Child Custody versus Parenting Time: What’s the Difference?

We have all seen the drama of celebrity custody battles play out on the news, whether Elian Gonzalez or Heidi Klum and Seal. But what exactly is child custody and how is it different from parenting time?

In Oregon, there is a distinct difference between child custody and parenting time. Custody decides who will have certain decision-making authority for the minor child, while parenting time concerns when the child will be in the care of each parent.

There are two common types of custody: joint custody, and sole custody. Joint custody in Oregon is defined as the sharing of parental decisions about care, control, education, health, religion and primary residence of the minor child. Joint custody refers to parents sharing decision-making regardless of actual time the child spends with, or lives with, the parent. Joint custody does not mean a child lives with each parent 50/50. In fact, there may be joint custody where a child lives exclusively with one parent. A court will not award joint custody unless both parents agree. If they disagree, a court will grant one parent sole custody. Sole custody gives that single parent decision-making authority. Usually the sole custodial parent has the most parenting time but not always.

Once custody is established, a court decides the amount of parenting time each will have with the child. Parenting time, commonly called “visitation,” is governed by the parenting plan, and is independent from custody. A parenting plan, either agreed to by the parents or ordered by court, frames out the minimum amount of time each parent will be allowed for visitation. 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 plan would be in the “best interest of the child,” but the modification should be requested in court.

The court’s primary consideration in awarding both custody and parenting time is “the best interests and welfare of the child.” In deciding the child’s best interest, courts consider numerous factors including the interest of the parents in the child, desirability of parents continuing a relationship with the child, emotional ties between the child and other family members, abuse of one parent by the other and numerous other factors. Remember, this is not an exclusive list but merely a select few factors the court considers in determining best interest.

Parents often confuse custody and parenting time, which can cause tremendous stress during difficult times for all involved, including the children. Understanding the difference between the two, can help alleviate this anxiety. If you need assistance with custody and parenting time, feel free to contact our office.

Scott C. Bucy is an attorney with the Law Office of Robert Good LLC, specializing in family law, business, estate planning and intellectual property. Contact him at (541) 482-3763.