Did you get served with divorce papers or see your spouse’s divorce notice in the newspaper? Don’t panic. Whether it was something you and your spouse had been discussing or it came as a surprise, seeing those divorce papers can be upsetting and overwhelming. Here’s what you need to know and do next.

Divorce: The Big Picture

First, keep in mind that it does not matter whether you are the petitioner (the person who filed for divorce) or the respondent (the other party) — your title in the case will not affect your legal rights. In other words, your spouse is not in a better position because he or she is the one who filed for divorce. Our clients sometimes have a hard time believing this, but it’s true!

Oregon has “no-fault divorce,” meaning one spouse does not need to prove the other cheated or is otherwise at fault for breaking up the marriage. The reason for your divorce, or “dissolution of marriage” in legalese, will be listed on your spouse’s Petition as due to irreconcilable differences. You will not be seen as in the wrong because your spouse filed for divorce, not you.

Once you are served with divorce papers, the court enjoins you from making any major purchases or other expenditures, canceling or changing the terms of your family insurance (including life, health, auto, or homeowner/rental), or disposing of any property in which your spouse may have an interest. Your finances and other official records and documentation will come under scrutiny, so don’t make any big moves or do anything that might be viewed as suspicious.

Divorce Fees & Timeline

Once you are served divorce papers, you have 30 days to file a response with the court, and this deadline is firm. Contact a divorce lawyer in Portland within the first 10 days, if at all possible. Our consultations are completely confidential.

Depending on your and your spouse’s circumstances, the Petition for Dissolution of Marriage will cover such things as custody of minor children, child support, spousal support, division of debts, and division of property. Your response will simply set out what you agree with and disagree with in your spouse’s Petition–you do not need to get into the nitty gritty details of any of these topics or propose a resolution.  If you neglect to file a response within the 30-day window, your spouse could have his or her demands met on day 31 by filing for a default order and a default judgment against you.  Setting aside a default judgment is not impossible, but it is an avoidable hassle, so it’s best to respond within the 30-day deadline.

In addition to a response, you will have to pay an initial filing fee for your “first appearance” in the case.  As of August 2014, this fee is $273 for all Oregon counties. Check how much your county’s divorce fees are here.  If you feel that you cannot pay this fee, you can request a fee waiver form at the courthouse.

Going to Court

From here, a court date will be set. In the meantime, look out for any hearings on temporary issues or other matters that might occur before the court date–your spouse should have served this paperwork on you as well. Other events that may take place after your response is filed but before the case is resolved might include mediation, involving a custody evaluator, or taking a parenting class.  Each case is very different.

In the event that you and your spouse disagree on who should have custody of your minor children or what each parent’s time with the children should be, courts in many counties will require you to participate in mediation.  This is a free session with a professional mediator to help you and your spouse come to an agreement on these issues. Remember that you do not have to agree with the mediator or your spouse. You will not be penalized if you and your spouse are unable to come to a resolution in mediation.

Finalizing the Divorce

At the end of the case, a judge will sign a document that finalizes everything, including custody and parenting time issues, division of property, division of debt, child or spousal support, insurance, and any other issues in the case.  This document is called a Judgment of Dissolution of Marriage. At this point, the judge may also restore your legal name before you got married, if you so desire.

An excellent Portland divorce lawyer, like those at Holtey Law, can help you navigate the confusing and often painful process of dissolving a marriage, both with expert legal insight and sensitivity to your needs. Divorce is almost always difficult, but with knowledgeable legal counsel, the process will go a lot more smoothly.

Have you been served divorce papers and need help? Learn more about Holtey Law’s divorce attorneys and contact us to get started with a consultation.

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Photos: Sharyn Morrow, John Moore