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Your Portland Child Custody Case: The Basics

Portland is known, and celebrated, for its eccentricities and good quality of life. However, behind the scenes, many families are struggling with divorce, paternity issues, and child custody arrangements. Child custody cases can be a source of frustration and confusion for many parents, which is compounded by the emotional toll of putting a family through the court system. If you and your child's other parent are going through the process of deciding how to divide the rights and obligations with respect to your child, the following is a basic overview of the law of child custody in Portland, Oregon.

When Is Child Custody an Issue?

Child custody cases typically start in two ways. The first, and likely most obvious, is when parents get divorced. In this case, a child custody order or child custody agreement is usually a part of the entire divorce proceeding. Because Multnomah County Circuit Court has a Family Court, it is likely that the same judge who presides over the divorce proceedings will preside over any child custody issues, as well. This makes the process a lot smoother because the judge who worked on the divorce case will already know about the family's history.

The second most common situation is when a child's parents are not married when the child is born, and do not live together. After the child is born, a father who wants to assert his rights as a parent may file a petition for child custody with the court. The petition is a formal request for the court to give custody to the father. This does not necessarily mean that the father will take the child away from the mother, but it may result in both parents being awardedthe right to make decisions in the child's life, and the child may spend time living with both parents.

A third, less common, situation is when a child is removed from a home (usually by Oregon's Child Protective Services), and a parent or other family member wants to gain custody, or regain custody if it was taken away. These types of cases often involve drug abuse and domestic violence. If this is the case, the parent or hopeful guardian will file a petition with the court asking the court to grant custody of the child.

Types of Custody

There are two types of custody in Oregon, and they each come in two forms: Physical Custody and Legal Custody, and either Sole or Joint.

  • Physical Custody is when a parent lives with a child. This is what many people think of when they think of custody of a child. A parent who has physical custody provides for the day-to-day needs of the child, like food, clothing, a home, and transportation.
  • Legal Custody involves a parents' right to make important decisions in a child's life. Some of those decisions include religion, education, medical care, dental care, and the child's general welfare.
  • Sole Custody means that only one parent has custody over the child. If a parent has sole physical custody, the child only lives with that parent. If the parent has sole legal custody (which is usually accompanied by sole physical custody), only the parent with legal custody may make important decisions for the child.
  • Joint Custody means that parents share custody of the child. If parents have joint physical custody, the child spends time living with both parents. To prevent disrupting a child's routine, a common arrangement is for the child to live with one parent during the week, and another parent on the weekends. However, parents and courts may make other arrangements for the benefit of children.


If parents are not married when a child is born, paternity of the child must be established before child custody is granted. The parents have the option of filling out a Voluntary Acknowledgement of Paternity at the hospital when the child is born. The father's name will then be listed on the child's birth certificate, and both the father and the child will have the same rights and legal relationship they would have if the parents were married. You can also fill out this form after the child is born by contacting the Oregon Paternity Project or visiting the Child Support Office in Portland. If a parent is uncooperative, genetic testing may be an option.

The Guardian Ad Litem and a Child's Wishes

During a child custody case, a court will assign a Guardian Ad Litem who will represent the child's interests. This court officer is impartial, and does not favor either parent. The Guardian will get to know the family history very well and make recommendations to the judge. Unlike other states, Oregon will not let the child choose who to live with. Of course, the judge will consider the child's wishes in making a decision, but the judge has the final say in a child's custody.

If you are concerned about child custody, you may want to speak with an attorney about that and other issues related to child custody, like child support, paternity, and divorce.

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