Family is where you find it. The law treats people somewhat differently if they are married, but parents will always be parents and have the same rights whether they are married or not.

The Process

The main challenge in any family law dispute is getting past your anger at the other party. What you view is “right” or “just” may not have support in the law, and so it is important to approach these disputes with a clear understanding of what facts a court will consider, how those facts can be presented, and a realistic understanding of what a judge will and won’t (or can’t) do.

A new case begins with a “Petition” and “Summons” which must be served on the other party.

Service has very specific requirements, but the most important issue is that one party cannot serve the initial pleading personally. A third-party must serve the Petition and file a certificate with the court.

The person who is served must file a written response with the court within a limited time. If the Respondent fails to file a written answer within the time allowed, they can be found in default. If that happens the court will generally grant the Petitioner what she requested in her petition. This can include custody, parenting time, and property division provisions.

If the Respondent does file a timely written response, the court will order mandatory mediation between the parties. If children are involved the court will also require the parties each attend a parent education class.

If the parties have attorneys, they will meet with the judge at least a few times before a matter goes to trial. Temporary custody and child support arrangements may be ordered by the court if one of the parties requests it, but a hearing will be required if the other party objects.

The court strongly encourages settlement of cases by agreement of the parties. This allows the parties to determine their own outcome. Unfortunately, sometimes the matter must proceed to trial.

Whether a settlement is reached, or a divorce goes to trial, the end result is a “general judgment of dissolution.” In Oregon, a dissolution is effective as soon as a signed judgment is entered to the court record (this almost always happens the same day something is signed). The judgment must include information about who has custody of children, when each parent has parenting time, and what child support is required.