Your options for how to get a divorce in Oregon (legally called a dissolution) are similar to many other U.S. states. There are five primary paths through the divorce process, and you can choose whichever route is most appropriate for your situation, provided you and your spouse are in agreement about approach. If you are not in agreement about the approach, then one of you will be filing a petition for divorce against the other spouse, most likely with an attorney representing you.
Each of the five primary routes, or approaches for how to get a divorce are summarized below, followed by common variations of each route. To understand how they are related to each other, they are placed on a continuum for certain qualities of each approach.
Needs and Interests-Based
More Options/Flexibility and
Control/Input over the Outcome
Less Options and Control/
Input over the Outcome
The process used by Oregon Divorce Guides is a blend of divorce mediation with the option of consultation with individual attorneys and other specialists. Being somewhere between mediation and collaborative law, our process is indicated on the continuum above with a gold star.
Oregon Dissolution: The Five Ways
If your divorce is fairly simple, for example, you don’t have children, substantial assets or debts, and won’t be discussing spousal support, then you may consider filing for divorce yourself. This is most frequently done by jointly completing and filing a Co-Petition for Dissolution. You can obtain the packet of multiple required forms online, or at the clerk’s office in the courthouse of the county in which you will be filing. If your Oregon divorce is more complex (involving children, a home, spousal support, etc.) self-filing is still possible, yet highly discouraged for the legal, financial and tax risks involved.
A divorce mediator works with you and your spouse to guide you through understanding, negotiating, and making decisions for all the issues in your divorce. The mediator writes a detailed agreement which is then filed with the courts and becomes your legal divorce settlement agreement. While there are many benefits of mediation it does not require you to be on good terms or amicable with your spouse; mediators have many problem-solving and conflict resolution tools to keep the parties productively moving towards settlement.
In most Oregon counties, mediation is required by the court if the divorcing spouses are not in agreement about any significant part of the parenting plan (custody, parenting time schedule, etc.). Mediation is not appropriate in situations that contain domestic violence, or in which either of the parties does not have the mental capacity to make decisions.
In a collaborative divorce process, each spouse agrees to hire a family law attorney that has been trained in collaborative techniques which are oriented towards helping spouses arrive at a healthy, respectful settlement instead of the aggressive adversarial approach of traditionally-trained family law attorneys. In advising people on how to get a divorce in Oregon, “Collaborative Attorneys” often encourage spouses to work with other neutral specialists (including divorce coaches, child counselor, and financial advisor) as a part of a team that communicates with each other for the benefit of the entire family.
In a Divorce Arbitration process, the divorcing spouses mutually agree to hire a private arbitrator to gather and hear the facts of the case (usually presented by each spouse’s representing attorney) and make a decision on the disputed items. The spouses sign a contract to abide by whatever the arbitrator decides as the final outcome of their divorce agreement, regardless of how fair it feels to either party. In this sense, it operates much like a litigated trial, with a bit less cost and formality because the person acting as a “judge” is privately hired by the spouses.
In the traditional litigated approach, one spouse hires a divorce lawyer to file a Petition for Dissolution (along with other documents) against the other spouse, and the receiving spouse who is “served” hires a lawyer to files a counter-petition responding to and contesting the divorce. From this point forward, each spouse’s attorney advocates for the best outcome for their client by negotiating with the opposing spouse’s attorney, while discouraging any direct communication between the spouses.
Approximately 80-90% of the cases in this litigation process settle before a trial, often with the attorneys pressuring their clients to compromise on some issues as the trial date gets closer. For the divorce cases in Oregon that do not settle, they are tried by a family court judge (not a jury). During the trial, each attorney will present the case to the judge through the testimony of witnesses (including the spouses) and supporting documents (exhibits). The cases in which child custody is being litigated and a custody evaluation is ordered tend to be the longest, highest conflict and most expensive to litigate.
Variations on the Five Options
Each of the five primary routes for how to get a divorce in Oregon have variations that may include components of the other options. Some examples are:
Variations of Self-filing
- If your marriage is simple enough to fit the criteria, (including no children, real estate, few assets/debts), you can file a quick and easy version of the divorce paperwork, called a Summary Dissolution.
- If you are certain that your spouse will not argue (contest) any of the details you write into the divorce paperwork, but refuses to complete the paperwork with you, you may consider solely filing the Petition for Dissolution, and “serving” your spouse the summons. If they do not respond to (contest) the petition within 30 days, you can then file the forms associated with a Judgment by Default to finalize the divorce. Different rules apply if your spouse is in the military.
- If you do not want the hassle of completing the forms yourself, there are several paralegal services who will file the paperwork for you (usually costs $100-$200).
- Whether you file as a sole petitioner or co-petitioners, you might want to pay a family law attorney to review the multiple forms in your filing packet.
Variations of Divorce Mediation
- Many people who have attorneys representing them decide to utilize mediation to more quickly and inexpensively resolve divorce issues, either by participating in mediation with their attorneys, or by themselves having their attorneys’ advice on any proposals being discussed.
- Some self-filing spouses with a simpler divorce also utilize the experience of a divorce mediator to help them come to agreement on one or two stuck issues, or to provide options or other considerations for the parenting, financial, and tax decisions being made. Read the top four Tips for Getting the Most from your Attorney During Mediation.
Variations of Divorce Arbitration
- Spouses using divorce mediation who may be stuck on one or two issues may use an arbitrator to avoid litigating those issues.
- Spouses who are in an extended litigation process that is not coming to settlement may use a “Settlement Conference” with an arbitrator or family court judge as a last chance attempt to avoid a trial.
Variations of Litigation
- Spouses can each choose to go to trial and represent themselves instead of retaining legal counsel. This is usually not recommended for protecting your legal interests.
- Divorce mediation and arbitration are regularly used by attorneys as an alternative means to settle some of the issues of a litigated case. If you are in this situation, educate yourself about the selected mediator/arbitrator’s experience, costs, and relationship with the attorneys.
Read article “The Divorce Process: Mediation Saves Money, Time and Trauma”