Many times clients in a child custody case, often fathers, say to me, “I want joint child custody.” I always ask what that means to them. Mostly what it means is that the parent wants to have the children 50% of the time. This brings up the issue under Oregon law, what is joint custody; what is sole custody and what is meant by parenting time or visitation.
Other states, including California, start with the presumption that in custody cases parents will have joint custody. Joint custody doesn’t mean shared physical custody or when each parent has the children. Rather, under Oregon law, joint custody means “an arrangement by which parents share rights and responsibilities for major decisions concerning the children, including but not limited to the child’s residence, education, health care and religious training.” ORS 107.169(1).
In other states a parent who seeks to have any sole child custody has to convince the court that is in the child’s best interests. Oregon is different however. In Oregon parents have to agree to joint custody. A judge cannot order joint custody over the objection of one of the parents. ORS 107.169(3). Therefore, if your partner is seeking sole custody of the children, and you object, you have to convince her or him to agree instead to joint custody. You can do so either in informal discussions or through mediation with a neutral third party. If your partner still won’t agree to joint child custody, the judge can’t order it and you must either agree to your partner having sole custody or you must seek sole custody yourself.
Joint custody means that parents must discuss and hopefully agree upon major decisions concerning the children. Hopefully parents can agree about whether the kids should go to private or public school, what church if any, they will go to, and issues about the children’s medical care, like mental health counseling, braces or birth control. But often parents can’t agree. Only you know if you and your partner are going to be able to work together cooperatively on your children’s behalf. If you have a joint custody arrangement, but can’t agree on important issues, you may have to go back to court and ask the judge to give you sole legal custody, or decide the issue upon which you cannot agree. This modification proceeding may be expense and stressful.
Sole legal child custody is the opposite of joint custody. It means that one parent has the right to make the decisions about the children’s residence, education, health care and religious training. Even if one parent has sole legal child custody, however the other parent still has certain rights. The “non-custodial” parent has the right:
- To inspect and receive school records and to consult with teachers and other school staff about your children’s welfare and education, just like the custodial parent would.
- To inspect and receive medical records and to consult with medical care providers like doctors, dentists and counselors.
- To inspect and receive government agency and law enforcement records concerning your children.
- To authorize emergency medical, dental, psychological or other health care for your children.
- To apply the court to be your children’s legal representative in court actions.
If you live in Bend, Redmond, or any region of Central Oregon and think you need help with Child Custody, or would simply like to set up an initial consultation, please contact me.