This pandemic has been devastating for many families. You may know people who have been sick, or you may know families who have lost loved ones. The emotional strain today is tremendous. Families who are already contemplating divorce are under even more stress and, likely, significant household tension. Unfortunately, the pandemic has also impacted the judicial system, limiting families’ ability to take advantage of the in-court process to divorce or legally separate.
Oregon’s most respected Judges are concerned about the court’s long-term backlog caused by the pandemic. Washington County Circuit Court Judge Janelle Factora Wipper told the Oregon State Bar Bulletin that”‘[c]ases are backing up. At some point, we know we’ve got to deal with the backlog, but we have no clue when that’s going to be, or any sort of returning to normal.” The case backlog will worsen as new cases are filed, noted Oregon Chief Justice Martha Walters. (Bring in the Jury, Cliff Collins, Oregon State Bar Bulletin, Vol 80, No. 10 at 30 (August/September 2020.)) The pandemic has also created a backlog of cases that will prevent divorces and separations from being heard on time. In Multnomah County, Oregon’s largest county, non-emergency domestic relations matters (i.e., divorces) will not be set for trial until January 2021, meaning that divorces filed with the court during the last eight months will only start going to trial in January at the earliest and most will not be heard until well into 2021. This backlog is expected to continue with the courts for the foreseeable future. (See https://www.courts.oregon.gov/courts/multnomah/Documents/Multnomah%20Covid%20Information%20Sheet%209.18.20.pdf.)
Families contemplating divorce consider Collaborative Divorce over the traditional court process to avoid the stress and burden associated with the court’s backlog. Collaborative Divorce is an out-of-court process that allows the family to self-determine the divorce outcome through the collaborative team’s support, is an excellent alternative to litigation. The Collaborative team includes the clients, the attorneys, and possibly a Divorce Coach and Financial Planner (depending on the family’s needs.) The family commits to sharing information and working together to protect their children and equitably distribute assets. The attorneys support the family throughout the Collaborative Divorce process.
Most importantly, for the family, the process also works on the family’s schedule, rather than the court’s calendar. Families do not need to wait for the court to act. The family can work with the team to move the process forward.
This pandemic will impact divorcing families long after the immediate health dangers are resolved. Families that choose the Collaborative Divorce process can help minimize some of the stress from the judicial system’s delays.
For more information about the Collaborative Divorce process, you can review the Collaborative Divorce section of Clarity Law’s site or visit the Oregon Association of Collaborative Professionals https://collaborativepracticeoregon.org/collaborative-divorce/.
Be safe and stay healthy.