Background of Oregon Child Custody
Child custody is one of the most contentiously and contested issues in Oregon family law cases. Misconceptions about what "custody" actually means tend to meld with advice from well-meaning friends and family and with conflicting information from web sources that might not even reflect Oregon law.
What is Oregon Custody?
Legal "custody" of a child in Oregon is not nearly as sweeping a status as many tend to believe. It is not a "super parent" status that allows a custodial parent to make unilateral moves for the child that involve relocation or schedule changes. In short, legal custody refers to decision making authority on three significant issues: 1. Education - for instance, if there is a dispute regarding which of two available public schools a child would attend, the custodial parent would have the final "tie-breaking" vote. 2. Healthcare - in non-emergency circumstances, the custodial parent may determine major medical questions, like selecting which primary care pediatrician the child uses. 3. Theological training - again, for example, this would entail determining as to whether a child went to a religious school or a public school. (Note that this custodial decision says nothing about the who would pay for a private religious school.)
Unpacking the Two Types of Oregon Child Custody
There are two separate types of custody in Oregon: full legal custody and joint custody. Full custody is where one parent has the entire "tie-breaking" decision making authority, as referenced above. In joint legal custody, neither parent has any more power than the other; all determinations as to primary education, healthcare, and religious training must be by agreement of the parties. Joint custody can only come about by agreement of the parties. The court cannot force it.
By contrast, sole ("full") legal custody, if not agreed to, must be decided on by the court. When doing this, the court must take the child's best interest or children into account and apply factors as prescribed by Oregon law. In determining custody, Oregon law specifies what factors the court must evaluate and consider when deciding who should be the sole custodial parent at ORS 107.137: - a) The emotional ties between the child and other family members; - (b) The interest of the parties in and attitude toward the child; - (c) The desirability of continuing an existing relationship; - (d) The abuse of one parent by the other; - (e) The preference for the primary caregiver of the child, if the caregiver is deemed fit by the court; and - (f) The willingness and ability of each parent to facilitate and encourage a close and continuing relationship between the other parent and the child. However, the court may not consider such willingness and ability if one parent shows that the other parent has sexually assaulted or engaged in a pattern of behavior of abuse against the parent or a child and that a continuing relationship with the other parent will endanger the health or safety of either parent or the child.
When the parties cannot agree on joint custody, the court has no option but to decide on one parent to be awarded sole custody by applying these factors. If a case goes to trial, a court will often recite the statutory factors they considered when making their ruling and awarding custody. However, not all cases go to trial. Most do not. If parties agree on a custody arrangement, without the need for a judge to weigh the custody factors, the court will honor that decision in any final judgment. Parties can come about an agreement by themselves, with the help of attorneys, or even through a mediated settlement.
Changing Oregon Custody
Once custody is decided, or agreed-to for one parent, changing custody is substantially harder than establishing it. The court requires a "substantial and unanticipated change in circumstances," generally, which are to the detriment of a child.
Get Legal Help From Custody Law Experts
Custody issues are tricky and require knowledge of the law to present the relevant evidence in a contested case. If you need help with your Oregon custody case, contact an experienced Oregon custody lawyer at brittle.law to set up a consultation.