Starting Divorce in Oregon Courts

Oregon Divorce Frequently Asked Questions

No information below should be relied upon as formal legal advice. These answers should not be used in place of a personal consultation with a qualified lawyer.

What is the procedure for starting an Oregon divorce through the courts?

Starting Divorce in Oregon Courts: It’s one of the most commonly questioned issues we as attorneys encounter. The first step is to determine what county is appropriate for your divorce. Generally this is the county in Oregon where you live. If you have children where custody and child support will be at issue, the appropriate county to file the divorce paperwork is in the county where the children reside (if not the same as you).

Every Oregon divorce begins with a Petition to the court. Oregon courts have fill-in-the blank forms for this Petition available from the court in the county where you intend to file. Essentially, this is a document that states who you are, who your spouse is, who your children are (if any), what you are asking the court to do (i.e. child, spousal support, etc). The Petition also gives the court information that assures the judge that they have the right to make decisions for the family (called “jurisdiction”).

Once the Petition has been completed, there are a number of other documents that need to be completed along with it. Depending on your circumstance, these generally include a sworn statement of residency in Oregon (at least six months), forms with your confidential identifying information (called confidential information forms). Depending on your circumstances, the courts provide different packets of forms for the initial filing. A court clerk can help you select the appropriate packet of forms for filing. If you have legal questions, the clerk cannot answer them and you should seek help from a qualified family law lawyer.

Once you have filled out the Petition and other accompanying forms (called “pleadings”), they will need to be filed with the court. Generally this requires taking them to the courthouse in the appropriate county and giving them to the clerk. You will be charged a filing fee with the court. This fee has varied greatly over time, but as of January 2015 it is set at $273. The clerk will tell you the appropriate fee.

When you pay your fee, the clerk of court will stamp your Petition and accompanying pleadings with a new case number. This number is important, and will be used throughout the matter to reference your specific court case. Having filed the petition, you will be referred to as the “Petitioner.”

Once you have filed your Petition and other paperwork, your spouse must be “served” with a copy of everything that you filed with the court. This process is called “service.” Generally this entails having an adult who is not part of the court case physically handing your spouse a copy of the documents you filed. This step is usually performed either by private process serving companies or the county sheriff. Proper service on your spouse is critical to successful completion of your case. If you intend to serve your spouse in any way other than using a professional process server or the sheriff, you should contact a lawyer to insure that your method complies with Oregon”s specific service requirements.

Once your spouse is served a copy of the paperwork, they then have an obligation to respond. They will be required to file paperwork of their own called a “Response.” Like the Petitioner, they can talk to the court clerk to obtain generic forms, or should talk to a qualified divorce attorney to determine exactly what needs to be filed in a “Response.” Once they have filed their paperwork and paid their court fee, they will be referred to as the “Respondent.”

Once a Petition and Response have been filed with the court, the case is ready to proceed. There are many, many different directions a divorce case can proceed after filing depending on the parties” goals and actions.