How Is Child Custody Determined in Oregon?

How Is Child Custody Determined in Oregon?

Child custody disputes are some of the most contentious and emotional cases that family law attorneys handle. At Gearing, Rackner & McGrath, we understand how difficult this process is and how much the children of our clients mean to them. Questions regarding how custody is determined in Oregon are among the first and most frequently asked by clients.

In Oregon, the courts are concerned about only one thing in a custody case--the best interests of the children involved. This, and this alone, guides all decision making in a custody case. Both parents are given equal consideration and encouraged to share parenting time and the legal rights and responsibilities of raising their children.

Child custody cases are highly personal and complicated and therefore difficult to predict. If you are facing a child custody dispute, it is important to seek the advice of a qualified family law attorney, such as those at Gearing, Rackner & McGrath.

Custody Basics

There are different types of custody and they can be awarded to one parent solely or shared jointly.

• Legal custody refers to the right to make decisions for and about the children regarding their education, medical care, residence, religion and more.
• Physical custody refers to with which parent the child will live.

Joint legal custody, in which most decisions about the children must be made together, will only be awarded when both parents agree to it. Sole legal custody gives one parent ultimate authority in decision making, although they are still encouraged to work together to make important decisions. Even when one parent does not have legal custody, they still have the right to stay updated on the child’s health and education, unless the court says otherwise.

Physical custody is shared when the child spends equal amounts of time at each parent’s home. Again, joint custody must be agreed upon. More often, a judge awards sole physical custody to one parent, known as the custodial parent, and the other, known as the noncustodial parent, is granted parenting time with the children.
Even when one parent does not receive legal or physical custody of the children, they are not relieved of their financial responsibility to them. Child support and health insurance coverage might be mandated but how much can be affected by the specifics of the custody plan.

What Oregon Courts Consider

When determining the best interests of children in a custody case, Oregon law looks at the following:

• Each parent’s interest in and attitude toward a relationship with the child
• Each parent’s ability to support and provide for the child
• Each parent’s daily caregiving role — who is the primary caretaker and typically feeds, bathes, helps with homework, does bedtime, and more
• Each parent’s history of drug use, alcoholism and criminal activity
• Each parent’s history of abuse of child or other parent
• Each parent’s willingness to coparent and foster a relationship between the child and the other parent
• The child’s emotional attachment to each parent
• The child’s development and health
• The child’s preference, with more weight given to the wishes of a more mature child (however there is no age at which a child can decide for themselves)
• The child’s relationships with extended family on each side, especially siblings
• The overall pros and cons of a continued relationship between each parent and the child and the child’s current living conditions

The court will not give automatic preference to a child’s mother based solely on gender. In fact, a judge must consider all factors individually, and cannot base a decision on one factor alone. Courts similarly cannot base a custody decision on a parent’s disability, marital status, income, lifestyle or conduct. It may only consider how these factors affect the child’s overall wellbeing.

Emphasis is placed on fair and impartial investigation in custody cases. A neutral third party, such as an expert trained to collect evidence via psychological tests, observational data and interviews, may prepare a report and make a recommendation based on their findings.

Gearing, Rackner & McGrath Can Help Your Family

Whether you were married to your children’s other parent of not, you have rights. As long as paternity has been established, the courts will treat married and unmarried parents similarly in custody disputes.

When something as important as your children are involved, you need experience in your corner. If you are involved in a custody dispute or divorce, contact one of the knowledgeable child custody attorneys at Gearing, Rackner & McGrath.

To schedule a consultation with one of our family law attorneys in Oregon or SW Washington, call us now at (503) 222-9116 or through the contact form on our website at