Rarely will you face anything as challenging as a family law issue. We will assist you in navigating the intricate legal issues that will determine the outcome of your family law matter. We will work with you during this challenging time to help you and your family transition to what tomorrow holds. While we will fervently advocate on your behalf, we will also be direct with you about the legal and practical considerations involved in your case and give you a candid assessment of your situation.
HRBT can assist you with:
- Pre-Nuptial Agreements
- Divorce/ Dissolution
- Legal Separation
- Domestic Partnership Agreements
- Domestic Partnership Dissolution
- Child Support
- Spousal Support
- Child Custody
- Document Review
- Divorce and Debts
- Restraining Orders
- Pro se coaching
Amanda C. Thorpe is the partner in our firm who can assist you with your Family Law needs.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: A friend told me ______________ happened in her divorce, is that going to happen in mine?
A: It is so great to have a support network, but have you noticed that most of the time people lead with their horror story, or something awful that happened to a friend of a friend? While this advice and input is great because it gives you information and issues to address, be sure to speak to a legal professional or get reliable legal information. Divorce cases especially are highly fact specific. Even the smallest detail, something perhaps left out of your friend’s story, could make a difference in your case. Law is also different from state to state and changes over time. I strongly suggest you only rely on information from a licensed attorney made after a full disclosure and discussion of your own facts. BUT these concerns can make a great starting point for those discussions.
Q: I have an appointment to see an attorney, what should I bring with me?
A: This will depend on the attorney and the purpose of the appointment, but better to be prepared. The most important thing in a divorce consultation is to have an accurate picture of your finances and circumstances. How much money does each person make? How much do you each owe in credit cards and joint credit cards? What is the approximate value of investment accounts/ retirement accounts? How much do you own your mortgage and what is your house worth? How much do you owe on your vehicles? What other assets do you have, and what is the value? What other debts do you have and whose name is it in? It can be helpful to have documents with you that will provide this information in case you don’t know it, or if you hire the attorney to represent you. The above information is needed in order for the attorney to give you an assessment of an expected outcome at trial, reasonable range of settlement options, how to draft the initial pleadings, and even how and when you should proceed to file.
Q: I think I need help with my divorce, but I can’t afford an attorney, what should I do?
A: You have several options and legal help may be more affordable than you think. Self-help forms are available on the internet, but they may not fit your situation, you may leave out critical language or information, or you may just need some legal advice on what is reasonable and appropriate in your situation. Most lawyers charge a reduced hourly rate for initial consultations, which usually last 30 minutes to an hour (make sure you ask the length of the appointment when you schedule it.) For example, my regular hourly rate is $200.00 per hour. My initial consultation fee is $75.00, and will last about an hour. You can also contact the Oregon State Bar and receive a referral for a consultation for $35.00 (see attached sheet for contact information.) Legal services are also available on a variety of levels. You could choose to hire the attorney to represent you including preparing paperwork, appearing in court for you, corresponding and doing discovery, etc. You could also hire an attorney just to prepare the paperwork for you. You would still represent yourself in court, but you would pay a flat or hourly rate to the attorney to prepare the petition, response, judgment, or other pleadings. You could also bring in paperwork that you prepared yourself for a document review, if arranged in advance (possibly) at the initial consultation, or at the attorney’s hourly rate. Then the attorney can suggest changes or spot areas you may have missed. What level of assistance is appropriate will depend on the number of issues and complexity of those issues.
Q: I can’t afford an attorney, but I can’t do this paperwork myself. Should I use a paralegal?
A: Unlike many of my colleagues, I think paralegals can provide an needed service to people in need of legal documents. There are two HUGE “however”s:
- Know what you are getting. Paralegals are legally prohibited from giving you legal advice. Essentially, you are paying them to prepare the documents as you instruct them. Any legal advice they give you, which they shouldn’t, should be viewed critically. They will prepare forms that they have developed, and hopefully, using those forms, will get from you all the information they need. However, they cannot give you legal advice. Make some calls and possibly schedule an initial consultation with an attorney first to make sure you know how to proceed and have spotted all of the issues.
- Make sure the rates are competitive. You are not getting legal advice. You are only getting forms. You may find that a lawyer is able and willing to prepare the paperwork at a more reasonable rate than you thought.
Q: I am thinking about getting a divorce. Is there anything I should be doing now, before I see a lawyer, when I’m not sure I am going to file yet?
A: I always wish I could go back in time to before someone separated and tell them a few things. So, if this is you, I suggest the following:
- Become aware of your financial situation. Look at the bank statements and bills that come in the mail. Often, one spouse pays the bills and the other is simply not aware of the household expenses. Review your income information in old tax returns and in each others pay stubs. Again, it is common for one spouse to prepare the taxes and the other to simply sign.
- Keep records. Oregon rules require parties to exchange certain financial records within 30 days of filing/ service of divorce papers. (ORS 107.089). However, it can often be difficult to get all of these documents in that time frame, especially when relying on the other side. Keep the original or copies of tax returns, paystubs, bank statements, household bills, investment accounts, retirement accounts, and other financial records when they come in the mail. Much of these can be requested online if you are an account holder. However, the more you have gathered the easier the process will be and the more educated you will be.
- Remember, emails, text messages, photographs, and videos of your conduct can be admissible evidence at a trial or hearing down the road. You would be surprised how often a heated comment can come back to be a problem for someone. By the same token, if your spouse is saying or doing things that you think might be important down the road, save related voicemails, text messages, emails, etc. It may be that a lawyer will not have use for those down the road, but better to have that evidence if its necessary.
- Consider getting a credit card in your name alone that you do not use. It may be helpful to establish a credit line of your own for emergencies, legal fees, or costs.
Q: Am I going to owe/ get spousal support?
A: In Oregon, there are three types of spousal support. Maintenance, Compensatory, and Transitional. Whether it is appropriate for such an award in your situation, the amount, and duration is highly fact sensitive. Income disparity is only one of many factors taken into account, although it is a significant consideration and the most obvious on the face. You will need to discuss your financial situation and financial history in detail with an attorney to get an accurate assessment of this issue.
Q: How much am I going to owe in child support?
A: Unlike spousal support, the issue of child support is decided much more simply. The court most often awards the amount of child support determined utilizing a formula provided by statute, called the Oregon Child Support Guidelines. A link to the calculator available online can be found under the “Additional Resources” listed below. There are several factors including the amount of parenting time, any non-joint children, and other expenses like child care and health insurance that can significantly impact the calculation. Take care in entering this information carefully and accurately stating this information to your attorney. If income varies, the court will usually apply an average over the last six to twelve months of income, unless the facts of the case indicate this is not a reasonable calculation.
Q: Who will get custody of the kids?
A: A lawyer can give you an assessment of this based on the details of your situation. The factors considered in determining child custody can be found in Oregon Revised Statute 107.137. Custody is ultimately determined based on the “best interests of the child”. One of the primary inquiries is to determine who is the primary caregiver of the child, if any. Joint legal custody and shared physical custody are also options (although joint legal custody can only be awarded if the parties are in agreement.) I find that even when monetary or property issues tie up a divorce most couples are able to reach some kind of agreement as to parenting time and custody either on their own or through the aid of their attorneys or the court mediator.
Q: We have a lot of credit card debt, but I had better credit so most of it is in my name. Will I be stuck with all the credit card debt in my name alone?
A: Not necessarily. Just because a credit card is in your name alone does not mean that you will be stuck with it. The court can, and may, award that obligation to your spouse. However, for a variety of reasons, it is often preferable for debts to be awarded to the party whose name is on the card. For one thing, it lets you keep control over your credit rating. Also, if one or both of you file a bankruptcy, it is more complicated if you are dealing with credit cards being in the name of one, but the responsibility of the other.
Q: My spouse had a huge credit card in his name that I knew nothing about, that he used for gambling, and that I never used. How is the court going to treat that?
A: Most likely the credit card will still be treated as a marital debt. This issue often arises when there has been some kind of misconduct or irresponsible behavior from the other spouse: spending money on a girlfriend/ boyfriend, excessive spending, gambling, drinking, etc. However, the court treats most debts incurred up to the time of separation as marital debts, regardless of what use they were put to.
Q: My spouse and I have a joint credit card, but he always makes the payments and he is the one that primarily uses it. He wants to be responsible for the credit card after the divorce and keep the account open, what should we do?
A: Do not leave joint accounts open. I understand the desire to be nice, but you have to protect yourself, not matter how much you believe that your spouse will make the payments as promised. If you are contemplating a dissolution, you should pull a copy of your credit report and credit rating to get a good idea of your credit health. If you can get the same from your spouse, that is also helpful. Be realistic that a divorce is going to bring increased living costs and other financial strain. When appropriate, and sooner rather than later, any outstanding joint accounts like credit cards or a home equity line of credit, should be closed. The will remain in payment status, but no new charges will be able to be made. It is rare, but sometimes possible, to get the lender to take one name off the account. There may be some damage to your credit, but worth eliminating the risk that more debt will be incurred without your knowledge and for which you would still be liable.
Q: I have so much debt, I know I can’t keep up with it and I think I am going to have to file bankruptcy. Should I file bankruptcy before or after my divorce?
A: Whether to file bankruptcy at all, and when, is something that should be discussed based on your specific circumstances with most likely a bankruptcy attorney and a divorce attorney. A lawyer that practices in both areas may be especially helpful. Mostly the decision will depend on whether the debts are primarily joint or individual, your individual and combined income, and what assets you have and the anticipated distribution of those assets in a divorce. These factors will also determine whether a Chapter 7 (liquidation bankruptcy) or Chapter 13 (payment plan bankruptcy) is best for you. Some couples that qualify for a Chapter 7 and have significant joint debts find filing before hand beneficial. It clears up much of the debt and allows the parties to make an equitable division of the assets that remain, and makes spousal support payments more feasible. In some instances, if there is a large income disparity between the parties, it is better to wait because one spouse will qualify for a Chapter 7, but the other does not.
Q: What happens if my spouse stops making payments while our divorce is pending?
A: Although trial may take 6 months to 18 months (even more if a complicated case or extenuating circumstances, like filing a bankruptcy while the divorce is pending), there is relief the court can grant that is much faster (relatively speaking). While the divorce is pending you can ask the court to order your spouse to keep making payments on debts, especially secured debts like car payments and the mortgage. The court will look at the history of payment, and ability to pay, among other things, and grant the appropriate relief. The purpose is to try to preserve as much of the marital estate while the divorce is pending as possible, rather than letting something be foreclosed upon or repossessed. It is easier to get this relief before payments stop, but it can be made at any time while the divorce is pending. If your spouse disobeys the court order, you have some remedies, but an inability to pay is a defense. In some cases it is preferable to request spousal support and calculate the award based on the understanding that you will pay certain debts. Spousal support is taxable income for the party receiving it, but this alternative gives you some more control over making sure that bill gets paid, and the remedy to enforce a spousal support award is at least a little easier than an order to pay debts.
Q: I don’t think I can afford to pay child support, spousal support, and all of our debts, what am I going to do?
A: The answer to this question depends on what stage you are at in the process. However, no matter when this problem arises, the courts will treat spousal support and child support as the top priorities financially. Next priority becomes secured debts that need to be kept up in order to keep collateral that has equity, or that is otherwise essential, like your vehicles. If you think you can’t afford those debts, look at ways to economize. Your spending will be viewed VERY critically if you fail to meet your support obligations or suggest that you cannot afford to pay support. The same is true if you fail to make payments on debts you had been paying before. That said, it is not unusual for there to be insufficient resources after and during a divorce. Divorce is expensive, with or without attorneys. Two houses or apartments, new (used) furnishings, two grocery bills, two utility bills, etc. increases the total financial needs of a family that may have been barely getting by before. It is entirely possible that some major changes, including one or both parties trying to increase income, and reduce costs, or a possible bankruptcy will be necessary.
Q: My spouse wants us to sit down and write out how we are going to divide things. What should I do?
A: If you and your spouse are able to settle your divorce all the better for you. However, such settlements, even if they seem informal, may be binding on you. Before you agree to anything make sure you speak to an attorney so you understand the range of your legal rights and remedies. Also, make sure that you have all the information you could need to make an informed decision, and that you have likewise disclosed all information that your spouse may need. Do not proceed with any negotiation if you are not comfortable, confident, or feel that you HAVE to reach an agreement. You have many, many options. Make sure you explore them.
The above information is based on Oregon statutes and caselaw as of the date of this presentation. This information is frequently changing. These VERY basic answers to a general inquiry is not intended to be used as legal advice for any individual. What is appropriate, likely, or necessary for your situation will depend highly on the detailed facts of your situation. You should seek legal advice from a licensed attorney to discuss your individual circumstances.
Lawyer Referral Service through the Oregon State Bar
Oregon Statewide Family Law forms
(or just google “Oregon family law forms” and make sure you choose the link to the OJD site above.)
Standard family law forms can also be obtained from the Family Court on the second floor of the Juvenile Justice Center on the corner of 4th and NW F ST, 310 NW F ST, Grants Pass, OR. There will be a small fee for the forms.
Oregon Revised Statutes: Not the easiest read, but still a great resource for someone contemplating a divorce. Chapter ORS 107 deals with divorce.
Family Solutions offers counseling, supervised parenting time, and other services to families in Grants Pass, Oregon