If you have decided to divorce your spouse, you may be wondering whether you will need to hire an attorney. With the huge amount of information available online, including self-help forms and tips for DIY divorces, you may think you can handle the process yourself. And in some cases, you may be able to complete the necessary paperwork either without hiring an attorney or at least with limited involvement by counsel. However, the sheer volume of information and advice on the internet can be overwhelming and even inconsistent. Websites may offer general legal advice that doesn’t consider the specific circumstances of your case or the state laws governing your divorce. Moreover, even with the best of intentions, what starts out as an uncontested or straight-forward divorce may encounter roadblocks or become more complicated. If that happens, an attorney can help ensure that your rights are protected and provide you with the reliable and information you need to make an informed, objective decision about what is best for you and your family.
If you and your spouse do not have any children or property to divide, you may not need to hire an attorney. Without children, the divorce settlement won’t need to address the often contentious issues of custody, parenting time, and support. If you don’t have real property and retirement benefits, oftentimes the forms available at court will be enough for you.
Sometimes when a divorce is uncontested, that is, you and your spouse agree on the terms of the split, you may be able to complete much of the paperwork yourself. That said, if you have children, real property, or retirement benefits, you may still want to seek advice from a lawyer. One option is to consider hiring a consulting attorney to review your divorce settlement before you sign it. Furthermore, if you hit a roadblock in your “uncontested” divorce or it becomes contentious at some point during the process, you should consider hiring an attorney to be sure that your rights are protected. The same is true if your spouse suddenly hires a lawyer.
Keep in mind that Oregon is a no-fault state, which means you are not required to show whose fault it is or even why the marriage is ending. All you need to tell the court about why your marriage is ending is that you and your spouse have “irreconcilable differences.” In other words, if your marital problems cannot be resolved and you want to be divorced, a judge will grant you a divorce (referred to in Oregon as a “dissolution”).
Oregon law creates a “short form” summary dissolution proceeding for people with very simple divorce cases. If you meet the court’s requirements for a summary dissolution, you can get the forms at the county courthouse or from the court’s website. You can probably do this type of divorce paperwork yourself, but, as noted above, you may want to have a lawyer look it over before you sign it. It is important to understand that property divisions are final in Oregon. That means you need to get it right the first time.
If your divorce is contested from the outset, you will almost certainly need a lawyer. And while you can hire an attorney at any point in the process, it is best to do it early. This is particularly true if you are concerned that your spouse may be a danger to you or your children or if you believe that your spouse is hiding money or transferring joint assets out of your control.
An attorney can help you explore your options, including alternative dispute resolution (“ADR”) and explain the potential paths your case could take, including the advantages and disadvantages of each option. More important, if your case involves complicated legal issues, an experienced local attorney who is well-versed in Oregon divorce law will protect your rights.
If you prefer not to go to court over your contested divorce, you should look for a lawyer who works to settle divorces out of court. Alternative forms of dispute resolution are often less expensive, less time-consuming, and less emotional than resolving issues in a courtroom setting. That said, your attorney should be prepared to advocate for your interests in court if negotiations break down.
If you are going through a divorce and are considering hiring an attorney to protect your interests, we welcome you to contact Litowich Law. Based in Salem, we serve clients throughout Oregon and are dedicated to helping you make well-informed decisions for your family’s future.