While custody battles focus much attention on which parent will have primary custody if they cannot work out co-parenting arrangements, people often do not think about the role that a third-party caregiver may have in the child’s life.
Fortunately, most states have adopted laws that consider the importance of non-parents, especially grandparents, when granting visitation or custody rights. In Oregon, relatives and non-relatives may request that the court grant them visitation and contact rights if they have an established relationship with the child.
While a grandparent who wishes to obtain custody of a grandchild in Oregon may face complex legal hurdles, it is entirely possible and necessary in circumstances of neglect or abuse.
Oregon custody laws for third parties
Under Oregon laws, anyone who has strong emotional ties to a child, whether or not they are related by blood as foster parents, stepparents or grandparents, may petition the court in order to intervene on the custody, placement or guardianship decisions by the court.
Although the court presumes that the parent is acting in the best interests of the child, it is up to the third party to provide evidence to the contrary, such as:
- that the legal parent is unable to care for the child
- the third party has been the primary caregiver
- that the well-being of the child is at stake if the court does not intervene
- that the legal parent has either encouraged or unreasonably denied contact with the third party
Deciding what is right for the child
Every state has some variation of the standard of what is in the best interests of the child, such as the child’s emotional bonds, each parent’s ability to foster and maintain a relationship with the child, or any abuse or neglect.
Before a landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling changed the straight application of the best interests of the child standard, it was a relatively straight-forward procedure to grant custodial rights to a third party if the court found that one or both natural parents posed a threat to the child’s well-being.
Since 2000, however, it has been in some cases more challenging for grandparents to maintain their presence in a child’s life or fight for custody, even if may be in the best interests of the child for them to do so. Understanding how the laws are changing in this area will help third-party caregivers as they assert their rights to maintain their relationship to the children in their lives.