Custody. Oregon law directs that the court consider the following factors when deciding which parent will be awarded custody of minor children: (a) the emotional ties between the child and other family members, (b) the interest of the parent in the child and the parent's attitude toward the child, (c) the desirability of continuing an existing relationship, (d) the abuse of one parent by another, (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. In practical terms, this means that the parent who has accepted primary responsibility for bringing up the child in the past will probably be awarded the care and custody of the child in the future provided that parent encourages ongoing contact between the children and the other parent. The non-custodial parent will be allowed reasonable rights of visitation based on the child's needs. Oregon law calls this visitation schedule a "parenting plan."
Joint Custody. Joint custody is an award of the child's legal custody to both parents with a specific provision made for his or her primary place of residence. It assumes that each parent has an equal say in making major decisions that impact the child's life. The court is only allowed to order joint legal custody if both parties agree to the award. In general, joint custody will work only if both parents communicate and cooperate with each other. This means that the parent who is awarded sole custody (the most common award since it is so easy to opt out of joint custody) has the sole right to make vital decisions regarding a child's education, religious training, health care, and the like. Disagreement over custody and time-sharing is guaranteed to put you right in the middle of a contested and expensive case.
Parenting Time (Visitation). The court will usually approve any parenting plan (visitation schedule) agreed to by you and the other parent. A typical schedule is to alternate weekends and specify time during the summer and holidays. We encourage liberal time-sharing except in extraordinary circumstances. Every county has a model parenting plan which can be used by those families that do not want to write their own. Contrary to popular belief, the model plan is not a statement of the law, a minimum or a maximum time allowed between the child and the non-custodial parent. It is exactly what it says it is, a model plan.
Parenting Class. Oregon requires that both you and the other party complete a parenting class early in the process. The typical class lasts four hours and covers topics including ways that parents can help their children adjust to separation and how to make shared parenting time better for the children. The court will not allow your divorce or custody case to become final until both parents have completed the class and filed the appropriate certificates with the court.
Mediation Regarding Children's Issues. You and the other parent will be required to attend mediation once each of you has completed the mandatory parenting class. Mediation is a procedure in which both parents speak with a neutral third party hired by the court to help you reach an agreement on custody and to set a parenting schedule. The mediator is not going to discuss financial issues, give advice or provide therapy. Approximately 80% of our clients that enter mediation leave the process with an agreement regarding the children. Our success rate is high because our clients spend time with us talking about what should and should not be asked for in mediation before entering the process.
- Third-Party Custody and Parenting Time. If the court determines that you have established emotional ties that create a child-parent relationship with a child (who is not your actual child), you may be able to obtain custody or a parenting plan (visitation). Because grandparents are often those who exercise this right, this is often referred to as "Grandparent Rights." Because this is a rather complex area of law, the state offers no standardized forms for asserting this right. Depending on your circumstances, this may be an easier alternative to guardianship