The scope of Oregon family law can be confusing and overwhelming to families taking the steps to dissolve a marriage.
Divorce is a tough process for anyone, but it’s made even more so when you don’t know what to expect. It’s hard enough to be faced with starting your life over and making new decisions about your children and your living arrangements, but if you are also confused by the divorce process, the transition can be extremely difficult. That’s why it is so important to understand the process and comprehend those steps needed to move from being married to becoming divorced. If you live in Oregon and are about to start the transition of divorce, here’s what you need to know:
STEP ONE-DRAFTING AND FILING THE PETITION
An Oregon divorce occurs in four steps. As a first step, one spouse (the client) needs to have an initial consultation with his/her lawyer. After the consultation, the client fills out a questionnaire for the lawyer. Based on information from the consultation and the questionnaire, the lawyer drafts the divorce petition, and all of the supporting paperwork required by the court. The filing spouse is considered the Petitioner and the non-filing spouse is called the Respondent. Once personally served the petition and supporting paperwork by a process server, the Respondent has 30 days to contest the divorce by filing a Response with the court. The Response will set forth what the Respondent agrees with and does not agree with in the Petitioner’s divorce petition. If Respondent fails to file a Response with the court within 30 days after service of the Petition on him/her, then the Petitioner can ask the court for a default order against the Respondent and submit a final General Judgment with the court for a judge’s signature. The final General Judgment will look much like the original Petition, only the language in the final Judgment will be mandatory. For example, the Petition might say: “Respondent should pay child support in the sum of $543 per month, commencing on the first day of the first month following entry of judgment herein.” In the General Judgment, however, the same sentence will say: “Respondent shall pay child support in the sum of $543 per month, commencing on the first day of the first month following entry of judgment herein.” The day the judge signs the final judgment is the day the divorce is final. More importantly, the terms set forth in the final Judgment are fully enforceable by the court against the Respondent. If on the other hand, the Respondent does file a timely response with the court, we proceed to Step Two.
The second step in the Oregon divorce process requires that the parties exchange financial information, like tax returns, wage stubs, bank statements, retirement and investment account statements and health and life insurance information. Lawyers call this stage “discovery”. Each spouse discloses information about debt, assets, property rights, income and expenses. The court can impose penalties in cases where spouses fail to disclose completely. In addition, each spouse outlines his or her position about whether the assets and debts are separate or commingled property. This step may involve a fair amount of debate and haggling. Even in divorces that are not otherwise contentious, disagreements regarding finances aren’t uncommon. Ideally, both spouses will be completely upfront about both debts and assets so that Step Two is resolved as smoothly as possible.
In the third step of the divorce, the divorcing spouses and their attorneys negotiate in an attempt to reach a divorce settlement on their own. This step may include motions to compel discovery, if either party believes the other spouse is withholding financial information. If the spouses are unable to reach an agreement on their own, then the court may then intervene, and decide for them. The court has the authority to order temporary custody, parenting time, spousal support and child support during the pendency of the case, and may also order one party to pay the secured debts of the marriage, like car and mortgage payments . The court can also decide which party will have exclusive occupancy of the house while the divorce is pending. By resolving these issues out of court, divorcing spouses can save a great deal of time, money and frustration. As important, they remain in complete control of the outcome. Ideally, litigation is a last resort during a divorce.
STEP FOUR- RESOLUTION THROUGH SETTLEMENT OR TRIAL
The final stage of an Oregon divorce is the resolution of the case, either through a settlement by the parties, or by the court rendering a decision in a trial, if the parties are unable to reach a settlement on their own. Once a final determination is reached, either through an agreement between the spouses or through litigation in court, it is incorporated into a General Judgment of Dissolution of Marriage and submitted to the court for approval and a judge’s signature. The agreement will include details about custody arrangements, parenting time, allocation of debt and assets, and all pertinent information discussed during the proceedings. It is crucial for couples to remember that regardless of perceived betrayal, or how angry they may be with their spouse, settling the divorce without litigation is always the best outcome. Notwithstanding the money it saves, it is far less traumatic for the children and it ensures the couple remains in control of the issues. Case in point, when litigation occurs to settle custody and parenting time issues, parents are given very little say in what they want for their child. The court determines what is best, which often results in a losing situation for the entire family. It is possible to modify a divorce settlement in the future. If someone moves or changes jobs it can affect custody, parenting time and financial support issues. Do not assume that because something is currently set in stone, it will be that way forever. It is also important to remember that every marriage, and therefore every divorce, is different. General laws govern the divorce process in Oregon, but it’s a given that the specifics of every situation are different. This is why it is so important to work with an experienced divorce attorney who understands the nuances of state law and who is also fully aware of the details of your situation.