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Frequently Asked Questions About Family Court

Note: Click on each question to go to the particular Q/A

  1. Where is the courthouse?
  2. When is the courthouse open?
  3. Can I get help at the courthouse with my case?
  4. How can I get a copy of court papers that have been filed or the Judge has signed?
  5. Will I be talking to the Judge in person?
  6. What happens in a court hearing?
  7. Can I bring my children with me to the courthouse?
  8. How much are court fees?
  9. What if I don’t understand the letter I received from the Court explaining that there is a problem with my paperwork?
  10. How can I get a restraining order?
  11. How can I get a stalking protective order?
  12. What happens in a court hearing about my restraining when the other side disagrees with the order?
  13. What if I am served with a restraining order?
  14. What is the procedure for getting a divorce (dissolution)?
  15. How do I get a permanent custody or parenting time order if I was never married to the other parent?
  16. Where can I find examples of possible parenting time plans for my child/ren?
  17. How do I register to take the required Parent Education class?
  18. What happens at mediation?
  19. What if I am not getting the parenting time my court order says I am supposed to get?
  20. How do I get my name changed?
  21. What if I have safety concerns about being at the courthouse?
  22. How will I get my court notices if I have moved?
  23. How do I serve (deliver) court papers to the other party in my case?
  24.  

    1. Where is the courthouse?
    The family law cases are filed, and usually heard, at the Multnomah County Courthouse in downtown Portland. The address is 1021 SW 4th Avenue, Portland, Oregon, 97204. The building is located between Salmon and Main Streets, and the public entrance is on the 4th Avenue side.

    Occasionally hearings or trials on family law cases take place at the Juvenile Justice Center, located at 1401 NE 68th Avenue in Portland, Oregon, 97213. The Juvenile Justice Center is located very near the 68th Avenue exit from off the I-84 (eastbound) freeway. Turn right off the exit and take the first right into the large parking lot.


    2. When is the courthouse open?
    The Multnomah County Courthouse is open for court business Monday through Friday. The doors open to the public at 7:00 a.m. The cashier is available starting at 8:00 a.m. to accept payment of filing fees and hearing fees. The staff at the Domestic Relations (Family Law) room is also available starting at 8:00 a.m. Staff will not be available after 4:00 p.m., although the courthouse remains open until 5:00 p.m.


    3. Can I get help at the courthouse with my case?
    It depends. The court staff can help with questions regarding the status of your case and some procedural help. The court staff cannot give legal advice. Check the Finding Legal Help page for assistance with this. Sometimes you have to wait to be helped by the court staff. The family law court staff can be reached at 503-988-3022, option #2. Please note, the phone lines are very busy and are answered 8:30 a.m.-10:30 a.m. & 1:30 p.m.-4:00 p.m., Monday through Friday (except holidays).

    Some help resources available at the Multnomah County Courthouse:

    • Counter help - The court staff will assist individuals on a first-come, first-serve basis with uncomplicated questions about the status of a case or court procedure. Court staff cannot give legal advice. In some situations, court staff can provide a copy of court forms approved for the type of legal problem you identify. Many of these forms are also available on the OJD's Family Law Forms (statewide) page or the Family Law Forms (local court forms) page. You must pay a small copying fee for forms and packets obtained at the courthouse. Court staff cannot tell you what to write in the forms.


    • Self-help Center - Family Court Facilitators will review your completed documents on a first-come walk-in basis. The facilitators are available 8:00 a.m.-12:00 p.m. (noon), with check in by 11:15 a.m., Monday through Friday (except holidays). Please be sure to bring current government-issued photo identification, in case your signature needs to be witnessed.
      **Family Court Facilitators cannot provide you with legal advice.


    • Attorney help - Volunteer attorneys are available on certain days at the courthouse to help people with family law cases to fill out court forms. They also provide legal advice. You have to be very low-income to qualify for this program. You can sign up through Legal Aid (503-224-4086). If you do not qualify for Legal Aid, you may be able to obtain help at a non-profit law firm or law school legal clinic. You can also contact the Oregon State Bar's (OSB's) Modest Means Program or the Lawyer Referral Services, or your friends and family for the name of a lawyer. Check the Finding Legal Help page for these and other legal help resources. Answers to common family law questions are also available at the OregonLawHelp.org and OSB's Family Law Resource page.


    • Family Services - The Multnomah County Department of Family Services has an office at the courthouse. They are located in Room 350, phone no. 503-988-3189. This office helps parents who want to mediate development of their plans for custody and parenting time. Mediation is a confidential discussion with a trained counselor. See Q/A no.17. The Family Services Department also conducts custody and parenting time evaluations and makes recommendations when a Judge orders a study. This department also oversees the Parent Education class required in cases with minor children. See Q/A no.16.

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    4. How can I get a copy of court papers that have been filed or the Judge has signed?
    Copies are available at the Multnomah County Courthouse. The court does not have the staff or funding to mail copies of documents that are filed with the court. Also, in most situations, you have to pay a fee to get a copy of court documents.
    That fee is $0.25 per page. An additional fee will apply if you want a certified copy of the court documents.

    Go to the File Room on the first floor (Room 131). Make sure you have your case number with you, as you will need to write that number on a request card. Your case number is found in the upper right-hand corner of court documents. If you do not have your case number, you can use a computer in the File Room or in Room 210 to look up the case number. The case number has 9 digits, such as 2001-61234.

    5. Will I be talking to the Judge in person about my case?
    It depends. If you do speak with the Judge, it almost always will be in the courtroom and with the other side present.

    Many court cases do not require court hearings. This is because the parties often work out all the terms of their case on their own, or with attorneys, or with a mediator. In these situations, just the paperwork gets routed to the Judge. Other times, the party served with (receiving) court papers does not file his or her own set of papers to request a hearing. In this situation, the party who filed the papers prepares final papers for the Judge's signature and no hearing is necessary. This is known as a Default Case.

    If a court hearing is necessary, you will receive a written notice from the court telling you the date and time. An exception sometimes exists for certain emergency situations. An attorney or the other person in the case may be giving you oral (spoken) notice of a short court hearing set for the next day or two. These hearings usually involve temporary, emergency orders about children.

    6. What happens in a court hearing?
    Many of your questions are answered in the How To Prepare for Your Divorce, Legal Separation, Custody, or Support Trial booklet on the Finding Legal Help page.

    7. Can I bring my children with me to the courthouse?
    The courthouse is a public building so children may enter. But it is always best to make other arrangements for your children if you can. If you have a court hearing, it will be very difficult for you to concentrate on what the Judge and witnesses are saying if you are also trying to watch your children.

    Also, sometimes you must wait for your case to be called and children may get restless and noisy. This can interfere with the operation of the court. Most importantly, Judges do not believe that children should be exposed to many of the issues and arguments about family issues that come up in the courtrooms.

    For all of these reasons, the Multnomah County Courthouse has a CourtCare program. CourtCare provides free child care for children ages 0-6 when their parents must be attending to court business. Attorneys, judges, and community members donate money to support this service. There is a limit as to how many children can be in CourtCare at a time, so it is very important to make reservations for this service. The phone no. is 503-988-4334 and more information is available at the CourtCare page.

    8. How much are court fees?
    The court fees vary by the type of case and the type of court service. The current fee schedule is available on the Court Fees page.

    The fees may be deferred (postponed) or waived in some cases. Some commonly asked questions are answered in the Fee Waivers and Fee Deferrals in Family Law Cases (pdf 114 KB). More information, instructions, and forms are available on the OJD's Waiver or Deferral of Fees (statewide) page. Forms for waivers and deferrals at the end of your Multnomah County case are available on the Forms page.

    9. What if I don't understand the letter I received from the Court explaining that there is a problem with my paperwork?
    If you don't understand the problem with your paperwork, you will likely need the help of an attorney. Q/A no.3, the information on the Finding Legal Help page, and the Oregon State Bar's (OSB's) Modest Means Program and Lawyer Referral Program pages might help with finding the attorney advice or representation. Your friends and family may also have suggestions for the name of a lawyer.

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    10. How can I get a restraining order?
    Family Abuse Restraining Orders are now done electronically through online court forms. For more information, please visit the Family Law Forms page. Please be sure to bring current government-issued photo identification, in case your signature needs to be witnessed.

    Not everyone qualifies for an order so read the eligibility sections carefully.
    No court fees are charged for the restraining order cases.

    An advocate (not working for the courts) is available in the Multnomah County Courthouse in Room 211 to help people complete the forms every day from 9:00 a.m. until 12:00 noon. The advocate is very busy and offers help on a first-come, first-serve basis.
    One Judge is assigned to hear requests for restraining orders at 1:30 p.m. every afternoon, so your documents must be completed and submitted to court staff by 12:00 noon. Except in rare situations approved in advance, you must be present in person at the 1:30 hearing to answer any questions the Judge has. Many people are making requests for restraining orders at this time so there will be a wait for your turn. If the order is granted, you will need to return to Room 211 to make arrangements to have the sheriff or someone else serve the papers. You may not be done at the courthouse until 3 p.m. or later.

    Additional information for people wanting restraining orders could be found on the OJD's Domestic Violence Resources (statewide) page.

    11. How can I get a Stalking Protective Order?
    Forms and instructions for getting a Stalking Protective order are available in Room 211 of the Multnomah County Courthouse. These documents are also available online and could be downloaded from the OJD's Civil Stalking Protective Order (statewide) page, but if you download the forms, you will need to make and bring to the courthouse 3 copies of the completed forms. Not everyone qualifies for an order so read the eligibility sections carefully. No court fees are charged for stalking order cases.

    See Q/A No.10 about the availability of advocates to help with requests for the Stalking Protective orders. The hearings to request these orders are held each weekday at 1:30 p.m. (3:00 p.m. until November 6, 2017). Your documents must be completed and submitted to court staff by 12:00 p.m. (noon) on the day you are applying.

    Additional information for people wanting stalking protective orders is available in the Stalking Protective Orders in Multnomah County booklet on the Finding Legal Help page.

    12. What happens in a court hearing about my restraining order when the other side disagrees with the order?
    Many of your questions are answered in the How To Prepare for a Contested Restraining Order Hearing booklet on the Finding Legal Help page.

    13. What if I am served with a Restraining Order?
    Many of your questions are answered in the Information for Respondents in Family Abuse Prevention Act Cases booklet on the Finding Legal Help page.

    14. What is the procedure for getting a divorce (dissolution)?
    The procedure depends on whether the parties agree or disagree about the terms of the divorce. You can get some answers to common questions about the divorce at the OregonLawHelp.org website and the Oregon State Bar's (OSB's) Dissolution of Marriage page.

    For spouses seeking to dissolve their marriage, the court forms are available on the OJD's Dissolution of Marriage (Divorce) (statewide) page.

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    15. How do I get a permanent custody or parenting time order if I was never married to the other parent?
    The issue of the child's paternity must be legally determined before unmarried parents can have the custody or parenting time issues decided. Often, paternity has been established at the child's birth by both parents signing the birth certificate. Other times, the District Attorney's Office or the Oregon Division of Child Support has established paternity and child support by a legal case handled through the child support agency.

    If paternity has not been established but both parents agree that the male is the biological father, the parents can sign a document called a Joint Declaration or Voluntary Acknowledgment that is filed with the Center for Health Statistics (Vital Records) office. Usually a small fee ($50) is charged to file this document but the state's Division of Child Support is paying those fees if the document is submitted to their office.

    For unmarried parents wanting to get (or disagree with) initial and modified Custody or Parenting Time orders, court forms are available at the OJD's Family Law Forms (statewide) page.

    16. Where can I find examples of possible parenting time plans for my child/ren?
    A handbook for parents is available on the OJD's Parenting Plans web page. The handbook gives parents detailed information to think about when making a parenting plan for their child/ren. Shorter versions of some of these materials can be found on the Multnomah County Family Court's Finding Legal Help page, under Brochures and Booklets - Sample Parenting Plans.

    17. How do I register to take the required Parent Education class?
    Registration for the Parent Education class is done online at the Department of Community Justice page. The class is a 3.5 hour session focusing on legal issues, child development, conflict resolution, and community resources. The class is offered 5 times each month -- alternate Tuesdays and Thursdays and every other Saturday. Any parent with a family law case in Multnomah County involving a child under age 18 years must take the class.

    If you do not have access to a computer or have questions about the class, call 503-988-3037. The fee for the class is $50 if taken within 45 days of the date the legal case is filed. The fee is $70 otherwise. A court order waiving fees for this class may be available if your income is close to government poverty guidelines. The Fee Waiver (Deferral/Waiver of Requirement) form is available on the Family Law Forms page under Parent Education. After filling it out completely, fax it to 503-988-3037 or mail it to
    Multnomah County Courthouse
    Attention: Parent Education, Rm 350
    1021 SW 4th Avenue
    Portland, Oregon 97204-1184

    18. What happens at mediation?
    Mediation is a confidential session between parents in which a specially trained counselor helps the parents discuss their children and try to reach an agreement about a parenting plan. Whether or not an agreement is reached, the discussions remain private and cannot be revealed in court. Mediation is required in almost all custody and parenting time cases in Multnomah County if the parents disagree about a parenting plan. Forms to Request (or Waive) Mediation are available online, on the Family Law Forms page, and in Room 211 of the Multnomah County Courthouse.

    Mediation through the Department of Family Services at the Multnomah County Courthouse is used frequently because the cost is covered in the filing fee parents pay to use the court system. Parents can also use private mediators, whose fees vary. Many private mediators help parents discuss issues in addition to custody and parenting time. The Court's requirement for mediation can be waived by the Judge in some situations, including domestic violence. The Department of Family Services follows safety measures for working with parents when safety concerns exist. More information about the rules and procedures is available at the Rules and Procedures page. Oregon law does not allow issues in a restraining order case to be mediated.

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    19. What if I am not getting the parenting time my court order says I am supposed to get?
    Many of your questions are answered in the Developing and Enforcing Your Parenting Plan booklet available on the Finding Legal Help page. In situations in which a parent has had very little or no contact with a child for an extended period, the Second Chances - Guidebook for Parents Wishing to Reunite with Their Children on the Finding Legal Help page might be helpful.

    20. How do I get my name changed?
    The process involves:

    • filling out forms,
    • posting a public notice in the courthouse for 30 days,
    • making a brief appearance before a Judge who will sign your judgment if no one objects, and
    • a final public posting of your judgment.

    The instructions and forms are available on the Family Law Forms page. The filing fee is $117.00, plus $5.00 for one certified copy of the General Judgment.

    21. What if I have safety concerns about being at the courthouse?
    All persons entering the Multnomah County Courthouse go through metal detectors monitored by the Multnomah County Sheriff's Department. The Sheriff's staff is also available to provide secure escort to a courthouse location when necessary. For hearings, you can let the Judge's staff know if you have serious concerns requiring a deputy's presence in the courtroom. For some dockets, a deputy is routinely present in the courtroom. When a hearing is over in a case involving safety concerns, Judges often order one party to remain for 10 minutes while the other party leaves. If the Judge doesn't order this, you can ask if this is possible.

    22. How will I get my court notices if I have moved?
    The Change of Address form is available on the Family Law Forms page or in Room 211 of the Multnomah County Courthouse.

    Whenever you do not have a lawyer representing you, it is very important to keep the court updated about your new address. Otherwise, you may miss your opportunity to tell the Judge your position about the case. A case you filed could also be dismissed if no action can be taken because the court can not reach you.

    23. How do I serve (deliver) court papers to the other party in my case?
    Some common questions about the service are answered within How to serve (deliver) legal papers in Oregon

     

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