recognized as their child’s parents prior to birth. Surrogacy is a complex area of law, and the relationship between a surrogate and intended parents is best managed with a detailed and comprehensive contract.
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There is no doubt the pandemic has created stressful and challenging circumstances for many families. However, in these difficult times, it is more important than ever to take a step back and identify the unexpected, but positive, changes in the world around us. The impact of the pandemic has provided one wonderful silver lining -- people seem to better appreciate their loved ones more than ever, and are making subsequent decisions to formalize their relationships with one another. It is a joy for our Relationship Agreement and Family Creation Team at Gevurtz Menashe to be a part of turning someone’s silver lining, during these ever-changing circumstances, into reality.
This article was collaboratively authored by Shawn Menashe, Katie Carson Goss, Emily Roberts and Brooke Ferris, family law attorneys, Gevurtz Menashe. We services clients in Oregon, Washington and Idaho with an exclusive focus on estate planning and family law issues such as divorce, parenting and custody issues, child and spousal support, relationships agreements, adoptions, surrogacy contracts, and more. Contact us anytime at 503-227-1515 or online here.