Divorce Timeline and Glossary from Portland Divorce Attorney Ronald Allen Johnston

Following is a time line of events and activities, and glossary of terms, in a typical dissolution of marriage (divorce) proceeding.  If you have questions about the timeline of a divorce or any divorce terminology, please call our Portland divorce lawyer now to set up a consultation.

File/Filing: File Complaint with Court Clerk. Pay filing fee. This act commences the lawsuit and triggers the court’s jurisdiction (power to rule).

Automatic Restraining Orders:

Certain restraining orders automatically come into effect upon the filing of a case. Please see our detailed discussion of property and financial restraining orders.

Service of Process:

A sheriff or process server does this, generally. This is generally done routinely, but sometimes it is difficult. In Multnomah County, service must be done within six months of filing; in other counties within 63 days. Service is accomplished by handing papers to the respondent personally or leaving them at home or office. If all parties agree, service may be waived by signing of a receipt. Service of process is a required step, and must be completed correctly.

Temporary Protective Order of Restraint

This is often referred to as a TPOR.  This is a status quo order, and it directs the parents to maintain the current residence and routines for the child pending a further court order.

Property Restraining Order

Certain orders regarding property automatically come into existence upon filing of a complaint.  For a detailed discussion on this subject, see our page on property and financial restraining orders.

Respondent’s Answer:

This is a formal court paper filed by respondent, with a fee paid to the court. The answer must be filed within 30 days of service, unless this deadline is extended. It is common for the respondent’s attorney to request an extension of time in which to file an answer. Requests for extensions of time to file are usually granted. If answer is not timely filed, petitioner can take a default order. If an answer is not filed and default not taken, the court will eventually dismiss the case.


An order of default means that a party may no longer contest the petition. In a dissolution proceeding, however, there is a special rule that prohibits taking a dissolution judgment before the end of a 90-day waiting period. Accordingly, even though a “default” is obtained, a judgment may not be sent to the court right away. Once this waiting period is met, then a dissolution judgment may be sent to the court by mail.  Sometimes, the waiting period can be waived.

Emergency Orders:

Other types of orders can be sought ex parte (without notice to the other side).  These include temporary emergency custody orders and temporary awards of home and property.  These types of orders are “extraordinary” and can be obtained only in carefully defined circumstances.  Obtaining ex parte custody orders is very difficult and is allowed only in cases of emergency.


In Multnomah, Washington, Marion and Columbia Counties, if child custody or visitation is an issue, you must meet with a court appointed Mediator before having any contested hearing. In Clackamas County, mediation can be ordered by a judge, but is not required in every case.

Parenting Class:

In Multnomah, Clackamas, Washington and other counties, it is a requirement that every parent in every case involving children attend a parenting class. In Clackamas county, you will attend one three and one-half hour class. In Multnomah county, you will attend one three and one-half hour class, and in Washington County, you will attend a series of four 90-minute workshops.

Order to Show Cause:

This order sets a court hearing date for temporary (pendente lite) matters. They are usually filed and obtained when filing the petition, but can also be filed at a later time. Either party can file this motion. A hearing date is set usually 10 days to 60 days in advance, depending on county and docket. Hearing fees are required.

Pendente Lite (Temporary) Hearing):

At this hearing, the judge will hear evidence and will then issue temporary orders relating to child custody, visitation, use of home, use of assets, etc. The hearings usually are brief, and often are pressured. The purpose is to set temporary ground rules for the case, and is not to decide issues with finality. Notwithstanding, the issuance of a temporary order can affect the final outcome, especially in child custody related cases. Accordingly, many pendente lite hearings are vigorously contested.

Pendente Lite Order:

These are orders resulting from a temporary hearing. Disputes often arise over the wording of temporary orders. There is no appeal from a temporary order. In many cases, the order is called a “Limited Judgment”.

Mandatory Disclosure:

Certain documents, upon request, are required by law to be automatically disclosed within 30 days of filing, or before a Pendente Lite hearing. If support is an issue, a Uniform Support Declaration is required. For a detailed discussion of this subject, see our page on Mandatory Disclosure.

Additional Discovery:

At any time after filing, either party may request discovery in addition to the mandatory disclosure. The most usual forms are requests for documents and depositions. Depositions are opportunities for lawyers to ask questions under oath for the other party. Discovery must be completed prior to settlement or trial. Before any hearing on support, the parties must complete a Uniform Support Declaration.  For a detailed discussion of this subject, see our page on Discovery.


Experts may be required to evaluate claims for child custody and visitation, to evaluate the value of real estate, personal property, stocks, businesses, and real estate, or to determine a person’s earning capacity. Most experts need “lead time” in which to do an evaluation. Sometimes, intense negotiations and even court orders are required in order to secure an expert. For this reason, experts need to be hired early. Expert fees can be substantial, and are in addition to legal fees. Some counties have custody evaluators on staff to investigate parenting time and child custody disputes.

Evaluation of Case:

After discovery is completed, the case can be evaluated. Sometimes individual issues can be independently evaluated; many times, the evaluation of one asset is dependent on the evaluation or disposition of something else. Lawyers will start with key “building blocks”, e.g., (1) who gets custody, (2) is the house to be sold or kept, (3) does one party keep the pension or is it divided? After key “building blocks” are decided, other issues often can be resolved quickly.

Case Assignment:

Each county has a different method of assigning cases to judges for trial. Sometimes the assignment is not made until the late afternoon before the hearing. In some counties, a judge is assigned to hear all aspects of the case. In other counties, each hearing is randomly assigned to the first judge available.  In some counties, the matter is assigned early on to a specific judge.


If one party disagrees with anything, a trial is required. The only way to avoid a trial is to have complete agreement on all issues. On many cases, the parties agree on most issues and then have a trial on a selected few issues. Trial can be an hour or several days. Average time from filing to trial in most counties is 7 to 9 months. It is common to have one or more resets of trial dates.


A trial judge usually will make his or her ruling at the conclusion of the case in the courtroom. This is called a “bench ruling”. The court has the power to “take the case under advisement” to think about it and to review the evidence. In these circumstances, the court likely will write a letter to the attorneys that sets out its ruling

Settling & Filing Judgment:

Drafting a judgment to reflect a court ruling sometimes is difficult. Sometimes, a transcript might be ordered or a court hearing is required to settle the order. The process may take as long as two months.

Qualified Domestic Relations Order:

If the final order requires the transfer of all or a part of a pension or retirement account, the court usually will be required to use a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO). In most cases, the QDRO must be referred to a pension attorney for preparation.


If a party is dissatisfied with a final judgment, an appeal can be taken within 30 days. Appeals are comparatively rare, are costly, and can take up to 14 months.


In dissolution cases involving property only, (i.e., there are no child custody, parenting time, or spousal support issues), the case is referred for hearing before an arbitrator for initial hearing. The arbitrator’s ruling is appealable to a judge if a party is dissatisfied.

Settlement and Alternative Dispute Resolution:

This can occur in an number of ways, including negotiation by letter and telephone, “face to face” settlement conferences, judicial settlement conferences, referral to a private mediator, referral to a privately retained evaluator or appraiser, etc. The idea is to settle the case without courtroom litigation.

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