Child Custody Decisions in Oregon

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 How Is Custody Defined in Oregon?

According to the Oregon Courts, there are two common types of custody in the state of Oregon, joint custody and sole custody. The type of custody parents have determines who will have the final authority to make major decisions. Major decisions include but are not limited to the child’s religion, education, health care, and where the child resides.

The term joint custody in Oregon translates to the parents sharing decision-making responsibilities for a child. Joint custody does not mean that a child resides with each parent half the time. Parents may have joint custody even when a child lives only with one parent.

Furthermore, a judge cannot grant joint custody in Oregon unless both parents agree to it. Joint custody does not do away with a parent’s child support obligation. Child support is determined by the child support guidelines and depends on the parent’s income, the amount of time the child spends with each parent, and other factors.

Moreover, if either parent objects to joint custody, a judge must decide which parent will have sole custody. Sole custody in Oregon implies that the custodial parent makes all major decisions regarding the child. ​A judge’s primary consideration in deciding how to award custody is the child’s best interest.

To decide the best interest of a child, the court will examine the following factors:

  • The emotional ties between the child and other family members;
  • The interest of the parents in and attitude toward the child;
  • The desirability of continuing an existing relationship;
  • The abuse of one parent by the other;
  • The preference for the primary caregiver of the child, if the caregiver is deemed fit by the court; and
  • The willingness and ability of each parent to facilitate and encourage a close and continuing relationship between the other parent and the child.

Moreover, a judge cannot provide custody to a parent only because the parent is the mother or father of the child. Additionally, the judge will consider the conduct, marital status, income, social environment, or lifestyle of a parent only if it is shown that those factors are causing or may cause emotional or physical harm to the child. Judges typically are reluctant to separate siblings.

A judge may consider a child’s preference about where they want to live. A judge does not have to follow the child’s wishes. This is true no matter the child’s age, although the wishes of older children carry more weight than those of younger children. Allowing a child to testify in court in a custody case is significant and thought about vigilantly because of the emotional impact it may have on the child.

Lastly, in deciding custody, a judge can rely on the testimony of expert witnesses. Expert witnesses include psychologists, social workers, teachers, counselors, and psychiatrists. Sometimes an expert witness can testify about a custody study or custody evaluation. These studies can be useful to a judge during a custody trial. The judge also considers the testimony of the parents and other witnesses who know about the child or know about the parties.

What is Parenting Time in Oregon?

Oregon courts state that parenting time addresses when the children will be in the care of each parent. Whether agreed to by the parents or ordered by the court, a parenting plan must showcase the minimum amount of time each parent will spend with a child. In many counties in Oregon, before a court decides custody or parenting time, the court mandates the parents to work towards a mediation plan. If the parents cannot come to an agreement, the court will make parenting time decisions.

Under Oregon law, no matter who receives custody, both parents have the right to access the child’s school, medical, dental, police, and counseling records. Both parents generally can authorize emergency medical care. In addition, Oregon law requires most parenting plans to bar a party from moving more than 60 miles from the other parent without informing the other parent and the court before the move. A parenting plan may be modified if a different one would be in the child’s best interest.

According to the Oregon State Bar, courts typically simultaneously decide parenting time as custody. Parenting time can sometimes refer to visitation and is the time each parent will have with the child. Similarly, as in custody, parenting time is based on the “best interests of the child.” There are many variations to a parenting schedule. There is no presumption in Oregon law for equal parenting time.

Furthermore, one common schedule is the every-other-weekend, plus midweek evening visits and extra time for one parent in the summer and holidays. With that schedule, the other parent has the child the rest of the time. There are many variations, and parents should collaborate on a plan that suits their needs and is in the best interests of their children. If there has been abuse, neglect, or drug activity by a parent, the court can order parenting time to be supervised.

“Supervised” refers to that designated third party, often a family friend or relative, that must be present when a parent visits with the child. The court may also mandate a parent receive counseling, such as parenting classes, or abstain from drugs or alcohol during visits. Only in dire circumstances, where there is a clear danger to the child, will a court deny parenting time completely.

Either the parents or the court will determine a parenting plan that showcases the amount of time each parent will have with a child. In many counties in Oregon, the court mandates the parents to try to work out a plan with a neutral third party known as a mediator. Only then will the court decide on custody issues and parenting time if the parents cannot agree. In most Oregon counties, parents must attend a court-ordered parenting class. Remember that both parents must complete the class before a case involving custody and parenting time is final.

When deciding on custody and parenting time, the court will most likely decide about child support, health insurance for minor children, and payment for uninsured medical expenses. The specifics of a parenting plan can also impact the amount of child support ordered.

Lastly, custody may be altered if a parent can provide that there has been a substantial change of circumstances since the prior order. Again, the court would have to decide that a different custodial parent would be in the best interests and welfare of the child. There does not need to be a substantial change in circumstances to request a change in a parenting schedule. The parent asking for a change would need to prove that a different parenting schedule is in the child’s best interests.

What is a Custody Study?

The judge might also order a custody or parenting time study. This is an evaluation of the parents conducted by a trained counselor or psychologist who will make their recommendations available to the judge. Keep in mind that only a few counties offer a free evaluation.

Generally, a custody or parenting time study is not ordered unless one or both parents can afford the cost. The judge may order either parent or both parents to pay for the cost of the custody study. Without mediation or a study, you and your spouse (or your attorneys, if you have them) settle on custody terms. If you cannot agree, the judge will decide at a trial.

When Do I Need To Contact A Lawyer?

If you reside in the state of Oregon and are dealing with child custody issues, do not hesitate to contact your local Oregon child custody lawyer to assist you with the process.

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