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Frequently Asked Questions

General |Family Law | Appeals

General Questions about Hiring a Lawyer

What happens at the initial consultation?

At the initial consultation we want to hear your summary of the facts and issues that brought you to us, as well as the resolution you want. If you are like many people who have not seen an attorney before, you will want to know about how things work, whether or not what you want is possible, your options, potential resolutions, and how to achieve them. Once we have a basic understanding of the issues in your case, we will discuss with you legal principles, recommend strategies, and tell you what to expect from a court if the case is litigated. We will give you, as closely as we can, the normal time lines and review with you the standard legal procedures followed in your type of case. We will also give you an estimate of the cost, but you must keep in mind that you will only be able to control your part of the case. If the opposing party is difficult or your case is complex, the cost may be higher than we estimate. Because it is important to place your case in the hands of someone in whom you have confidence, during this consultation you will have an opportunity to get to know us and assess us at the same time we get to know you.

How much does it cost for a consultation?

There is a consultation fee that varies for each attorney in the firm based on the attorney's experience. When you set up your appointment, you will be told the amount of the fee. Because we charge for consultations, the consultation is not limited to one hour. If your case requires more time to sort through, we take the time to do that.

What should I bring to the initial consultation?

You will speak with one of our legal assistants to set up your appointment. They will tell you what to bring with you when you come. In addition to the documents you have been asked to bring, if you have something else you believe is relevant to your case, bring it as well. We will not have the time to look through boxes of documents, so bring only the documents you are asked to bring and others you feel are useful to explain your situation. If you retain us, we will give you a comprehensive list of documents we will need to proceed with your case. It is a rare client who is unemotional or unconcerned about his/her case, and we understand that it is easy to forget the questions you had before you arrived for the consultation. Take some time beforehand to write down the questions you have about your case and bring them with you.

Can you reveal to others what we discuss during the consultation?

No we cannot. Once we meet with you, we are ethically bound to keep all of your information confidential and we cannot, without your approval, reveal that information to anyone or engage in a case or represent a party adverse to you. This is true even if you choose not to retain our firm to represent you.

How much will my case cost?

In order to hire our firm, you will need give us an initial retainer. The amount of the retainer is based on the estimated cost of your overall case and on how much work will need to be done immediately. All family law cases are billed at an hourly rate. Our attorneys' rates vary based on their level of experience. Every case is different and the ultimate cost will depend on how many issues must be resolved between the parties, the complexity of the issues, and the cooperation (or lack of it) from the opposing party and attorney. Cases involving custody disputes or complex property division issues can be expensive. If you and the other party have reached an agreement on most of your issues prior to consulting with us, you can usually save time and expense. However, you should know that agreements sometimes fall apart once you and the other party have more information about the legal consequences of the agreement.

What is a retainer?

We follow the standard practice in the legal community of requiring that all clients pay a retainer and sign a retainer agreement at the time we enter into an attorney/client relationship with you. Retainers are deposits which will be used to pay future attorney fees and costs. All retainers are deposited into our firm's attorney trust account and will not be removed from that account until after the work has been performed or the cost incurred, and a statement prepared. We will send you a detailed statement each month that will show you the work performed, the expenses billed to you and the status of your retainer. We require you to keep an amount in trust at all times, so you will see a notation on your bill about the amount you need to pay to replenish your trust account, in addition to covering fees and expenses. At the end of your case, if you have funds left in trust, they are refunded to you.

What sort of payment do you accept?

We accept Cash, personal checks, VISA, Mastercard, Discover and American Express.

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Questions About Family Law

What are the steps in filing for divorce?

A divorce proceeding is initiated by one party by filing a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage and the required accompanying documents in the county in which one or both of the parties reside. There are additional rules related to where a divorce must be filed if the parties have children. Once the Petition for Dissolution has been filed, it must be served on the other party. Once the other party is served, that party has 30 days to file a response with the Court or to "appear" in the divorce proceeding.

What is the basis for obtaining a divorce in Oregon?

Oregon is a "no fault" state. In order to obtain a divorce in Oregon, the party petitioning the Court for a divorce must state that "irreconcilable differences between the parties have caused the irremediable breakdown of their marriage." No further facts or allegations about the other party are necessary.

Can my spouse prevent me from obtaining a divorce if they do not want a divorce?

No. Once you file for divorce, and the Petition for Dissolution and accompanying documents are served on your spouse, your spouse has 30 days to file a response. If your spouse chooses not to file a response, it will be possible to obtain an Order of Default. An Order of Default prevents your spouse from contesting the allegations in the Petition for Dissolution, and will allow you to obtain a Default Judgment against your spouse, which will terminate your marriage.

Can you help me if I want to file for divorce, and my current spouse and I have already agreed on the terms of our divorce?

Yes. An attorney from our law firm can meet with you, and we can assess whether or not you and your spouse have agreed on all of the important issues that must be decided in order to obtain a divorce. If you and your spouse have come to an agreement on all the important issues, we can prepare the required paperwork for you, and make sure that your divorce judgment is drafted correctly and includes all the necessary provisions to protect your interests. We frequently have clients who come to us to make sure that the documentation related to their case is handled correctly, even though they may have already worked out a settlement with the other party.

If my spouse and I have children, will there be additional requirements in our divorce proceeding?

Yes. If the parties to a divorce have children under the age of 18, both parties will need to attend a Court mandated parenting class. In many counties the parties will also need to attend Court mandated mediation if there are custody and parenting time issues in the parties' case. Each county has a different parenting class, and it is important to enroll in your county's parenting class as soon as possible after the commencement of your divorce proceeding, to avoid causing unnecessary delay in your case.

Explain what it means to have custody of a child?

In Oregon, the parent who has custody of the parties' child is the parent who makes the major decisions for the child, including but not limited to:

  • Decisions related to nonemergency health care providers and treatments;
  • Decisions related to religion;
  • Decisions related to education and what school the child will attend;
  • Allowing the child to marry before the child reaches the age of majority; and
  • Allowing the child to sign up for the military before the child reaches the age of majority.

Although the parents can agree to have joint custody of their child, a Court will not order joint custody in Oregon. The default in Oregon, if the parties cannot agree, is that one parent will have sole custody of the parties' child.

If the parties cannot agree on custody, what factors will a Court consider when deciding which parent should have custody of a child?

The Court will look at a number of factors, and will determine, under the totality of the circumstances, what is in the child's best interest. In order to decide which parent should have custody, the Court will consider many factors, including but not limited to:

  • The emotional ties between the child and other family members;
  • The interest of the parties in and attitude toward the child;
  • The desirability of continuing an existing relationship;
  • The abuse of one parent by the other;
  • The preference for the primary care giver of the child, if the care giver is deemed fit by the Court; and
  • The willingness and ability of each parent to facilitate and encourage a close and continuing relationship between the other parent and the child.

What is parenting time?

Parenting time is the scheduled time that each parent has with the parties' child. Any judgment involving custody issues should include a specific parenting time plan. Regardless of how well the parents communicate with each other, it is recommended that the parents have a specific parenting time plan that they can rely on in the event of any disagreements about their parenting time schedule.

How is child support calculated?

In Oregon, child support is calculated based on the monthly income of both parents, the number of overnights the children spend with each parent, work-related child care expenses, and out-of pocket costs paid for health insurance to cover the children. The Oregon child support calculator is located at The Oregon Department of Justice Web site. In some cases, a party may be able to present evidence sufficient to persuade the Court to order a different amount of child support, such as in cases where a disabled child may have extraordinary uninsured health care costs.

How is spousal support calculated?

There is not an exact formula for calculating spousal support in Oregon. What, if any, spousal support will likely be awarded in a case is fact specific. In Oregon, the Court will look at a number of factors, including length of marriage, standard of living during the parties' marriage, health of the parties, education of each party, income of each party, and age of the parties. An attorney can discuss the specific facts of your case, and give you an idea of whether or not you may be awarded spousal support or if you may be obligated to pay spousal support to the other party.

Will I have to go to trial?

It depends. Many cases settle, and the parties may not ever have to appear before a Judge, or they may just appear so that their attorneys can read the terms of their settlement on the record at the courthouse. If there are any issues that the parties cannot agree on, then a trial is required. There are many ways to try to resolve your case without going to trial. Your attorney can discuss your options with you, and see if mediation or another method of trying to resolve your case is appropriate based on the facts of your case.

Is it possible for a same-sex couple to get married or enter into a civil union in Oregon?

Although Oregon does not allow same-sex marriages or civil unions, it is possible for a same-sex couple to register a "domestic partnership" which gives the couple the same legal rights and responsibilities as a marriage. Oregon statutes provide that all case and statutory laws governing marriage and divorce apply to the creation and dissolution of a same-sex registered "domestic partnership." This includes all rights to custody, parenting time, spousal and child support, and the division of the property of the parties.

Can an award of custody be modified after a divorce or dissolution of a registered "domestic partnership"?

Yes, sole custody will be changed to the other parent if the party seeking the change is able to prove that there has been a substantial change relating to the custodial parent's ability to care for the child and that such a change is in the child's best interest. If the parties have joint custody, either party can seek sole custody without a showing of a substantial change of circumstances. In such cases, the custody decision is made under the same standards that apply to an original award of custody and the focus is on the best interests of the child.

Can an award of parenting time (visitation) be modified after a divorce or dissolution of a registered "domestic partnership"?

Yes, the court will order a change in the parenting time schedule whenever the court determines that such a change is in the best interests of the child. The parties can also formally stipulate to a change in the schedule or can informally change the schedule with no written stipulation. However, if the change is not supported by a formal court order, either party can require that the schedule revert to the one ordered by the court.

Can Spousal Support (Alimony) or Child Support be modified after a divorce or dissolution of a registered "domestic partnership"?

Yes, if the party seeking the change in support can establish that there has been a substantial change of circumstances. In the case of spousal support (alimony) there are other statutes that may pertain after the dissolution is 10 years old or more.

Can a division of property (assets or debts) be modified after a divorce or dissolution of a registered "domestic partnership"?

No, except in very limited circumstances. After the final judgment of dissolution has been entered, the distribution of assets and debts is not modifiable. There are a few exceptions in unusual circumstances, such as intentionally or accidentally omitted assets, clerical errors, or fraud.

Is it possible for a non-parent (step-parents, relatives such as grandparents, or other third-parties) to get custody of a child?

Yes, but in only very limited circumstances. Parents have the constitutional right to parent their own children and the court presumes that a legal parent acts in his/her child's best interest. Therefore, petitions for custody by non-parents are granted by the court only if the petitioner can meet strict statutory requirements showing that there is child-parent relationship which has existed within a prescribed period of time, that the party petitioning the court has recently been the child's primary caretaker and contributed to the child's welfare, and that the biological parents are unable to adequately care for the child or circumstances detrimental to the child exist if relief is denied.

Is it possible for a non-parent (step-parents, relatives such as grandparents, or other third-parties) to get the right to visitation with children even if the parents are opposed to such contact?

Yes, if the non-parent has an established relationship with the child. Petitions for visitation by a non-parent are granted even when the legal parents of the child oppose the visits if the non-parent can establish, by clear and convincing evidence, an on-going personal relationship with the child and can rebut the presumption that the legal parents act in the child's best interest.

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Questions About Appeals

What kinds of appeals do you handle?

We do appeals in all areas of the law except criminal law. Past cases include business and real property disputes, neighborhood disputes, personal injury cases, animal law, divorces with complex custody and property issues, medical and legal malpractice, employee disputes, administrative cases and many other areas of civil law

At what point should I consult an appellate attorney?

You should consult an appellate attorney immediately after you receive a decision from the trial court whether this is written or given orally at the close of a trial or hearing. Whether you won or lost in the trial court it can be very important to have an appellate attorney reviewing draft judgments and orders before they are signed by the judge to make certain that you are protected on any appeal. It is never too early to contact an appellate attorney. It can be helpful to have someone who specializes in appeals monitoring the case to make certain that all appeal rights are preserved while the case is being heard at the trial court.

How much time do I have after the trial court makes its decision in which to file an appeal?

Trial courts usually state their decisions first in letters or statements made in open court. These decisions must then be formalized in a General Judgment. A notice of appeal must be filed within 30 days of the date on which the General Judgment is entered in the trial court. A General Judgment may be entered days or sometimes even weeks after it is actually signed by the trial court. We have access to OJIN, the state system that shows the status of every case. Once we represent you we will track the finalization and entry of the General Judgment to make certain that a notice of appeal is filed on time. If a notice of appeal is not filed on time the Court of Appeals has no jurisdiction and you have lost your right to appeal.

Can I stop the enforcement of a money judgment or a transfer of property while the appeal is pending?

Generally, yes. However, if it is a money judgment you may be required to deposit with the trial court the full amount of the money judgment plus two years interest at the rate of 9 percent. If the judgment is for the transfer of real or personal property other requirements must be met. Your options and the cost of staying the judgment will be discussed with you during your initial consultation.

I lost custody of my children. Can you keep the change of custody or change in the residence of the child from happening until after the appeal?

Yes, depending on the facts and the stage of the case at which you hire us. Every case is different so we need to know all relevant facts to make a determination as to whether we can stay the change of custody in your case. It is vital that you consult an appellate attorney prior to the entry of a custody judgment if you are going to attempt to stay a change of custody. Your options and the cost seeking a stay will be discussed with you during your initial consultation.

What is the cost of an initial consultation on an appeal? What is included?

An initial consultation for an appeal costs $350. During this consultation you can expect the attorney to spend however much time it takes (generally one to two hours) for the attorney to learn the basic information about your case and to answer all of your questions. You will be given a cost estimate and estimates as to the probable time frame of your appeal. A general assessment of the appeal may be made based on the information that you orally provide at the consultation. You will not be given an assessment of the percentage chance that you have to win the appeal during this consultation. No such assessment can be done without reading all of the exhibits and, sometimes, all of the transcript of the hearing or trial. The cost and timing of any such assessment will be discussed with you during your initial consultation.

How long does an appeal last?

Most appeals take one and half to two years to conclude from the date on which the notice of appeal is filed. In certain cases (such as custody) it is possible to ask for an expedited schedule that may allow resolution of the case in 6 to 9 months.

Is it possible to get the other party to pay for an appeal?

It is not possible to force the opposing party to pay in advance for an appeal. However, if you win the appeal it may be possible to get an award of attorney fees. During the initial consultation we will discuss whether this is a possibility in your case.

Will you work with my trial attorney?

You will control how much we work with your trial attorney. Some clients want the trial attorney to stay very involved and review the briefs before they are filed. Other clients do not want to pay two attorneys and want the trial attorney to step out of the picture. Trial attorneys generally provide us with copies of all relevant pleadings and exhibits and we will want to have enough contact to obtain what is necessary and to get the trial attorney's view of the case.

Why should I hire an appellate attorney instead of just letting my trial attorney handle the appeal?

The skills required to do appeals and the skills required to handle a case at the trial level are very different. Most trial attorneys do not have the legal research and writing skills required to write the most persuasive brief. Appeals are governed by different rules than those followed in the trial courts and trial attorneys are often not familiar with the rules of appellate procedure. In addition it can be very helpful to have fresh eyes on a case after the heat of a hearing or a trial.

What will I need to do for the case during the appeal?

You will not need to attend any hearings or gather any new evidence. The appeal will be decided based only on what is already in the record. Your appellate attorney may ask for your help in obtaining the pleadings and exhibits that were admitted at the trial and will expect you to keep current on your retainer payments. You will be sent a copy of the briefs after they are completed but likely will not be able to review any brief before it is filed. Clients are highly discouraged from attending oral argument because the Court of Appeals judges have stated that they prefer that only attorneys attend. We will call you immediately after oral argument and will order a CD of oral argument for you so you will be able to hear the argument. The appellate courts never make a decision from the bench.

In cases involving child custody or parenting time can you deal with problems that arise or continue while the appeal is pending?

Even after an appeal is filed the trial court retains the ability to act on motions to modify custody or parenting time. If you want, the attorneys in our office that specialize in family law at the trial court level can assist you with anything that happens while the appeal is pending. You can also keep your existing trial attorney on to deal with these issues while the appeal is pending.

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Jensen & Leiberan Attorneys at Law

One Lincoln Center
10300 SW Greenburg Road, Suite 300
Portland, OR 97223
Phone: (503) 641-7990
Fax: 503-646-2053
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