What happens in an Oregon divorce proceeding?
A divorce, also called a "dissolution of marriage" by the courts, is a way of legally ending a marriage. A divorce judgment will decide:
The date your marriage ends;
Who gets custody of the children and when the other parent sees them;
Who pays child support and how much;
Who will pay health insurance and medical bills for the children;
Who should pay past debts;
How property (including retirement benefits and a home) will be divided; and
Whether one spouse will pay spousal support (alimony) to the other.
Do I need a legal reason to get a divorce?
No, Oregon has "no fault" divorce. The only reason you need is that you and your spouse cannot get along, and you see no way of settling your problems. The law calls this "irreconcilable differences."
What if I just moved to Oregon?
In almost all cases, either you or your spouse must have lived in Oregon for six months before filing for divorce. In addition, the divorce must be filed in a county in which one of you lives. It is possible for you to obtain a legal separation in Oregon prior to obtaining six months residency and then convert that to a divorce once you have lived in Oregon for at least six months.
Will I need a lawyer to get a divorce?
If the divorce is uncontested — that is, if you and your spouse agree about all the terms of the divorce — you may be able to complete much of the divorce paperwork yourself, but you probably will still want advice from a lawyer. If the divorce is contested, you will almost certainly need a lawyer.
Oregon law creates a "short form" summary dissolution proceeding for people with very simple divorce cases. If you meet all the requirements for a summary dissolution, you can get the forms at the county courthouse or at the court's website. You can probably do this type of divorce paperwork yourself, but you may want to have a lawyer look it over.
Self-help forms for more complicated divorces may also be available. Many Oregon counties now have family court facilitators available at the courthouse to assist you in completing and filing self-help divorce forms. Call your local court to see if that service is available.
What do I need to do to start a divorce?
If you or your spouse has lived in Oregon for six months or longer, you need to do three things to start your divorce:
You must file some documents, including a petition for dissolution of marriage, with the circuit court clerk's office at the local county courthouse. The petition tells the court and your spouse what you are asking for in the divorce.
You must have the petition and any other required documents officially delivered to ("served on") your spouse. This lets your spouse know that a divorce action has been started and what you are asking for.
You must pay or be excused from paying the fees that are charged for filing a divorce petition. There might also be costs for having your spouse served.
How do I serve the divorce papers?
If a lawyer is handling your divorce, he or she will have the divorce papers served on your spouse. If you are using "do-it-yourself" forms, the instructions will tell you what you need to do. Your spouse can agree to sign papers that say he or she has been served. Otherwise, your spouse must be served by either the sheriff, process server, or another adult (not you or your children).
If you receive certain public assistance benefits, or if child support has already been set, the Division of Child Support (DCS) will also have to be served with the divorce petition. If you do not have a lawyer, or if the divorce forms you are using do not have instructions about this, you can call DCS to find out how to serve them with the papers.
What if I am served with divorce papers?
If you agree with all the terms of the divorce as listed in the petition, you do not need to respond. If you want to challenge the terms listed in the petition, you must file a written answer —called a "response" — with the court within 30 days after you were handed the papers. Contact a lawyer, your local legal services office, or the courthouse (if your county has a facilitator program) to learn about what you can do. There is a court fee to file a response in a divorce case, unless you qualify for a fee waiver or deferral.
How much does a divorce cost?
The filing fee for each party in a divorce is $260. The cost to serve your spouse usually starts at $35 and increases depending on the company you use and how difficult it is for them to find your spouse. There may be other filing fees depending on your specific circumstances. If you cannot afford to pay the costs and fees, you can ask the judge to waive the fees or defer them to a later date. You will need to fill out court papers that show your income is low, and possibly that your expenses are more than your income.
If you hire a lawyer, you will need more money. The more complex the divorce is, the more it will cost. The more issues you and your spouse disagree about, the more work your lawyer will have and the more expenses you will have. Ask your lawyer to explain fee and billing procedures at your first conference. Be sure you know what the lawyer's charges include, and that you get this information in writing. Sometimes a lawyer will agree to represent you on a payment plan or other arrangement, especially if you own a house that has some equity in it.
If your spouse's income is much higher than yours, the judge may order your spouse to pay your lawyer. If your income would allow you to make monthly payments to a lawyer, you can call the Oregon State Bar Lawyer Referral Service for help finding a lawyer who offers payment plans. The number to call is (503) 684-3763 from the Portland area, or (800) 452-7636 from elsewhere in Oregon. An online referral request form is also available at www.osbar.org/public. In addition, if your income is low you may qualify for the Modest Means Program, where you would be referred to an attorney who has agreed to charge either $60, $80 or $100 per hour, depending on your income.
How long does it take to get a divorce?
The length of time it will take you to get a divorce depends mostly on the complexity of your case. If you are filing for temporary orders, such as custody and child support, or if you and your spouse dispute the issues in the divorce, you may need to have court hearings. Court timelines can affect how long it takes to get the final divorce judgment.
Can I take back my former name?
Yes. The judge must give you back a former name if you ask for it in a divorce.
What is mediation?
Mediation is one or more private counseling sessions in which a trained person tries to help you and your spouse reach an agreement. Most, if not all, counties offer this as a free service through the courts. The judge will probably order both of you to go to mediation in an attempt to agree on divorce issues such as child custody, and parenting time. Some counties allow you to mediate support and property division as well. If this process is not appropriate for you because of safety or other concerns, you may ask that the requirement be waived.
All mediation proceedings are private and confidential. Neither party is required to agree to any solutions proposed by the mediator. If you are able to reach agreement on some or all of the issues, a written summary of that agreement is usually sent to the lawyers by the mediator.
If you and your spouse cannot agree and one of you will challenge the divorce issues in court, a judge will have to make a decision about the issues. Temporary orders may be issued concerning custody, support, parenting time and costs before your divorce trial. A custody decision may be made prior to a decision on any other issue.
What is a legal separation?
A legal separation is a court order that states who gets the children, who pays support for the children, whether spousal support is ordered, and who gets what property. You might want a legal separation if your religious beliefs prohibit divorce, if you or your spouse have not lived in Oregon long enough to file for divorce, or if one of you needs to be covered by the other's medical insurance. A legal separation costs about the same as a divorce. Filing for legal separation does not prevent a divorce from being filed.
The main difference between a legal separation and a divorce is that you are still married after a legal separation. Therefore, you still have the right to inherit property from your spouse if you are legally separated, unless the separation judgment says otherwise. If you are divorced, you lose that right.
Legal Editor: Erin K. Fitzgerald, August 2013