Child Custody in Oregon: The Best Interests of the Child

Find out how Oregon courts award custody of children based on the "best interests of the child" standard.

Divorce is challenging for the entire family, and making custody decisions can be one of the most difficult parts of a divorce. Parents may try and still be unable to come to agreement about how to share time with their children, at which points the courts will step in to make those decisions.

How Oregon Courts Make Custody Decisions

Like many other states, Oregon uses the best interests of the child standard for custody decisions. A judge evaluates the best interests of a child by examining a list of factors, including:

  • The strength of the emotional tie between a child and the parents as well as other family members. The judge will evaluate each parent’s interest in parenting and how bonded the parent and child are.
  • Lifestyles of the parents, including factors like the parents’ incomes and earning capacity and what each parent’s living situation is. For example, a court might question the stability or maturity of a parent who has engaged in numerous different short-term relationships.

  • Whether one parent has abused the other, which is considered harmful to the child both to the extent that the child may witness the abuse, and because of the possibility the abusive parent might abuse the child in the future.

  • Each parent’s willingness to encourage the child to develop a close relationship with the other parent.

Oregon law prohibits courts from favoring a parent on the basis of their gender.

All Factors are Considered Equally with One Notable Exception

Oregon law requires judges to consider all of the factors listed above and to treat them equally—in other words, it is not appropriate for a court to look at one factor to the exclusion of the others. The one notable exception is if a parent has committed some form of domestic or sexual abuse.

Oregon law does not require a parent to cooperate with another parent who is abusive. A parent who takes steps to prevent a child from being abused by the other parent will not be considered to be uncooperative for purposes of evaluating custody rights.

In Oregon, generally it is not considered in a child’s best interest or welfare for an abusive parent to have sole or joint custody. This means that the court presumes that the abusive parent is unfit to have custody, unless the abusive parent is able to show otherwise.

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