“With few exceptions, divorce is a traumatic and emotional experience,” says Portland-based divorce lawyer Deanna Jensen. “Aside from the strain on the family, there is the uncertainty involved in the process itself, which is not intuitive and, for most people, unknown territory. That’s why it’s best to do some homework up front.”
To begin the divorce process in Oregon, you or your spouse must have been an Oregon resident for at least six continuous months immediately before you file a petition of dissolution of marriage. You will file in the Oregon Circuit Court Clerk’s office in the county in which one of you lives.
“There are several major issues in a divorce proceeding. They can include alimony (called “sp0usal support” in Oregon), a division of assets and debts, custody of your children, parenting time (visitation) for each parent with the children, and child support,” adds Jensen. “If there is a family business, then there will be issues related to how that business is handled after the divorce.”
Information is the key to the process of dividing assets and debt, and it is called “discovery”. You and your spouse are required to provide to each other, through your attorneys, documentary evidence of the value of your assets and the extent of your debts. This sometimes requires appraisals of real and personal property, and valuations of retirement accounts (pensions) and businesses, depending on your family’s holdings. In the event you and your spouse disagree about the value of an asset (such as your home), you should be prepared to pay for the required valuations.
If you and your spouse have strong disagreements about custody and parenting time, you may need a custody and parenting time evaluation, which usually requires employing a psychologist trained or experienced in performing evaluations, or a similarly trained social worker. There is also a significant cost to this process and it can take as long as 3 to 4 months.
If your divorce is fairly amicable, your lawyer and your spouse’s lawyer can assist you in reaching agreement short of going to court. Another possibility is to use a good mediator. It is important to choose a talented mediator who has extensive experience with divorcing couples and is fully familiar with statutory and case law. Mediators are usually attorneys who have practiced family law and are familiar with the issues. Another option is to use a retired judge as a mediator and there are several of them available. There is a cost to using a mediator, and generally your attorneys are present for the mediation as well, however if mediation is successful, you save the cost of going to trial, which can be substantial. The decision to negotiate or mediate allows you and your spouse to reach a compromise on your issues and craft an agreement instead of leaving it to a judge who usually sees the two of you for not more than a day.
Another option short of trial is to seek the assistance of collaborative lawyers. This process involves entering into an agreement with your spouse and your attorneys that you will not go to trial, but will settle all of your issues in collaboration with each other (guided by your attorneys who are also committed to the collaborative process), with the understanding that if the collaborative process fails, neither of you can use your collaborative attorneys as your trial attorneys.
On the other hand, if you can’t reach an agreement in any of the joint processes just discussed, then you will have a trial in front of the judge who will hear both sides of the case before ruling on the key issues. If you ultimately go to trial, the process itself can take as long as a year, and sometimes longer.