Here are some answers to frequently asked questions about getting a divorce in Oregon. For more information on Oregon divorce laws, see Dissolution of Marriage in Oregon. You can find lots of articles and information on how divorce works in The Divorce Process.
What is a "dissolution of marriage?"
A dissolution of marriage is the legal term for a divorce: the legal act of ending a marriage. Oregon is a no-fault state, which means the only basis for a divorce is "irreconcilable differences between the parties have caused the irremediable breakdown of the marriage." No judge permits or requires proof of blame, fault, or acts of misconduct; however, such evidence might be considered if child custody is contested.
If I live somewhere else, can I file for divorce in Oregon?
Probably, as long as you have connections with Oregon or are away from the state only temporarily. At least one spouse must be a resident of Oregon for at least six months before filing a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage in Oregon, and you must file the petition in the county where one spouse lives.
How is a divorce case started in Oregon?
A divorce case officially begins when one spouse files a petition. The spouse who files is the petitioner. The other spouse is the respondent. You aren't required to already be living apart when you file, although most couples are separated.
Once the petition is filed, it must be personally served on the respondent to bring him or her within the jurisdiction of the court. If your spouse wants to contest any issues in the divorce petition, he or she must file a response within 30 days after being served.
What happens if the respondent spouse cannot be found or evades service of process?
If the respondent cannot be found, sometimes "substituted service" will be sufficient to give the court jurisdiction and allow it to enter certain divorce judgments. However, the respondent must be properly served before his or her custody, support, and property rights can be adjudicated.
What happens if the respondent fails to appear after being served?
The case is decided by "default," which means it is decided in the absence of the respondent spouse. A judge will sign final documents submitted by you (or your attorney) and both sides are bound by the signed "Judgment of Dissolution of Marriage."
What happens if the respondent files an appearance?
If you and your spouse agree on all of the issues in your divorce case, you can get a judgment quickly. However, if either of you contests any matters (such as custody, visitation, support, alimony, property, or debts), the wait for a hearing date (trial) can be long. Many cases require temporary relief during this time, such as orders for temporary child support or alimony, protective orders concerning children, orders for use or preservation of assets, orders compelling mortgage payments or restricting additions to joint debts, and certain other "status quo" orders. After a brief hearing, the court may enter temporary orders, which usually remain in effect until they are modified or until the final judgment for dissolution of marriage is entered.
What's the next step after the respondent files an appearance?
The spouses exchange financial information in a legal process called "discovery." Fair settlements and court orders are only possible when each spouse has the same information and financial details are not hidden. Examples of information that they must exchange include tax returns, wage & income records, credit card balances, automobile titles, pension and retirement plans, investment information, bank accounts, and the like. The court could require spouses who do not properly exchange information to pay the other spouse's legal fees.
If either of you disputes custody or visitation, the court may order the parties to mediation and/or for evaluation by custody experts (some counties have social workers on staff or a Family Court Service for this purpose). The parents may also seek evaluation of the children and of each other by their own partisan experts. They may also hire experts to appraise property and businesses. The judge has discretion whether or not to interview the children in camera (in chambers). The judge will hold hearings or a trial at which both parties present testimony and other evidence.
Can the children have their own lawyer?
Yes. The court may appoint an attorney to represent the children. A concerned parent may request appointment if the children's interests are likely to get overwhelmed by the parents' issues. If the parents are acrimonious, the judge may make an appointment whether the parents request or not.
Who pays for the child's attorney?
The parents will be required to pay the fees of the children's court-appointed lawyer. The judge will allocate the fees between the parents, usually based on their relative ability to pay. A parent may not hire a lawyer to represent the children. However, the attorneys for the parents may agree to a representative for the children, and the judge will usually go along with the attorneys' joint recommendation.
Is there a right to a jury in family cases?
No. In Oregon, there's no right to a jury in dissolution, custody, or support cases.
Is there always a trial?
No. Most divorce cases are settled, sometimes after several months of wrangling and court proceedings, and after the spouses have spent many thousands of dollars which could have gone to the family. Pretrial settlement conferences with a judge are becoming more common. The few cases that do not settle go to trial (usually before a different judge), and all rules of procedure and evidence applicable in any civil lawsuit will be applied.
Can a spouse have a former name restored?
Upon request, the judge can grant a request by one or both spouses to return to the use of a former name. However, one spouse cannot force the other to stop using a particular name.
If one spouse thinks the judge is wrong, does he or she have any recourse?
Yes. A spouse who is unhappy with the outcome of a divorce trial has a right to appeal. However, appeals can be costly. Oregon law gives the trial judge abundant discretion, and appeals are not always successful.
How does a divorce case end in Oregon?
The judge signs a judgment of dissolution of marriage. The marriage relationship is legally terminated when the court signs the judgment.
When the judgment of dissolution of marriage is final, I'm done with my ex forever, right?
Only if you have no kids and are neither paying nor receiving support. The Court can modify aspects of a divorce relating to child custody or visitation, child support, or spousal support (alimony) upon the request ("motion") of either party if there has been a major, unexpected change of circumstances. Support is modified frequently (about every two to four years), particularly as incomes, expenses, and children's needs change; visitation can also change as the spouses move and children mature; custody is most difficult to modify.