A Parents’ Guide to Oregon Divorces
Types of Child Custody
A good starting place for parents is to become familiar with the terms relating to child custody. In Oregon, there are conceptually two types of child custody:
• Physical; and
Physical custody is technically called “parenting time” and refers to the schedule for where the child lives. Legal custody refers to a parent’s primary right to make major life decisions for their child. Legal custody can be sole or joint. An Oregon court will only order joint legal custody if both parents agree to the arrangement. When a judge orders joint legal custody, both parents typically have a say in the major life decisions in the child’s life, including:
• Educational decisions;
• Medical decisions;
• Religious decisions; and
• Living arrangements.
The court may also order terms that deal with day-to-day decision-making. These types of decisions may include:
• Who the child may associate with (i.e. step-parents or significant others);
• Rules for disciplining the child;
• The child’s diet; and
• The child’s activities or sports.
Even if a court orders sole legal custody of a child to one parent, the non-custodial parent is still entitled to be kept up to date with how the child is doing, including the right to confer with teachers and doctors. It is also typical for the custodial parent to be ordered to tell the non-custodial parent of any substantial changes in the child’s life.
Of course, raising a child with a former spouse will raise many other custody issues not addressed here. Those with questions should consult with a dedicated Oregon divorce attorney for immediate assistance.
Child Custody: The Best Interests Standard
Child custody matters are the most contested and divisive issues in divorces involving couples with young children. Not surprisingly, parents frequently ask what a judge can consider when making child custody decisions. In both Oregon and Washington, courts are bound to base custody determinations on what is in the best interest of the child. While this may sound straightforward in theory, in practice, it is anything but.
Oregon law requires that courts consider the following factors when determining what is in a child’s best interest.
• The child’s relationship with other family members;
• Each parties’ interest in the child;
• Each parties’ attitude toward the child;
• The benefit of a continued relationship with each party;
• Whether either party engaged in any abuse of the child or the other parent;
• The child’s preference (with more weight being given to older children); and
• The willingness of each parent to foster a close and continuing relationship between the child and the other parent.
Courts must consider each of these factors, at least to the extent that they apply. A court may only make a child custody decision after it has weighed all relevant factors.
Not only does the law tell the judge what they can consider, it also prohibits the judge from considering certain things. For example, either parent’s disability or lifestyle cannot be the basis of the court’s decision unless the parent’s disability or lifestyle endanger the health, welfare or safety of the child. The court’s concern for the safety of children is paramount. Other factors that a court may consider when making a child custody decision are:
• The conduct of the spouses, if such conduct could endanger the child;
• Each spouses’ residential situation;
• A spouse’s mental health issues; and
• A spouse’s issues with substance abuse.
What is a Parenting Plan?
A parenting plan is a written, court-ordered document that at minimum establishes the amount of time a child spends with each parent. Parents are free to create their own parenting plan by agreement, or the court can create a parenting plan. The courts prefer that parents work toward an agreement because they know their child best.
Parenting plans can either be basic or detailed. However, even the most basic Oregon parenting plans should include:
• The names of the parents;
• The names of the children;
• The primary residence of the children;
• The weekday and weekend parenting time schedule;
• The basic holiday and vacation parenting time schedule; and
• How the parents will exchange the children.
Detailed Parenting Plans
Detailed parenting plans include all of the above information, but may also include additional provisions, such as:
- School pick-up schedules;
- The designation of other people who can pick up or drop off children;
- A detailed holiday schedule;
- A detailed summer schedule;
- Each parent’s role in making decisions for the child;
- Rules and restrictions on a parent’s ability to move;
- The type of information that will be shared between parents regarding the children;
- Preferred means of communication; and
- Methods of resolving any future disputes that may arise.
Notably, parents’ decisions regarding parenting time can have important financial repercussions. For example, parenting time can impact not only the court’s determination of whether and how much child support is appropriate, but may also affect a parent’s ability to claim a child as a dependent for tax purposes.
While parents have a legal obligation to provide support for their children, courts will not order child support in every case. When determining if Oregon child support is necessary, a court uses a formula that takes into account:
- The income of each parent, including Social Security benefits and other government benefits;
- The amount of time each parent spends with the children, typically measured by overnights;
- Work-related child care costs;
- The costs of medical insurance for the parents and child; and
- Medical expenses not covered by insurance.
Under section 137-050-0710 of the Oregon Administrative Rules, courts are provided guidance on how to calculate child support. Specifically, the steps the court follows when determining if child support is necessary are:
- Determine each spouse’s income.
- Determine whether there are any necessary adjustments to income, such as deductions for spousal support paid or additions for spousal support received.
- Determine how much excess income each spouse has that is available for support.
- Determine each spouse’s basic support obligation.
- Determine each parent’s share of medical support costs.
- Credit each parent for their share of the parenting time, typically measured by overnights.
Do You Have Questions for an Experienced Oregon Family Law Attorney?
If you are a parent and are considering divorce or have reason to believe that your spouse is pursuing a divorce, contact the dedicated Oregon child custody lawyers at Gearing Rackner & McGrath, LLP. Our dedicated team of divorce attorneys understand the emotional impact that divorce can have on families and takes every precaution to minimize the adverse effects of the process while protecting our client’s rights. To learn more, and to schedule a consultation with one of our child custody and child support lawyers, call (503) 222-9116. We represent clients throughout Oregon and Southwest Washington, with convenient offices in Portland and Astoria.