Modification Timeline and Glossary from Portland Family Lawyer Ronald Allen Johnston

Below are some of the common terms and time lines that family law clients can expect with modifications.  If you have specific questions about how these modification terms relate to your case, please call our Portland family attorney now to set up a consultation.

Prepare Documents Prepare an Order to Show Cause with Supporting Affidavit. If child support or spousal support is an issue, a Uniform Support Declaration is also required at time of filing.
File Order To Show Cause The attorney presents the Order to Show Cause to a judge for signing. This is usually done in person, but can be done by mail.

Set Hearing Date

The attorney calls the docket clerk to set a hearing date. The date must be sufficiently in advance to allow discovery, mediation, and evaluation.


This is generally done by a sheriff or a process server. It is generally done routinely but sometimes can be difficult. Service typically is done by handing papers to the other side personally or by leaving them at home or office.

Temporary Status Quo Hearing

If the issue is child custody or visitation, the court may issue a temporary order that keeps the parties and children in their present routine. 21 days advance notice is required before the hearing. The hearing is limited to what is the status quo and whether the status quo order should be issued.

Emergency Orders

Other types of orders can be sought ex parte (without notice to the other side), including a temporary emergency custody order.  These types of orders are “extraordinary” and can be obtained only in carefully defined circumstances.


In Multnomah, Washington, Marion, Columbia, Yamhill, and other counties, if child custody or visitation is an issue, you must meet with a court appointed Mediator before having any contested hearing. Mediation is optional in Clackamas County.

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.  If you already took the class, it is possible to waive the requirement.


This can happen at any time. The most usual forms of discovery 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 final hearing.  For a detailed discussion of this subject, see our page on Discovery.


Experts may be required to evaluate claims for child custody and visitation. 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.

Evaluation of Case

After discovery is completed, the case can be evaluated. Often, some 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., who gets custody. 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.


If one party disagrees with anything, a hearing is required. The only way to avoid a hearing is to have complete agreement on all issues. Many times, the parties agree on most issues and then have a hearing on a selected few issues. Hearings can be an hour or several days. Average time from filing to a hearing in modification cases is 4-7 months.


A trial judge usually will make its 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 and Filing Order

Drafting a judgment to reflect a court ruling often is difficult. Sometimes, a court hearing is required to approve the final order. The process may take as long as two months, and may require a transcript.


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

Settlement and Alternative Dispute Resolution

This can occur at any time in any 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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