New Case Law – Importance of the “Primary Caregiver” in Custody Determinations
On March 14, 2012, the Oregon Court of Appeals decided Nice v. Townley. In this case, the trial court awarded custody of the parties’ young son to the father. The trial court weighed a number of factors under ORS 107.137 to determine whether custody should be awarded to the mother or the father, and found that most factors weighed equally in both parties’ favor. However, it found that the mother’s unwillingness to foster a strong relationship between the child and the father weighed against awarding her sole custody. The mother appealed, based on her history of being the child’s primary caregiver.
To determine who is the primary caregiver, the court looks at who has met the child’s basic needs, including feeding the child, caring for the child when he is sick, taking the child to the doctor, disciplining the child, and many other types of interactions. The court of appeals found that the trial court had not properly considered the evidence showing that the mother had been the child’s primary caregiver for the majority of his life, and remanded the case to the trial court for a new custody determination.