While financial issues are important to many divorcing spouses, for couples with children, these issues often take a back seat to those related to child custody and support. In many Oregon divorces, the issues involving a couple’s children are the most hotly contested. Parents going through the divorce process must understand how Oregon courts make child custody and support determinations. Not only will this provide them with an idea of what to expect throughout the process, but it also enables them to more carefully cater their arguments to ensure their interests are protected throughout the process.
Oregon Child Custody
Oregon law provides for two types of child custody: physical custody and legal custody. Physical custody refers to where a child resides. Legal custody refers to either parent’s right to make important life decisions for their children, such as education and healthcare decisions. Both types of child custody can be sole or joint. However, Oregon courts will only order joint legal custody when both parents agree to the arrangement.
If a judge orders joint legal custody, both parents are involved in most decisions concerning the children. However, certain decisions remain with the parent who is awarded primary physical custody. For example, if a court awards parents joint legal custody, the parent with primary physical custody will still have the final decision regarding the everyday rules children must follow in the house, what the children eat and which activities the child participates in.
When making any child custody determination, Oregon courts are bound to do what is in the children’s best interests. Oregon Revised Statutes § 107.137 provides a list of factors courts must consider when determining what is in a child’s best interest. These include:
- A child’s relationship with other family members
- Each parent’s interest in the child
- Each parent’s attitude towards the child
- The benefit of a continued relationship with each parent
- Any issues of domestic violence
- The child’s preference (provided the child is old enough)
- The willingness of each parent to foster a close and continuing relationship with the child and the other parent
- The conduct of the parents during the marriage
- The relative income of the parent’s
- The social environment or lifestyle in each parent’s home
Section 107.137 also makes clear that judges are to consider all of these factors to the extent possible and should not provide too much weight to any single factor. The only exception to this is if there are allegations of abuse, which results in a presumption that in the best interests and welfare of the child to award sole or joint custody of the child to the parent who committed the abuse.
Once the court makes a child custody determination, it will then create a parenting plan. A parenting plan is a document that outlines the amount of time a child spends with each parent. Parents can create their own parenting plan by agreement, or the court can devise a parenting plan. However, most courts prefer that parents attempt to work out an agreement since they know their children best.
Child Support Obligations
After a court resolves all child custody issues, it will move on to determining child support. In Oregon, both parents—regardless of custody status—have a legal responsibility to provide for their children. Child support refers to money paid by a non-custodial parent to the custodial parent for the care, support, education and welfare of the couple’s children.
Child support is a component of most divorces; however, courts are not required to order child support. Courts use a formula contained in Oregon Revised Statutes § 137-050-0710 to determine the appropriate amount of child support, which requires the court to go through the following steps:
- Determine each spouse’s income.
- Determine whether there are any necessary adjustments.
- Determine how much excess income each spouse has that is available for support.
- Determine each spouse’s basic support obligation.
- Add each parent’s share of child support costs.
- Determine each parent’s share of medical support costs.
- Credit each parent for parenting time, out-of-pocket childcare costs and out-of-pocket health insurance costs.