Child custody laws in Oregon are essentially the same for unmarried parents, and for married parents going through a divorce. Once a father's paternity is established (either by his being added to the child's birth certificate, or by court order if the mother refuses to do this) both parents have equal legal custody rights in their children. This also applies to adoptive parents. Once a case is filed, if the parents can't agree on how to raise their child, a specific award must be made. There are two related issues to child custody: legal custody, and parenting time.
Legal custody refers to decision-making authority over a child. A parent with legal custody decides where a child goes to school and what religion they observe, makes medical decisions for the child, and so on. Parents can agree to joint legal custody, sharing this authority, but in Oregon, a court will not order joint custody unless the parents agree to it. (This is not the case in all other states.) Courts can also order custodial authority to be divided, with one parent making some decisions and the other parent making others, but this is rare.
Parenting time, or physical custody, refers to where a child lives each day, and how their time is divided between their parents. Each custody case ends with a parenting plan describing where the child or children stay. These plans can be as specific or general as the parents need. The parents are free to deviate from the plan if they agree to do so, but the plan is there for when they can't agree. The harder it is for two parents to agree on these issues, the more important it is that the plan be clear and specific.
Note that, based on the division of these two concepts, it is entirely possible (and, in fact, common) for one parent to have primary legal custody of a child, but for the parents to have some form of shared physical custody. For that reason, lawyers generally don't use the term "sole custody," as this implies that the parent who does not have legal custody has no rights at all, which is not so.
Under Oregon law, decisions about legal and physical custody are made according to the best interests of the children. The law sets forth a few standards for determining just what is in the best interests of children:
The most commonly followed guiding principle is that a child should remain with the parent who spent most time with them before -- the "primary custodial parent." The law also presumes that it is in the best interests of the children to have an ongoing relationship and continuing contact with both of their parents. If the court must decide which parent is awarded primary legal and physical custody, it is more likely to grant it to the parent who has shown that they will encourage an ongoing relationship between the children and the other parent. Parents should not try to keep their children away from each other, unless one parent has clearly been abusing the children.
Oregon law explicitly does not consider the lifestyle choices of each parent in child custody decisions, except as it affects the welfare of the children. Judges do not want to hear parents attacking each other in court; the focus is on the children, not on each person's faults.
One of the most common worries that parents have in a custody dispute is that the other parent will take their children away and refuse to let them keep in contact. The law affords several means to protect parents and children from this kind of interference. If the parent of your children has refused to let you see them or indicated that he or she will take them away from you, you should consult an attorney immediately. The sooner you respond, the greater the chance that we can keep your children safe.
Oregon law requires a child support order to be included in any child custody judgment. Child support amounts are calculated according to a mathematical formula. The most important variables are the income of each parent, and the amount of parenting time that each child has with each parent, measured in overnight stays each year. Other factors include medical insurance premiums (both for the parents, and for the children), day care costs, and whether a parent has any other (non-joint) children. This page contains the official spreadsheet for calculating child support figures.
Parents generally cannot agree to waive child support, unless they show unusual economic circumstances that justify a waiver. Even when child support is waived (which, we must emphasize, is rare), the child support calculation must still be performed and attached to the judgment, along with specific findings rebutting its application. Note also that if a parent receives state monetary assistance, such as TANF or SNAP benefits or Oregon Health Plan coverage for their child, the State may take some or all of the child support that the other parent pays, to subsidize the costs of these programs. You should contact a lawyer if you have questions about calculation of child support obligations.