At Litowich Law in Salem, our child custody attorneys are dedicated to helping you understand the law and practical aspects of child custody and parenting time law in Oregon. We know that your children are very important to you and that the outcome of these kinds of cases can have long term impacts on your family. Our goal is to understand what you want and help you move in the right direction. Whether it's establishing this plan for the first time during a divorce or modifying it after the circumstances have changed, we can help you negotiate or argue in court for a child custody order that is truly in the best interests of your children.
If you are ready for a law firm that listens to you and can help you get the right outcome for your family, schedule an initial consultation by calling 503-419-6422 or contact us online
In Oregon, courts are directed to do what is best for children. So that everyone knows the rules about how the courts decide custody, ORS 107.137 tells the court that it should consider the following:
Courts are unlikely to separate children who have a close bond to each other.
Example: if a mother has two children with two different fathers and both children have lived with the mother for the previous six months or more, it is unlikely that the court will separate those siblings if it is otherwise in the child's best interests to stay with the mother.
The court also considers how well bonded the child(ren) are with other family members. This can come into play if one of the parents has had a minimal role with the child(ren) and then returns and wants to play a bigger role. If the child(ren) have not had much contact and bonding with the non-primary parent, the court will consider this when deciding whether to change custody.
Among other things, the court will look at a parent's willingness to arrange their work and other schedules such that the parent has meaningful time with their children. This can be hard for some people, as not everyone can tell their employer they can't work because of their children. However, if such flexibility is an option, the court looks favorably on a parent who makes time for their kids.
In the digital age, a new issue is arising. Parents who are always on their phone or who hand their kids a tablet are increasingly facing scrutiny for failing to show interest in their children. The court will consider a parent's attentiveness to their child(ren) when making decisions about which parent should have custody.
Courts also look at a parent's willingness to encourage a child to engage in activities, such as sports and extra-curricular activities. If one parent is deeply involved and the other is not at all, the court is more likely to look favorably on the parent who is involved.
Most of the time, the court will find that it is desirable to continue the relationship between the child and both parents. In very limited circumstances, the court will find that it is undesirable to continue a relationship between a parent and child.
If this question is in play, most likely DHS/CPS and the police are involved. The sorts of cases that result in a finding that it is undesirable to continue the relationship between parent and child often involve one of the parents either having their parental rights terminated by the state or going to prison.
Most often, when someone asks us if they can terminate the other parent's parental rights or keep them from having parenting time, the answer is no.
In Oregon, if one parent has been found to have abused the other parent, there is a rebuttable presumption that it is not best for the child to be in the custody of the abuser. A presumption means that we act as if it is true that it is not best for the child to be in the custody of the abuser. Rebuttable means that the presumption can be shown to be incorrect. There are several ways that a person can be found to have abused someone:
If it is established that abuse has occurred, the person found to be the abuser must present evidence and convince the court that it is not against the child's best interests that the abusing parent have custody (this is the rebuttal). Rebutting the presumption can be challenging depending on the circumstances.
A finding of abuse does not mean that the parent found to have abused the other parent will not get parenting time. Depending on the circumstances, there may be parenting time restrictions and other protections in place, but the children are still entitled to see their parent.
This is one of the more important factors. Often, the primary parent is described as the administrative parent. This parent makes doctor's appointment, brushes teeth, makes dinner and lunches, wipes noses, tucks in, kisses owies, signs the child(ren) up for school and activities, does the school shopping, and does other necessary things required for a child's day to day needs. Sometimes it is very clear who this parent is, sometimes it is not. Sometimes (more so in recent years) both parents are the primary caregiver.
Statistically, mothers are the primary caregivers, which gives the impression that the law favors mothers. For those fathers who want custody of their children, they are well advised to know what size clothes and shoes their child wears, know their children's teachers' and friends' names, and be able to respond to the children without the mother's guidance.
The court favors the primary caregiver because the child is usually more bonded to the primary caregiver and feels safe and secure with the primary caregiver. The court will very infrequently remove a child from the primary caregiver, and then only if the other parent can demonstrate that the primary caregiver is unfit.
Often when parents divorce or separate, one parent will take the children. If the parent left behind wishes to maintain the regular contact they had with the children until a more permanent solution can be had, that parent is well advised to work with an attorney to get a temporary custody / parenting time order in place as soon as possible after the separation. Waiting too long establishes the other parent as the primary parent and creates an unnecessarily steep uphill battle to regain the time you once had.
Another highly important factor is a parent's willingness to foster and encourage a close and continuing relationship between the child(ren) and the other parent. This means that the parent encourages the children to like, love, respect, communicate with, and see the other parent.
Examples of not doing this:
Whether parents like each other or not, their children are entitled to love and bond with each parent. Only in the limited situations described above should a parent interrupt a child's relationship with their other parent. Courts have changed custody in extreme cases of parental alienation.
If you need help with a child custody or parenting time matter, call 503-419-6422 or email to schedule an appointment to discuss your situation. Based in Salem, our family law attorneys practice throughout Oregon.