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Parents in a custody proceeding may be awarded joint custody or one parent may be awarded sole custody.

What is joint custody?

The term joint custody in Oregon means the parents share decision-making responsibilities for a child. Joint custody does not mean that a child lives with each parent half the time. In fact, parents may have joint custody even when a child lives exclusively with one parent.

A judge cannot award joint custody in Oregon unless both parents agree to it. 

Joint custody does not do away with a parent’s child support obligation. Child support is determined by the child support guidelines and is based on the parents’ income, the amount of time that the child spends with each parent, and other factors.  

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What is sole custody?

If either parent objects to joint custody, a judge must decide which parent will have sole custody.  Sole custody in Oregon means that the custodial parent makes all major decisions regarding the child.  Major decisions include but are not limited to the child’s religion, education, health care, and where the child lives.

Factors a judge will consider

A judge’s primary consideration in awarding custody is the best interests of the child.  In determining the best interests of a child, the court will consider these factors:
  • The emotional ties between the child and other family members;
  • The interest of the parents in and attitude toward the child;
  • The desirability of continuing an existing relationship;
  • The abuse of one parent by the other;
  • The preference for the primary caregiver of the child, if the caregiver is deemed fit by the court;
  • The willingness and ability of each parent to facilitate and encourage a close and continuing relationship between the other parent and the child.

A judge cannot give custody to a parent just because the parent is the mother or father of the child.  Also, the judge will consider the conduct, marital status, income, social environment or lifestyle of a parent only if it is shown that those factors are causing or may cause emotional or physical harm to the child.
Judges usually are reluctant to separate siblings.  

Child’s wishes

A judge may consider a child’s preference about where he or she wants to live, but a judge does not have to follow the child’s wishes.  This is true no matter the age of the child, although the wishes of older children carry more weight than those of younger children.

Expert witnesses

In deciding custody, a judge may rely on the testimony of expert witnesses. Expert witnesses may be psychologists, social workers, teachers, counselors, or psychiatrists. Sometimes an expert witness may testify about a custody study or custody evaluation.  These studies can be helpful to a judge during a custody trial.  The judge also considers the testimony of the parties and other witnesses who know about the child or the parties. 


A custody order may be changed later if both parents agree or if one parent can show that there has been a substantial change of circumstances since the last custody order and a change is in the best interests of the child. 

Parenting Time

A parenting plan, whether agreed to by the parents or ordered by the court, must spell out the minimum amount of time each parent will have with a child. In many counties in Oregon, before a court will make a decision regarding custody or parenting time, the court requires the parents to try to work out a plan in mediation.  If the parents cannot agree, the court will make parenting time decisions.

Under Oregon law, both parents almost always have the right to access the child’s school, medical, dental, police and counseling records. Both parents usually are able to authorize emergency medical care. In addition, Oregon law requires most parenting plans to restrict a party from moving more than 60 miles from the other parent without telling the other parent and the court before the move.

A parenting plan may be changed if a different parenting plan would be in the best interests of the child.