Child Custody & Child Support Attorney Medford
“Who gets custody of the children? How much time does each parent get with the children? Who contributes what to the support of the children?” These are frequent, and confusing, questions in the divorce process. Divorce is a difficult process, but the most stressful and potentially damaging issue that needs to be addressed in a divorce has to do with the children in the marriage. The decisions that need to be made around child custody, parenting, and child support are often colored by pain, anger, and grief, so that arriving at any kind of clear and rational plan for a couple’s children becomes difficult, if not impossible to achieve. When this is the case Oregon law is structured so that the court can step in and determine custody, parenting time, and child support issues if the parents cannot. The court can do this whether or not the parents agree. Again, in Oregon, many of the issues surrounding child custody, parenting time, and child support are determined slightly differently from county to county within Oregon. Because this is such an emotionally charged issue between spouses, it’s especially vital to have a sympathetic and compassionate attorney at your side to advise you on the best course of action for you and your children. As a father myself, I am committed to achieving the best possible outcome for both the children and the parents in a divorce situation.
In a divorce involving a child or children, the ideal situation is if both spouses can arrive at a mutual and amicable understanding and agreement about the care of their children so that they do not have to take this important issue into a courtroom and litigate over it. Unfortunately, this is often an area of intense, and sometimes overwhelming feelings, so arriving at a harmonious cooperative agreement becomes impossible, and the court system must step in to determine child custody, parenting time, and child support issues because the parents are unable to do so in a rational or clear-headed manner.
Oregon is like all states in that it begins with the supposition that it’s always best for a child to have equal time, energy and support from both parents after a divorce. Because of this, it is often preferable to come to an agreement regarding jont legal custody of the children.
Joint legal custody means both parents share the decision making on all matters regarding the welfare of their children and have equal input on issues like medical, educational, and religious questions, even though the children may spend more time with one parent than the other. This is different than sharing parenting time 50%/50%. Legal custody impacts decision making while parenting time simply refers to the amount of time the child or children spends with each parent.
In some states the courts are automatically required to award joint custody to both parents. The only exception to this is when the children’s best interests would be compromised because one of the parent’s is deemed “unfit.” Then there are many states where the decision to award joint custody is completely in the hands of the court, even if one parent objects to it. In Oregon, however, the court system is not allowed to award joint custody in any form unless both parents are in complete and total agreement. If both parents cannot reach such an agreement, then the court’s only recourse is to award sole custody to one parent, even if both parents are deemed “fit parents.” The decision is taken entirely out of the parent’s hands. Unfortunately, this also means that one parent has more control and say over the children’s upbringing. Because this law can have a very negative impact on the children, it’s far preferable to try and come to terms with each other because – if you can’t – then the courts will determine the issue of custody, and the one and only determination the court can make is to grant sole custody. Our office will almost always try to settle custody issues through a professional mediator because having the court system determine who retains sole custody of the children should be a matter of last resort
When sole custody has been established and awarded to one parent the child or children often spends the majority of their time living with that parent, who is called the “custodial parent.” Because the court has awarded sole custody, the court also determines the amount of “parenting time” that the non-custodial parent will have with the children. Again, like custody, whatever is in the “best interests of the child” determines how much and when parenting time is awarded to the non-custodial parent. A non-custodial parent can still obtain substantial, even 50%/50% parenting time with the child. An experienced divorce lawyer can help you obtain a result that is in the best interests of the child or children.
There are a number of different schedules that are regularly ordered by the court, including:
• Every other Friday to Sunday
• Friday to Monday mornings
• Midweek evening visits
Week on/Week off parenting time
• Extra time during summer vacations
• Extra or alternating time at holidays
These are routinely suggested schedules, but parents are encouraged to work out a plan that fits their own needs and schedules and is in the best interests of the child. If they have difficulty arriving at an agreement, then the court will order the parents into mediation first, and if that fails, then a judge will determine the amount of parenting time awarded to the non-custodial parent, as well as when it will happen. Again, many of the issues surrounding child custody, parenting time, and child support are determined slightly differently from county to county within Oregon, and often from judge to judge. In some counties the parents are required or ordered to go to mediation first, before they even attempt to work out parenting time, in other counties they are not, but encouraged to do so.
If there are concerns about the health, safety and well being of the child or children because there has been substance abuse, neglect, or other abuse, then the court may order that the parenting time be supervised. When a non-custodial parent is awarded “supervised” parenting time, which means that there is a designated third party who must be present when the parent spends time with the child. In some cases the court may also require that one or both parents undergo counseling, take parenting classes, or abstain from drugs or alcohol during visits. It is rare that a court will deny parenting time completely; this only happens in extreme cases where there is clear danger to the child.
Like all states, both parents are required to support their children after a divorce. This is generally an accepted concept for both parents. What becomes problematic is deciding the amount of financial support each parent contributes. Oregon employs child support guidelines that contain a large number of variables that must be taken into consideration for every couple and every family, but the amounts are based on always based on calculations which take in the following factors:
• Each parent’s income
The amount of parenting time each parent has with the child
The needs of the child – which include education, health and dental care as well as insurance, day care, and special needs children
• The income and needs of the custodial parent
• The paying parent’s ability to pay
• The child’s standard of living before divorce or separation
In certain circumstances, the court can adjust the child support determined by the guidelines and increase or decrease a parent’s obligation. A divorce lawyer can assist in this process and help ensure that a fair result is obtained that meets your child’s or children’s needs.
Once Child Support is awarded, it continues until the child is 21 if the child qualifies as a child attending school under Oregon law. Whether or not a child qualifies as a child attending school is a fact specific inquiry and an experienced divorce lawyer can help ensure your child is appropriately supported. Child Support is also paid whether or not the custodial parent remarries or cohabitates.