Child Custody Lawyer Portland, OR

Parents are often uncertain about what the words “child custody” means. Legal custody means that a parent has the authority to make important decisions for a child, such as what school a child attends, the kind of health care a child receives, what kind of religious training, if any, a child receives, and what activities are appropriate for the child. In Oregon, a court can award joint legal custody of a child only if both parents agree that is best for their child. If the parents choose to be joint legal custodians, they can also agree that one parent has “tie-breaking” authority to resolve disputes about some or all of the important issues. Joint legal child custody can be a powerful signal to a child that, even with a divorce, both parents are committed to the child’s best interests.

If the parents cannot agree to some form of joint legal custody, the court must award one parent sole legal custody. That means the parent with sole legal custody has the sole authority to make major decisions about a child’s well-being without needing the other parent’s consent. For example, if the legal custodian determines that a child needs counseling and the other parent objects, the legal custodian makes the final decision. If there is a dispute about legal child custody, and both parents are equally fit and do not have significant issues that impact parenting ability, under Oregon law, the parent who historically provided the majority of care for the child is generally be awarded legal custody.

Sometimes a parent may believe that obtaining “custody” or “full custody” means the child will spend most of the time in that parent’s household. This is referred to as "physical custody," but those words have been supplanted by the Oregon Legislature, which refers to each parent’s contact with a child as “parenting time.”

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