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Family Law Self-Help


Domestic Relations cases can be complicated. This website contains information and resources to help guide you but it is not a substitute for talking with a lawyer. Carefully review the resources listed below to see what kind of help is available in your area. You may need to contact several programs and services before you are able to find the help you need.

Finding Legal Help

Before representing yourself, you should do everything you can to get legal help. If you need help finding a lawyer you can contact the Oregon State Bar’s Lawyer Referral Service by visiting their website at www.osbar.org or calling (503) 684-3763 or toll-free in Oregon at 800-452-7636. The Oregon State Bar also offers the Modest Means Program and qualifying applicants may receive assistance from a lawyer who will charge a reduced rate for services after the first consultation.
You may also be able to receive assistance from Legal Aid Services of Oregon. Visit www.oregonlawhelp.org for more information about free or low-cost legal services in your area. Some lawyers are able to provide limited scope representation or “unbundled” services. Unbundled services means you and the lawyer agree to specific issues the lawyer may assist you with in your case and the remaining issues you handle on your own. This may lower the cost you pay for the lawyer because it reduces the amount of time you pay the lawyer for.
Many courts in Oregon have self-help or “family law facilitation” programs. Visit the Family Law Facilitation page for a list of programs near you. It is important to understand the following BEFORE making a trip to your local courthouse to visit the facilitator:

  • Not all facilitation programs are open Monday through Friday, 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. so it is important to contact your local court program before making a trip to the courthouse.
  • Court facilitation programs are free. There are no income requirements to access services. However, you may need money to purchase packets of forms. Check with your local program before making a trip to the courthouse to see how much the forms cost and the types of payment accepted. Forms are free to download from the court’s website or click Family Law Forms for more information.
  • The family court facilitator is not a lawyer. You do not have attorney-client privilege with the facilitator and the facilitator can help both sides in a case.

  • Who Facilitators Can Assist:

  • People of any income level
  • People who are not represented by lawyers
  • People who know what kind of action they need to file
  • Both parties in a case
  • People who are involved in family law actions such as: dissolution of marriage (divorce), establishing or changing custody and parenting time, enforcing custody and parenting time
  • Note: Other types of cases will vary from program to program, check with your local facilitation program.

    How Facilitators Can Assist:

  • Provide information on how to find forms and how to complete them
  • Provide information about court procedures, rules, and other educational materials
  • Refer to agencies and resources that provide legal and other services
  • Provide document review to make sure forms are complete
  • Provide information about how to begin a court action

  • What Facilitators Cannot do:

  • Provide legal advice or opinion
  • Fill out your papers or tell you what to write on them
  • Assist people who are represented by lawyers
  • Tell you what kind of case to file
  • Provide information to one party that would not be given to all other parties


  • Legal Research

    The thought of researching the law on your own can be intimidating but there is a lot of information you can access from your home computer and in your community. Oregon’s statutes and rules are available at the Oregon Judicial Department's Self-Help webpage. Many counties have law libraries that are open to the public where you can research Oregon law.
    The Oregon State Bar’s website includes basic information about specific areas of the law (including family law), do-it-yourself legal help, and how to find legal help:

  • Family Law Resource Page
  • Legal Information for the Public



  • Preparing for Court

    Appearing in court can be stressful. It is important to make sure you are prepared. Most court hearings are open to the public. Before your court date, consider observing a family law hearing or trial to give you a better idea of what to expect and how to dress and act appropriately. It is your responsibility to keep the court updated with your current mailing address. The court will send all notices of court appearances to the address you provide. If you miss a court date, you may be in jeopardy of losing your case.
    The following resources are also available for your review:

  • "How to Prepare for Your Divorce, Legal Separation, Custody or Support Trail - December 2005"
  • The Oregon Judicial Department, Washington County Circuit Court has created a number of videos to assist self-represented litigants: Family Law Self-Help Videos
  • Family Law Resources

    IMPORTANT! Service of Process:
    After you file, your case will not progress unless the other party is properly notified. The State Family Law Advisory Committee has prepared detailed instructions covering service of process. If you need the Sheriff to serve papers, here is a link to the County Sheriff’s Offices in Oregon. If the other party is incarcerated through the Oregon Department of Corrections, here is a link to the list of Oregon prisons.

  • Resources for the Self-Represented Litigant, updated November 2014 – Flier for distribution to self-represented litigants. Contains info re: websites and written resources for family law, child support, parenting plans, and domestic violence.
  • Family Law in Oregon – Booklet prepared by Legal Aid Services of Oregon. Spanish version also available: La Ley Familiar en Oregon
  • The Division of Child Support, Department of Justice, has prepared county-by-county resource lists that contain information about:

  • Local Family Law Advisory Committees
  • Local Legal Aid Offices
  • Mediation Services
  • Local Courts
  • Expedited Parenting Time Enforcement
  • What will happen to me when my parents get divorced?

    The divorce will include a decision about custody and parenting time. In many situations, parents are able to agree about how they will share time and decisions about you after they separate or get divorced. When parents don’t agree, the court offers help to decide who will have custody, where you will live, and how often you will see each parent.

    How will a judge decide which parent will get custody?

    In Oregon, a judge’s main concern in deciding custody is the best interest of the child. A judge will consider your safety, welfare, and overall quality of life. If there are major changes in your life down the road, it is possible for custody and parenting time to change.

    Can I testify in court?

    It is important to think carefully about the decision to testify in court. In most cases, the court will not want to put you in the position of having to testify. You may want to talk to a counselor or lawyer about how it will make you feel and what your rights may be before you make a decision.

    At what age can I choose which parent I want to live with?

    Oregon does not specify an age when a child can decide which parent he or she wants to live with. In court, a judge will weigh the age and maturity of the child. A judge may not base a decision on a child’s wishes if the judge thinks it is not in the child’s best interest.

    I’m about to turn 18 years old. Will my mom or dad still pay child support?

    Oregon law allows for child support to be paid to a child who is 18, 19, or 20 years of age, if the child is not married or emancipated and is going to school at least half-time and making satisfactory academic progress as defined by the school. No matter whether a child this age is in school, the parents have to notify the child of any proceeding that involves support. See 107.108 for more information.

    My mom and dad were never married. Who has custody?

    If paternity (fatherhood) has been established, unmarried parents have the same rights and responsibilities regarding custody as married parents. Both parents have equal rights to have custody of a child unless a court order changes this. Either parent can file a case to establish legal custody through the court.

    What is a custody evaluator?

    A custody evaluator is a mental health provider, such as a therapist or psychologist, who has extra training about custody evaluation. A custody evaluator can be court-appointed. A custody evaluator observes a family and makes an objective recommendation to the court about custody and parenting time. The goal of the recommendation is to help the parents or the court make a decision that is in the best interest of the child.

    Can I get legal help?

    There are some resources available for children to find legal help. The Oregon State Bar offers a program called "Problem Solvers" that helps children between the ages of 13 and 17. Oregon has laws about providing legal assistance to children in family law cases. 107.425(6)

    What does emancipation mean?

    Emancipation is a process handled in juvenile court in which a child 16 or 17 years of age can get many of the rights and reponsibilities of an adult. This can include the ability to work for adult wages and establish a residence. It also means that the child's parents no longer have any legal responsibility for the child and would not be required to feed, shelter, or provide financial help to the child.

    More Information for Children

  • Youth Law
  • Oregon Child Support Program
  • OJD Juvenile Court Improvement Program
  • Legal Rights of Young People
  • Legal & Law-Related Websites for Kids & Youth
  • FAQs

    A “divorce" means the same thing as a “dissolution” and regardless of whether the court is dissolving a marriage or a domestic partnership, the term “dissolution” is used to accomplish this goal.
    A divorce case has a filing fee. The facilitator or clerk can provide you with a fee schedule. If you can’t afford the fee, you may ask the court to waive or defer the cost. You can get an Application for Waiver or Deferral of Fees from the facilitator, the court clerk, or by downloading one from the court’s website.
    If the parties are in agreement with everything it can be a month or less. If there are children involved it often can be as fast as it takes you to complete the required Parent Education class so long as you both agree. Many co-petition cases can be completed in one day. Most commonly it takes one to three months but if you cannot agree, it could take up to a year.
    You can still file for a dissolution even if you don’t know where your spouse/partner is. After filing the dissolution petition you must make a reasonable effort to find your spouse/partner to have him/her served with dissolution papers using one of the standard methods of service. If you are unable to successfully find and serve your spouse/partner, you may ask a judge’s permission to use an alternative method of service, most commonly, publishing the summons in the newspaper. You must pay the newspaper to do this which can be very expensive.
    It does not generally matter who is the first to file dissolution papers. The court does not give any preference to the first person to file (the petitioner), or any disadvantage to the person who is the respondent. The filing fees are the same for both the petitioner and the respondent.

    Both parties can ask for temporary relief while the case is pending.

    In almost all cases, either you or your spouse/partner must have lived in Oregon for six months before filing the dissolution. You must file in a county where you or your spouse/partner currently lives. If you are filing a dissolution of a registered domestic partnership (RDP), you must file in a county where either you or your partner lives. If neither of you live in Oregon but your RDP was registered here, you can file in the county in Oregon where either of you last lived.
    Oregon is called a “no fault” state. This means the spouse/partner who is asking for dissolution does not have to prove the other spouse/partner did something wrong. The only reason needed for dissolution is that the spouses/partners cannot get along and there is no way to fix the problems. The law calls this “irreconcilable differences that have caused the irremediable breakdown of the marriage” and is the typical basis for the dissolution.
    In Oregon, it is not necessary for both spouses or domestic partners to agree to the dissolution. Either spouse or domestic partner can decide to end the marriage/partnership. It is not necessary for the other spouse/partner to agree or “give you” a dissolution. The spouse or partner who does not want to get a dissolution cannot stop the process by refusing to participate in the case. He or she does not have to sign anything to agree to the dissolution. If your spouse or domestic partner does not participate in the dissolution case, you will still be able to get a default judgment and the dissolution will go through.
    Once the other spouse/partner has been served, he/she has 30 days to file an appearance (this means filing a document called a response or an answer). If he/she fails to file, you can take a "default" against him/her, which means a judge can grant what you requested in your petition. This doesn’t happen automatically. You must prepare paperwork for a judge to sign. A Default Judgment is then entered against the other party.
    Once a dissolution is filed, a statutory restraining order regarding assets goes into effect which orders both spouses/partners to only spend money on normal daily life needs. If there is proof that a party is not obeying the order, you can obtain court assisted relief. To get this relief you may need to file for temporary orders. This process may be difficult and it may make sense for you to seek advice from a lawyer.
    It is possible to obtain an order requiring the spouse/partner to pay temporary support. You may need a lawyer to assist you with this request.
    Your right to the property or obligation to pay on joint debt is not dependent upon whose name the property or debt is in. If the property was acquired or changed value during the marriage/partnership, you have an interest in the property, or perhaps an obligation on the debt. If the property or debt was acquired prior to the marriage/partnership, it is up the court to do what is just and equitable.
    Courts can make temporary orders while the outcome of a divorce or separation case is pending. If your spouse/partner is keeping the children from you during your divorce or custody case, you can ask the court to put a temporary parenting plan in place until your case is finished. If you and your spouse/partner cannot agree, the permanent decision about custody and parenting time will be made by the court. The court looks at several factors in deciding who should have custody.
    The court orders or the parties agree on how retirement accounts should be divided. Thereafter, you must have a special order and judgment prepared called a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO) and submit it to the court. For example, if there is a 401(k) account and it is divided and each receives one half, the QDRO would essentially separate it into two accounts one for each. Or if there is a pension, the QDRO separates the rights to the pension at a given moment in time.
    The Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO) is a complicated document that addresses many facets of the distribution of retirement accounts and pension plans. There are various options in how accounts like this can be divided and most account holders (employers) or pension plans will only accept very limited and direct language that has been approved by the court in a well-crafted QDRO.
    As with all things related to your dissolution, you may not need a lawyer, but it often depends on how straightforward your situation is. If you have anything of value, it is always a good idea to at least have a consultation with a lawyer. You may not need to hire a lawyer to represent you on your entire case. You may be able to address your concerns by hiring a lawyer to help you with just the property piece of your case.
    Oregon has standardized guidelines for the calculation of child support. The guidelines consider a number of factors including; income and spousal support, parenting time percentage (how much time the child/ren spend with each parent), health insurance and childcare costs. You can look at the guidelines and calculate support by visiting the Division of Child Support’s website.
    Whether or not spousal/partner support is appropriate in your case is determined by a number of factors that the court takes into consideration, such as length of marriage/partnership, income of the parties, health of the parties, age, lifestyle etc. Spousal/partner support may be transitional, compensatory, or maintenance support. Spousal/partner support is not appropriate in every case and the court has discretion in determining, if appropriate, the amount and for how long such support would be paid.
    Courts cannot make orders about custody, parenting time, and child support unless the legal relationship (paternity) between a child and his or her biological father has been established. Sometimes a case for paternity can also include decisions about custody and parenting time. You may need a lawyer to help you do this.
    “Parenting time” is a term that courts use to describe the schedule of contact between a parent and the children. Parenting time used to be called “visitation.” Parenting time can be an agreement between the parents or can be court ordered. Parenting time is designed to benefit the children.
    A parenting plan is the part of a court order that deals with custody and parenting time. “Parenting time” addresses when the child/ren will be in the care of each parent. The term “visitation” is no longer used in this situation. All orders about custody must include parenting plans. Parenting plans may be detailed or general, but usually must identify a minimum amount of parenting time for the parent who does not have custody.
    There are many reasons the court might reject your paperwork. If this happens, you may want to contact the Family Facilitation Program at your court or a lawyer for assistance. Some of the most common reasons are as follows:
  • You are missing a required form
  • You forgot or missed a signature
  • Your forms are incomplete
  • The respondent wasn't served properly
  • Child support was ordered in the judgment and you didn't attach child support worksheets
  • The judgment includes property, debts, or other issues that were not listed in your petition
  • There are several follow up pieces you might consider after your dissolution. Such as, if your dissolution involved changing property titles such as automobiles, boats, trailers, etc. you should contact DMV to arrange a transfer of title. If you changed your name you will need to contact Oregon DMV, the social security administration, and any other government agencies which have your name. You may need to fill out change of address forms at the post office and file your new address with the Internal Revenue Service.

    Is it appropriate to notify your child’s school and medical providers of the change of custody? Did your dissolution divide retirement accounts or pension plans that must be accomplished by filing a QDRO?

    Circumstances change. What was right for your life and your child’s life at the time of the original divorce or separation may change. If it is appropriate to change the parenting plan or custody arrangement, you may ask the court for an Order to Show Cause to Modify the Custody, Parenting Time, or Support Issues. You may want to get advice from a lawyer to decide if this is the right step for you. One parent may not change the terms of the judgment without the agreement of the other parent or an order by the Court.
    You can take back a former name if you ask for it in the dissolution. You cannot change your name to a name you have never used before. A husband may not change his wife’s name back to her maiden name. The wife must ask for this herself which she can do by stipulation in the final judgment.
    Annulment is a unique way of ending a marriage. A lawyer can help you find out if you can get an annulment. Court fees for an annulment are about the same as for a dissolution.
    A marriage may be annulled when a party was incapable of entering into or consenting to marriage because he or she was not of legal age or lacked sufficient understanding or a party’s consent to the marriage was obtained by force or fraud. A marriage that has been annulled for one of these reasons is void as of the time the judgment is signed and is treated as if it never happened.
    You may qualify for a Family Abuse Prevention Act restraining order. This order is designed to protect you and your child from future abuse. In order to qualify for an order you must have cohabited with the person at some point in the last two years and you must have been abused by the person within the last 180 days. Even if you don’t qualify for restraining order, but have been a victim of abuse, it is important that you think about an adequate safety plan to protect yourself and your children throughout the dissolution process. There are resources available to you to devise a safety plan in your community: http://ocadsv.org/looking-help
    A judgment of separation may be issued when irreconcilable differences between the parties have caused the temporary or unlimited breakdown of the marriage. The main difference between a legal separation and a dissolution is that spouses/partners are still married after a legal separation. Some reasons people may choose separation instead of dissolution are that a spouse/partner may be able to stay on the other spouse’s/partner’s insurance policy of the parties but this may vary depending on the insurance provider. Some parties may have moral objections to dissolution. Sometimes it is simply an issue that neither party has lived in Oregon for six months which is required for dissolution cases. It is possible to establish custody, divide assets and obtain a support order with a legal separation. A legal separation proceeding may be changed -“converted”- to a dissolution proceeding at a later date.
     
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