When you are going through a divorce or custody case, it’s important to consider how the case process may affect your children, both directly and indirectly.
Oregon law and policy explicitly states that, whenever possible, frequent and on-going contact with both parents should be encouraged for children. See ORS 107.101; ORS 107.149. The law encourages each parent to share in the rights and responsibilities of raising their children, and also encourages parents to create a parenting plan together, if possible, for their children.
If a court has to order a parenting plan because you cannot agree, Oregon law requires the courts to consider the best interests of the children and safety of the parties in developing the plan. ORS 107.101. For more information about how custody and parenting time is decided by a court, see our other blog post “What is Custody and How it is Decided.”
You already probably know that the court process may be traumatizing for your children, as they too can feel the strained relationships, uncertainties, and tensions that come with going through a divorce or custody case. Children usually feel torn between two parents that they both love. How you help guide your children through the process could have a lifelong impact on them.
Here are some suggestions to help you and your children cope with the stress of going through a divorce or custody case:.
- You will be required to complete a parenting class through the court. Pay close attention to the information presented in the class and consider how you can use the information the class provides to help you and your children throughout the case. .
- You will also be required to participate in mediation with the other party. If you and your co-parent can resolve your case without going to trial, you might be able to spare yourself and your children lots of stress.. Sometimes settlement is not possible, but if it is, it is usually the road that causes the least harm to you and your children.
- Before taking any action in your divorce or custody case or with the other parent, first think about your children’s present and future emotional and mental health and well-being and how it might be affected by your planned action. Try your best to put your children’s health and well-being before your own when making decisions or actions.
- Make sure your children know that the breakup is not their fault and that they are not being rejected or abandoned by either you or the other parent. Children, especially young children, often mistakenly believe they have done something wrong even when they clearly haven’t. Comfort them and do your best to explain what is happening, and why, in a way your children can understand.
- Stop yourself from criticizing the other parent, even though that can often be difficult. This is especially important in front of the children, but also even when the children are not around in case they hear about it later. Never argue with the other parent in front of the children or over the telephone in the children’s ear shot..
- A court case is an adult process, and children should be kept out of it as much as possible. We strongly recommend that you not bring your child to any appointments with an attorney or mediator or to court. We also recommend that you do not talk with your children in detail about your court case. You can let them know that you and your co-parent are going through a court case, but that it is for the two of you to figure out and not for children to worry about.
- Judges do not like it when children testify in court about a family law case, and it generally is not advisable.
- If you still feel the children’s input is important for the court to consider, you have a couple options. You can file a motion asking that an attorney be appointed to represent the children’s interest in court. ORS107.425. You can also help an older child write a letter to the judge, asking that the judge appoint them a lawyer. The court is required to appoint a lawyer when a child writes a letter requesting one happens. The lawyer for your children can appear at trial on their behalf.
- You can also request a custody study be done by filing a motion requesting one. A custody evaluator would meet multiple times with you, the other parent, the children, and also would review documents or other relevant evidence. The evaluator then makes written recommendations to the court regarding what custody and parenting time should be awarded. There is a high fee associated with custody evaluations, which is generally split equally by the parties. A family court study through Family Court Services costs $1,200. A private study can cost upwards of $5,000. It is expensive, but it is a way to get a child’s input considered by the court and may also help you and the other parent reach a settlement agreement without going to trial. If you think a custody study should be done, you should ask your lawyer about it, or file a motion as soon as possible if you are unrepresented, as there is a lengthy process involved and requests will be denied if they are made too late in the court process.
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