The Rights and Obligations of Oregon Grandparents
A deep bond exists between many grandparents and their grandchildren. Grandparents offer comfort, support, and care for their grandchildren, and they can even be an integral part of a family’s day-to-day dynamics.
However, divorce can shake this up. When parents divorce, child custody will be determined, and grandparents may not factor into that decision. Depending on the situation and the custody agreement, a divorce can make it very difficult to maintain the grandparent-grandchild relationship.
If this type of scenario has come up in your life, it’s only natural to look for ways to stay in contact with your grandchildren. After all, they are your child’s children, and that’s a significant relationship. Understanding how Oregon determines grandparents’ rights can help you find the right course of action to stay in your grandchildren’s lives.
How Oregon Determines Custody and Visitation Rights
Like most states, the law in Oregon states that custody should be decided based on the child’s best interests. After all, minors do not yet have the legal rights or the ability to support themselves. Because of this, custody decisions are taken seriously with the intention of making sure the child is well-supported.
The state of Oregon considers remaining with a parent to be in the child’s best interest in almost every case. As a result, outside of extraordinary circumstances, custody and visitation rights are only granted to a child’s parents. Caring for the child is considered to be the parents’ responsibility and privilege. Grandparents, aunts and uncles, and even older siblings do not have the right to be automatically considered for legally-binding custody or visitation orders.
That doesn’t mean that grandparents and other family members are entirely ignored in standard custody and visitation arrangements. If the courts are deciding on custody for a child, they take a number of factors into consideration, including:
- The child’s primary caretaker
- Emotional ties between the child and their parents or other family members
- Abuse of the child by any family members
- The home environment of the child
- Both parents’ willingness to help the child maintain familial relationships
- In some cases, the child’s own preferences
While receiving the right to visitation is extremely rare, the nonparent can discuss ways to stay in contact with the child with the custodial parent. Depending on the situation, any factors the court considers can lead to the court awarding custody rights of your grandchild to your child. That will make it much more likely for you to remain in regular contact with your grandchild.
How Nonparents Can Receive Visitation or Custody of a Child in Oregon
In rare cases, a divorce can lead to grandparents receiving visitation with or custody of a child. In fact, the right circumstances can lead to the court awarding custody to a nonparent in any child custody case. The goal of these types of cases is to make sure that the child is well-supported, after all. If it appears that the child’s parents are not acting in the child’s best interests, then the court system can make a decision to give custody or visitation to other family members.
There are two primary scenarios in which a grandparent may receive visitation or custody. First and foremost, it’s possible to petition the court because you have been raising your grandchild, and their parents have unreasonably denied your contact with them. Oregon law states that if any relative of a child has “established emotional ties creating a child-parent relationship or an ongoing personal relationship with a child,” they are entitled to file a petition for visitation, guardianship, or custody.
For example, if you have lived with or cared for your grandchild for a significant length of time, you may have established a child-parent type of relationship with them. In this case, the court will decide whether it appears that your grandchild’s legal guardian is acting in their best interest. If not, then you may be able to receive visitation or even custodial rights.
The second method of gaining custody is more serious. If your grandchild’s legal parents are unable or unwilling to care for the child, or if they are abusing the child, then you may petition the court to receive custody. For example, suppose Child Protective Services have started investigating your grandchild’s living conditions. In that case, the court system may be more likely to grant you at least temporary custody while the investigation is completed.
How Grandparents Can Exercise Their Rights
Whether you feel you are being unfairly denied contact with your grandchild or you believe they are being neglected or abused, you will need to file a petition with the court to receive visitation or custody. The state does not take the parental right to custody lightly. You will need to present a strong case that your grandchild is being harmed to receive any legal right to see them.
You will specifically be filing a petition based on ORS 109.119. This petition needs to include an explanation of your relationship with your grandchild, and the circumstances that you believe are causing them harm. It’s best to file this petition after you have collected significant evidence of the harm being done because your grandchild’s legal parents will be notified. This evidence is critical for showing that neither legal parent of the child is fit to care for them.
A Qualified Custody Attorney Can Help
If your grandchild is being harmed, it can be all too tempting to rush into things. However, taking the time to consult with a family law attorney can help ensure that you have the best possible chance of receiving visitation or custody. Even if you’re not sure you qualify, an Oregon custody lawyer can walk you through the requirements in detail.
You love your grandchild, and they deserve a caring family environment. Whether you have been their caretaker or simply an important part of their life, divorce shouldn’t change your rights. If you want to petition for custody or visitation rights, don’t hesitate to reach out to an experienced attorney today.