Dissolution of Marriage
Divorce, also known as “dissolution of marriage,” is a legal process that terminates a valid marriage. Divorce for men is the same as divorce for women. There are no legal differences between men and women when considering divorce rights.
To begin divorce proceedings, a petition for dissolution of marriage must be filed with the court in the county where the spouses live. The spouse who files for divorce is known as the Petitioner. The other spouse is known as the Respondent. The Petitioner and Respondent are also referred to as the “parties” involved in the case. After the petition is filed, the Respondent must be officially notified of the proceedings by being served with a copy of the paperwork that was filed with the court. The Respondent then has a deadline within which he or she must file a response to the petition.
A divorce becomes final when all issues, including property division, spousal support, child custody, parenting time, and child support are settled by either the agreement of the parties or by trial. A divorce that is granted without being resolved in court is known as an “uncontested divorce.” The final document which contains the terms of the resolution of all of the issues, and which is signed by a circuit court judge, is known as a Judgment of Dissolution of Marriage in Oregon. In Washington it’s called a Decree of Dissolution and there is a 90-day waiting period between the filing of the Petition and the entry of final orders.
To file for divorce in Oregon, at least one of the spouses has to have been living in Oregon continuously for at least six months, including at the time of filing. To file in Washington, you must currently reside in the state. A person seeking divorce may act as his or her own attorney in either state.
In both Oregon and Washington, a no-fault divorce may be granted, meaning neither spouse has committed specific misdeeds that contributed to the end of the marriage. There is no need to find grounds for divorce.
Separation of Assets
In Oregon and Washington, there is a presumption that each spouse contributed equally to the assets of the marriage. This means that, absent evidence to the contrary, each spouse will receive an equal share of the assets. A party may present evidence challenging the presumption of equal contribution by proving that specific assets were received by only one spouse as a gift or inheritance or without any contribution from the other spouse.
The Court will always attempt to divide the assets to produce a “just and proper” result under the circumstances of the case, considering factors such as:
- Length of marriage
- Amount of property brought into the marriage by each party
- Amount of property available for division
- Financial needs, prospects, age, and health of both parties and their children
- Education, work experience, and income of both parties and their children
- The extent of the parties’ mixed assets
Assets can include any land or homes, vehicles and boats, bank accounts, investments, retirement accounts, life insurance policies, lawsuit settlements, trusts, and collections.
Separation of Debts
Certain debts are also divided in a divorce. The divorce judgment will indicate who is responsible for each debt. Joint debts may be divided equitably as part of the property division, or may be assigned to one spouse or the other.
Debts incurred by one spouse alone are treated as their separate responsibility, except where the debts were incurred for “family expenses.” These include things such as medical bills, household goods, educational expenses, etc. The rationale behind this rule is that the entire family benefitted (not only the debtor spouse) and should share in the responsibility for the debt.
Debts incurred after physical separation, i.e. after a party moves out, are generally the responsibility of the person who incurred them, unless the debts are related to the parties’ children or incurred as a family expense. In these situations, a court may extend liability to both spouses.
The court does not have authority over the person to whom the money is owed, e.g. the credit card company. The best course is to close all unsecured joint accounts after a divorce.
Spousal support, also known as alimony, is money paid by one spouse to the other. In Oregon, spousal support is classified in three categories:
- Transitional support: The judge looks at what support is needed to assist the spouse in re-entering the work force. Funds can be used for education or training. Transitional support is typically ordered for a smaller amount and shorter duration than the following two categories.
- Compensatory support: The judge determines an amount of support that compensates one spouse for supporting or contributing to the other’s education, career, or earning ability.
- Spousal maintenance: The judge considers what support is appropriate to keep a standard of living similar to what was enjoyed in the marriage.
Unlike Oregon, Washington does not make these distinctions when awarding alimony.
Spousal support must be requested in the initial pleadings before a judge will consider awarding it. A judge will consider a variety of factors to determine whether spousal support is appropriate. Some basic factors include the length of the marriage, the parties’ age and health, earning capacity and financial needs, tax consequences of an award, and the parties’ work or educational experience.
What can I do to prepare information before filing for divorce?
Collect your asset and income information such as: tax returns, titles to real estate, retirement plans and accounts, non-retirement investments, savings information, pay stubs and stock options. Assemble a thorough account of your financial obligations (debts and monthly bills) as well. It is a good idea to obtain a credit report early in the process in order to thoroughly address all aspects of a settlement. In addition, when custody and parenting time are an issue, it is helpful to gather information relevant to the care of the child, such as parenting journals or e-mails between the parents.
Does spousal support automatically end if the receiving spouse remarries?
In Oregon, no, although remarriage is something that a judge can consider if there is a request to modify or terminate the spousal support award. In addition, the parties may agree that spousal support will terminate upon remarriage.
In Washington, spousal maintenance automatically terminates when the spouse receiving maintenance remarries.
How will spousal support affect my taxes?
The party receiving spousal support treats these payments as regular income for tax purposes. The party making the support payments can deduct these payments from their taxable income.
If I didn't get spousal support in my divorce judgment, can I go back to the court and get it later?
No. Spousal support must be ordered in your original divorce decree or the court is powerless to award any spousal support.