Child Custody and Visitation Laws in Oregon

Child-related decisions in a divorce can be overwhelming. Continue reading to understand Oregon custody basics.

Chances are, you’ve met someone who has been through a custody battle, and the thought of starting the process is frightening. The most crucial aspect of any custody battle is always what’s best for the child, which is why it’s not an easy road to travel. This article will help you understand everything you need to know before beginning the custody process in Oregon.

Physical and Legal Custody Options in Oregon

Like most states, Oregon has a public policy that encourages both parents to enjoy frequent and continuing contact with their children. The courts prefer for parents to share in the rights and responsibilities of providing physical and emotional care for the children. But, depending on the parent’s situation, it’s not always the right choice.

There are two kinds of custody, physical and legal. Physical custody refers to a parent’s time with the child and includes where the child will live during the year, and which parent is primarily responsible for the child’s daily needs.

Parents with legal custody have the right to make decisions regarding the child’s education, medical, and general welfare. Common issues you might see during legal custody disputes may include where the child should reside and whether the child should undergo a major medical procedure.

Will I Share Custody With My Ex?

In both aspects of custody, parents can share responsibilities (joint custody), or the court may award sole custody to one parent. It’s common for a judge to grant joint legal custody, which means both parents get to have an opinion when it comes to significant aspects of their child’s life, and if you can’t agree, you’ll need to ask a judge to decide.

Although joint legal custody is customary, judges are reluctant to give both parents decision-making authority if one parent is absent, guilty of domestic violence, or convicted of rape against the other parent. In fact, in Oregon, the law strictly prohibits the judge from granting joint legal custody in those situations.

It’s normal for both parents to desire an equal amount of time with their children, but that’s not always beneficial for the child. Joint physical custody is available in Oregon, and if parents agree, the court won’t deny it. However, if either party disputes it, judges are more likely to designate one parent as the custodial parent, meaning the child will live with that parent for most of the time, and will then create a parenting time (visitation) schedule for the other, or noncustodial parent.

Can We Create Our Custody Agreement?

Yes. It’s no surprise that parents know what’s best for their family, so if you and your ex can create a parenting plan that assigns physical and legal custody, parenting time, and child support, the court will accept it. If you’re both willing to talk, but aren’t sure how to move forward, you can participate in mediation, which is where you meet with a neutral third party who can help facilitate your discussion. Mediation provides a confidential and structured setting that allows both parents to voice an opinion about the parenting plan.

If you both agree on everything, the mediator will write it and present it to the judge. If you can’t seem to work it out on your own, you can move forward by asking the court for help.

What Happens If We Can’t Agree?

When parents can’t agree on custody and visitation arrangements, the court will step in and set up a parenting plan. Judges have a fair amount of discretion when deciding custody, but what truly matters is what’s in the child’s best interest. To make an honest evaluation, the judge will consider the following factors:

  • the emotional ties between each parent and the child
  • each parent’s interest in, and attitude toward the child
  • whether there is a history of abuse by either parent directed toward the child
  • each parents’ marital status and past conduct
  • whether the parents and child want to continue the existing relationship
  • each parents’ income, social environment, or lifestyle, and
  • each parent’s ability and willingness to facilitate and encourage a close and continuing relationship between the other parent and the child.

Custody hearings take time, so if you are hoping to resolve your dispute quickly, you can either work with your ex to create a joint parenting plan or ask for an emergency order.

My Child Is in Danger, Is There Anything I Can Do?

In some situations, waiting for the judge to decide (or modify) custody isn’t ideal. Parents in Oregon may apply using a faster process, called an ex parte emergency order, but only if you meet specific requirements.

If you believe that your child is in immediate danger, and you’re willing to provide sworn testimony to the judge, the court may consider awarding emergency custody. In addition to convincing a judge that your child’s physical or mental well-being is in jeopardy, you must also provide a copy of your request to the other parent.

If the judge grants your request, the other parent has 14 days to request a hearing for reconsideration.

Will a Judge Modify an Existing Order?

If your existing custody or parenting time agreement is out-of-date, or if circumstances have changed that make it difficult to follow, you can ask the court to modify your current order.

Before a judge reviews your case, you’ll need to demonstrate that there has been a significant, unanticipated change in circumstances that makes the current order inappropriate. For example, if you share physical custody and one parent relocated out-of-state, it’s likely that sole legal custody will benefit the child more than attempting to cross state lines for visitation. In addition to convincing the judge there’s been a change, you’ll need to prove that a modification is in the child’s best interest.

Some common reasons for modification may include:

  • a custodial parent’s neglect
  • one parent wants to move to another state
  • improvement of the noncustodial parent’s living situation, or
  • endangerment of the child by the custodial parent.

The court will review your case using the best interest factors above. If the court finds that a change will benefit the child, the judge will issue a new order.

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