How Domestic Violence Affects Child Custody in Oregon

Learn how Oregon courts consider domestic violence in determining custody and visitation rights.

Domestic violence can leave lasting scars, especially for children. Judges take this into account when deciding which parent should have custody of the children. In Oregon, as in other states, judges will consider a parent’s history of domestic violence when making decisions about custody and visitation rights.

Although a single act of domestic violence may not result in a termination of parental rights, it could limit the abusive parent's custody rights and visitation. This article provides an overview of the effects of domestic violence on child custody orders in Oregon. For more information, or to find out how domestic violence may impact your own custody or visitation case, contact an  Oregon family law attorney  for advice.

Overview of Child Custody Orders

The goal of any custody case is to determine what kind of living arrangement and visitation schedule best serves a child’s physical and emotional well-being. A judge will determine what type of physical custody (where the child lives) and legal custody (who will have decision-making authority for the child) best meets the child’s needs.

Several factors are considered in a custody case, including a parent’s history of abuse. In Oregon, it is presumed that it would not be in a child’s best interests to award sole or joint physical custody to an abusive parent, unless the parent can prove otherwise. Learn more about  Child Custody in Oregon.

Domestic Violence Basics

Domestic violence is a catchall term for a set of intimidation tactics that includes physical violence, sexual assault, and threats to physically injure a family or household member. Under the domestic violence law, a household member includes:

  • the victim’s current or former spouse
  • someone who lives or lived with the victim as a partner
  • someone with whom the victim shares a child,
  • the victim’s current or former sexual or intimate partner
  • the victim’s parent or adult child, and
  • the victim’s extended relative through blood or marriage.

Resources for Victims of Abuse

Far too often, incidents of domestic violence go unreported, sometimes with tragic consequences. If you or your child is a victim of domestic violence, help is available through the  Oregon Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, which provides shelter information. Additional assistance is available by calling the Oregon Domestic Violence Hotline at (888) 235-5333.

Seeking a Restraining Order

Typically, abuse is not a one-time occurrence. If you have faced recent abuse or you fear future abuse, a restraining order might be necessary. In a restraining order, the court orders the abuser to stay away from you and your children; it can also create temporary custody arrangements, order the abuser to leave your home, and prevent the abuser from having guns, among other things. Learn more about restraining orders to prevent abuse and Oregon’s Family Abuse Prevention Act through the  Oregon State Courts Website.

On the same day or the day after you file a petition for a restraining order, a judge will hold a hearing by telephone or in person to determine whether the restraining order should be granted. If the judge decides that domestic violence has occurred and is likely to occur in the future, your restraining order will be granted.

Impact of Domestic Violence on Custody in Oregon

In Oregon, the child custody law does not prevent an abusive parent from visiting with his or her child. However, an abusive parent will have an uphill battle in trying to get joint or sole physical custody. Oregon law presumes that a joint or sole custody award to an abusive parent would not be in the child’s best interests. In the most severe cases of abuse, an abusive parent may have additional limits placed on his or her visitation rights. The parent may lose parental rights altogether in the most extreme circumstances.

Supervised Visitation

A supervised visitation restriction requires all visits between the abusive parent and child to take place in the presence of a designated third-party adult. A supervised visitation requirement may be temporary (as part of a restraining order) or long-term.

A supervised visitation restriction does not mean that the abusive parent will only ever have supervised visits with his or her child. However, before a judge can change a supervised visitation requirement, the abusive parent must prove that regular, unsupervised visitation is in the child’s best interests, and that future abuse is unlikely.

Termination of Parental Rights

Unlike supervised visitation, a termination of parental rights is a permanent decision. An Oregon court will not terminate a parent’s parental rights unless there is clear evidence showing that any relationship with the abusive parent would not be in the child’s best interests. Some situations that could result in a termination of parental rights include:

  • rape or sexual abuse of any child
  • abuse or neglect resulting in serious physical injury or death of any child
  • murder or attempted murder of any child
  • loss of parental rights to another child
  • criminal conduct that impairs the parent’s ability to adequately care for the child.

No amount of good behavior can undo a termination of parental rights. Once a court orders termination, the parent's legal relationship to the children is severed.

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