This is such a confusing and difficult time for our whole community. Particularly those in a relationship that didn’t work well before COVID and is working less well now that couples are ordered to stay at home together. You may have been considering a separation or divorce and think that your unhappy situation must continue indefinitely, due to court closures. As you may know, since March, Oregon courts statewide have been working on a very limited basis. Only specific types of matters deemed “essential” are being heard by the circuit court, either in person or remotely. We all hoped that restrictions would end on June 1 and while 31 of Oregon’s 36 counties have now been approved for phase 1 reopening, the Portland tri-county area is not yet included. Multnomah, Washington and Clackamas county circuit courts will continue under the same restrictions for the time being (at least until July 1st) per an Order from Oregon’s Chief Justice issued on Friday, May 15, 2020. That means that the limitations placed on our local courts to hear only “essential” matters continue for a while longer. A summary of the Chief Justice’s Order is located at https://www.osbar.org/_docs/resources/CJO20-016Summary.pdf
There are, however, other options available to you during this time. You do not have to be stuck in hopeless limbo. Private mediation, binding arbitration, or use of a reference judge are efficient and cost-effective ways to proceed with resolving your family law matter. All of these methods offer a forum that is private, less formal, less costly, and less time-consuming than traditional litigation. Mediation is a way to resolve disputes with an impartial facilitator in a safe environment. The neutral mediator facilitates discussions between the parties in an effort to reach an agreement. When an agreement is reached, a mediation agreement is drafted and signed by the parties which is then converted into a stipulated judgment to be filed with the court. In binding arbitration, the parties agree to submit their dispute to an
impartial arbitrator authorized by the parties to resolve the controversy by rendering a final and binding award. Using a reference judge to try your case is another method of getting your matter resolved outside of a traditional circuit trial. Reference judges are attorneys or judges with sufficient experience to act as the judge of your case. Unlike arbitrators, reference judges are required to be approved by the county for their experience in a particular area of the law.
The main advantage to any of these methods of resolution is the speed of resolution. Even under normal circumstances, it can take months to get in front of a circuit court judge. It is currently impossible to predict when we will be able to get cases in front of our courts to resolve non-essential domestic relations matters. Another advantage to these methods is individual attention and the ability to handle complex issues. Our circuit courts are very busy and don’t really have the time to give your case the attention you may think it requires. You will get that attention when you use a reference judge. There is a cost for any of these options but in the long run, resolving disputes promptly and no longer being in limbo may be worth the cost of hiring a mediator, arbitrator, or reference judge.
These are options worth your consideration and our attorneys are happy to discuss the pros and cons of each with you. Our lawyers are working remotely but are available to meet with you via various types of technology. Call us today to discuss how we can help you resolve your case without waiting for a court date.