Physical vs. Legal Custody in Oregon

Let's Untie the Knot | Physical vs. Legal Custody in Oregon

In Oregon, until there is a court order determining the custody of a child, both parents have equal rights to the child, regardless of whether they are married or unmarried.  In order for a court to determine the custody of a child, one of the parents must either file for custody or, if married, file for divorce and seek custody in the divorce proceeding. This article will discuss the distinction between the two types of custody:

Physical Custody:

Physical custody refers to where a child lives on a regular basis.  It can be shared by both parents or granted to just one parent.  In most cases, one parent will get physical custody and the other parent will be given visitation rights.  Typically, visitation rights give the non-custodial parent exclusive time with the child every other weekend, alternating major holidays and a number of weeks during summer vacations.   Historically, true “joint custody” arrangements were quite common.  Under these arrangements, the child lived with each parent roughly one half of the time.  Parents would often meet for the “hand-off” on a Wednesday or alternate weeks.  Today, such arrangements are rarer and, in order to lessen the disruption of a child’s routine, one parent is given sole physical custody.

Legal Custody:

Legal custody of a child means having the right and the obligation to make decisions about a child’s upbringing.  A parent with legal custody has the right to make decisions about a child’s education, medical treatment and even his or her religious upbringing.  Most states favor awarding the parents joint legal custody, which means that the decision making is shared by both parents.  If you share joint legal custody with the other parent and you act to exclude him or her from the decision-making process, your ex can take you back to court and ask the judge to enforce the custody agreement.  If you believe that the situation between you and your ex make it impossible for you to share joint legal custody, you can ask the court to grant you sole legal custody.  But, in many states, joint legal custody is strongly preferred so you will bear the burden of showing the judge that it is in the best interests of the child for you to have sole legal custody. 

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