We sit down with Founding Attorney, Lewis Landerholm, to talk through the various factors that impact the timetable of a dissolution case. In this interview, Lewis discusses the following:
• Legal and financial reasons that a divorce can’t just be rushed through.
• What a divorce decree is and what needs to get decided in a divorce.
• How court scheduling and rules affect the length of a divorce.
• How discovery, pre-trial motions, and hearings can extend a divorce proceeding.
• Why a divorce case can only go as fast as the slowest person.
• Learn about the court system’s built-in delays.
• What you can do to make your divorce go faster.
If you would like to speak with one of our family law attorneys, please call our office at (503) 227-0200, or visit our website at https://www.pacificcascadelegal.com.
Disclaimer: Nothing in this communication is intended to provide legal advice nor does it constitute a client-attorney relationship, therefore you should not interpret the contents as such.
Welcome to Modern Family Matters, a podcast devoted to exploring family law topics that matter most to you. Covering a wide range of legal, personal, and family law matters, with expert analysis from skilled attorneys and professional guests, we hope that our podcast provides answers, clarity, and guidance towards a better tomorrow for you and your family. Here's your host, Steve Altishin.
Steve Altishin 0:28
Hi, everyone. I'm Steve Altishin, Director of Partnerships here at Pacific Cascade Legal, and today we have our founding attorney, Lewis Landerholm, with us to talk about why divorce cases seem to take so long, and factors that can impact the timetable of a dissolution. So Lewis, how are you doing today?
Lewis Landerholm 0:50
I'm doing great. How are you, Steve?
Steve Altishin 0:52
I'm doing well, I'm doing well. This is an interesting topic. Because, you know, I talk to folks who are either going through a divorce or have gone through a divorce, just on various occasions, you know, and when I say I'm working for a law firm that handles divorce cases, one of the first things I hear is, I don't understand why my case took so long, or they're going in and wonderying why it's taking so long. So let's start by talking about that a little bit. And I want to flip that question a little bit and ask instead, why a divorce shouldn't be rushed through?
Lewis Landerholm 1:29
Yeah, that's really, I mean, that's really what it comes down to. You know, divorce is, it's a complicated situation, right? We've go,t just like a business, I analogize it to a business all the time, right? The parties are so intertwined in their business, that when we have to unwind that, and we have to put everybody back into their own, you know, to their own pieces of assets, but you don't want to do that quickly. There's too many financial ramifications if things are rushed, there's too many risks of not doing it the right way. And, you know, I mean, if you look at a business where you have multiple partners, and you've got all these competing interests to unwind, the same thing goes in in a divorce, plus, in a divorce, emotions are running so high that a lot of times, it's best for parties to take a measured approach, so that you don't give up something that either you didn't want to or you didn't understand what legally was correct or incorrect. And so it's not only that it takes a while for all of that, but the system is meant to be slow, like the system wants the divorcing process to be slow, because we don't want parties to feel rushed into making decisions that that will impact the rest of their lives.
Steve Altishin 3:04
Oh, that makes sense. And, you know, it's one of those deals where it's really difficult, and in some cases, nearly impossible, to make a change, if you didn't get it right the first time.
Lewis Landerholm 3:18
Especially in Oregon. So in Oregon, you know, when we're talking about a divorce, you typically have kids, and you're talking about kid issues, custody, parenting time child support, and then you have spousal support on the financial side as well, and all of the assets. So in Oregon, it's really hard to change custody once a custody decision has been made after the fact. And it's near impossible to change the asset piece, the asset piece is non-modifiable after the fact. So if you take custody and you take property division, and property division is typically the one that, you know,, there's a lot at stake on that side as well. And if you can't change that, then what you don't know or what you do or don't do, will have dramatic consequences after the fact. You know, with the parenting plan and with child support and spousal support, child support and parenting plan can be changed much more easily. Spousal support can be changed, but it is more complicated after the fact.
Steve Altishin 4:24
Yeah. And that kind of leads to, you know, what all needs to get decided. Because this is, I'm assuming, the divorce decree, and maybe you can talk a little bit what that actually is. It can be issued until pretty much everything is actually decided either by a judge or by the people in the divorce. Isn't that right?
Lewis Landerholm 4:50
Yeah. So I mean, we call it a judgment. You know, formally known as a decree, or also known as a decree, people use it interchangeably. The judgment itself is a binding document, just like any other judgment, that would come out of a case. So what's included in that document or what, sometimes more importantly, what's not included in that document, those things are, you know, they are enforceable by the court. So we want everything included, and we don't want to leave stuff out. Because what inevitably happens, the things that get left out, then become a point of contention after the fact. And then you have to go through that process over again. So, you know, the people feel like, you know, that's another piece of why it takes so long, even when you go to court. You know, the parties and attorneys are like, Oh, we went to court, this is done well, it's another one to two months, typically, to get the judgment actually done. And all of the clauses that are so important for post divorce, you know, litigation. So if, if you have those clauses in the document, then if for some reason, you have to go back to the court, the judge is going to that's the first thing the judge is going to do is look at that document to interpret what was intended at the time of the divorce. And so you don't want it to be ambiguous, you don't want it to, you know, to leave out things that you're you intended, if you just say the house is awarded to one party, but don't have any mechanics on how that's going to happen, how the other party is going to get off mortgage, how the other party is going to get off title that causes that's a, that's a good example of then where things are left out of the judgment that cause a lot of chaos after the fact. And then if you have to go back to court, then the judge has to determine how that's going to be awarded to the other party.
Steve Altishin 6:37
Yeah, and I think what people don't realize, and, and because it sometimes doesn't even make sense, is that the judge may make a decision, but the judge, then we will generally tell one of the attorneys to write it out. And you may have a an uncontested or a or a settled case. But like you said, if if you don't take time to actually get it in writing correctly, you can turn that into another unsettled case. It's just kind of those things that you'd have to get done. Right.
Lewis Landerholm 7:13
Yeah, we ended up back in court fairly often in what's called a form of judgment hearing, because what happens is, the judges or a parties will agree on the big terms. But inevitably, in the judgment, we end up in the so we know what the what is we know what's supposed to happen. It's the how that typically causes problems. At the judgment stage. It's like, yeah, we're going to do this, but what's the timeline? How are we going to do it, who's supposed to do it, who has to pay for it, all of those things, if they're not in the judgment, or if there's contention with what's what, you know, if the parties don't agree on how to do those things, then we end up back in front of the judge to go through the document, to make sure that everybody understands what their requirements are, and how they're going to operate under the judgment. So the the initial ruling is obviously very important. But judges don't have time to go through every single thing about how the parties are going to operate post divorce. So that's where us as attorneys, we're working with the other side to draft and to make sure that we all agree on what the mechanics are going to look like.
Steve Altishin 8:24
And that kind of leads us to, again, the time frame. So I guess there's two kinds of cases sort of, I mean, three, I guess, but one is what they call an uncontested divorce, everyone seems to be, you know, ready to go. And then when not everything is agreed to. And that's it. That's sort of where the, the courts built in, sort of timelines can also dictate how long it's going to take. Because Can you kind of explain a little bit about how even a simple simple case, you know what, how much can take and then have a court process works in terms of setting things like a trial, because I'm assuming if you don't agree on everything, it's going to eventually have to go to trial?
Lewis Landerholm 9:14
Yeah, the, you know, the premise of an uncontested divorce is that everything is agreed upon. So when, you know, and most of the time, there's things that people need to work out, you know, it's not that, you know, everybody's thought about everything and that because, you know, the, you know, clients don't do this every day. You know, that's why we get involved because, you know, over the last, what, 13 years of starting the firm and, and growing into where it is today, like you know, we've seen 1000s 10s of 1000s of divorces where you know, for our clients, this is typically their the only time that they have any sort of experience with the family law world. And so, in an uncontested divorce Really I tell people, even if you agreed on everything, you're still looking at three to four months before a judge all of the documentation gets put together, a judgments agreed upon, it gets entered with the court, and then we wait for the judge to sign the document. So it's not even a fast process there. Because we've got pieces that we can't control as we move through the system, you know, if anything goes awry, and if there's a piece that the parties can agree on, well, then, you know, you typically somebody files a petition, there's 30 days to respond. So there's a month right there, then it goes into the normal calendar, and you're talking about wanting, you know, trying to get done in Oregon, within nine months, that doesn't always happen. Depending on the county, it can be easier to push that date out than others. But typically, even if you're in court, and 678 months, then you still have your judgment phase, so nine months to a year is perfectly normal and expected. If we need a judge, and it can be you know, it can be much longer depending on the issues. And depending on the counties, right now, you know, even if we want to reset a court date today, you know, most counties, we won't get a date until February, March of next year. So there's just some constraints, there's a lot of constraints put on the system, based on the number of divorces, and the number of judges.
Steve Altishin 11:32
That kind of leads to settlement. I mean, it's like, if you can settle and avoid a trial, obviously, you can save some time. But the process of settlement isn't just an easy thing is it? There's, and one of the things you talked about is they don't know what they don't know sometimes. And that's where to me, the attorneys are so valuable, because until they get the information, how can they settle? How can you settle if you don't know what the property is, if you don't, if you don't have the information, you need to reasonably settle?
Lewis Landerholm 12:08
Yeah, what happens in this is, you know, I talk to clients all the time about this is, you know, if you are going through a divorce, the first thing you do is try to figure out information, you're gonna go to family, you're gonna go to friends, you're gonna go to the internet, and you're going to try to figure out what's going to happen in your case, you know, based on the based on the issues based on the kids based on the assets, you know, and you're going, you're going to try to gather information so that you can, you know, figure out well, how does this apply to me, the problem with that is that every place you're going has limited information. So family and friends know one or two people that have gone through the process. So they're trying to apply your facts to one or two from you know, as compared to one or two other people in the world that have gone through the system, then you go to the internet, and the internet is the most difficult place to go to because, you know, then you're trying to you get bits and pieces of information. And you don't even know if it's your jurisdiction, and you don't know if you know that it's a, that the facts are applied to you. So that's what really were aware and attorneys knowledge comes into play. Because we've seen 10s of 1000s of divorces. Well, we can do. We're in front of the judges every day, we know how the judges what they're thinking about. We don't know exactly what they're going to do. But we know a lot of what they're going to do we know how how judges are thinking specific ones, what they you know, what they will do with a specific set of facts. So then we take, you know, the client's set of facts, and we apply what goes on in the courts, to their set of facts to help advise them on what's really going to happen, you know, and we're projecting and we're making, you know, estimations and we're guessing on but it's an educated guess, because we are in front of the people who are the decision makers all the time every day. So that helps clients be able to make decisions in in a settlement negotiation. As to okay, maybe I thought I should get more than 50% of all of the assets because of XY and Z. Well, we tell them the subtle law in Oregon is uh, you're gonna get 50%. So if you're going to fight against that, one, you have to have specific sets of facts. And two, it's going to cost you a lot of money to go fight that in front of a judge and you risk paying attorney fees on for the other side's attorney. If you're fighting a specific goal, a specific set of circumstances and facts that are typically not going to get a judge to you know, to allow you to win that point. So, this these are all the things that in in a settlement we're helping clients understand, and we're helping clients make decisions so that you're not you're not spending time, money and energy and areas where it's not it's, uh, you know, it's frankly not worth it a lot of times,
Steve Altishin 15:04
you're, you're actually helping reduce the timeframe by giving him the information. And I think also people sometimes don't understand the gathering process. And that especially, you know, can be a, you know, if someone says, I want to do this, well, you know, doing this could involve an appraisal or, you know, some sort of an evaluation and, and can I can you give us a little feel for, you know, that sort of timeframe, to get some of these pieces of information that that may be absolutely necessary.
Lewis Landerholm 15:47
It just like when we show up in front of a judge, or if we want to go to a mediator to help settle the case, you know, sometimes we can't settle the case between the other attorneys. And so we're going to hire a mediator to be able to help with that process. In order for anybody to make a decision, we have to know numbers, we have to know the facts, we have to understand where the money is, and in what form because not all money is created equal when it comes to a divorce. You know, some people don't want retirement accounts, because you can't access it, other people value cash, other people value real estate. So all of these things are important to do what the the information gathering process is called the discovery process. In Oregon, there's mandatory discovery. But as attorneys, we have additional discovery that we asked for, based on the facts of a certain case. So if you know somebody owns a business, then we need different information than if it's houses and retirement accounts. And, you know, and bank accounts. So you know, and then there's other pieces, there's the pieces that are voluntary discovery, where people give it to us, and then there's an involuntary discovery where we have to go get it, and that through depositions, or through subpoenas, or, or all of those, so depending on what we need to do, if everybody's on board, and they give all the documentation right away, it can be a pretty, you know, two, three month process, if we have to go do depositions, if we have to file subpoenas, if we have to go get information, it can take, you know, five, six months, it just depends on how you know how complicated that specific case can be. But the nobody wants to make decisions on what numbers or on what you know how to settle a case, until we know what all of the information is, unless the parties have could have just clearly said, Yeah, we don't care about all of that, and we want to agree on this, you know, we will advise them accordingly on what could be out there, but it's within their, you know, they're adults, and they have the ability to make that decision that would fall on the uncontested. But when we're in that contested realm, you know, we have to give that information to a judge to be able to get what we're asking for.
Steve Altishin 17:54
And that kind of leads to what you're talking about is a lot of interaction with our clients. But then there's that whole other factor that really can be beyond your control, which is the other side. And we kind of a saying goes that it can only go so fast as the slowest person and that slowest person, if it's on the other side, it'd be it's going to make it more difficult to to have a case and extend it.
Lewis Landerholm 18:27
Yeah, the thing with, with divorce and family law in general, that's different than other types of law is that we have, you know, four plus people involved, we have two clients involved, we have two attorneys involved, and then we have a decision maker involved at some point. And so there's a lot of moving parts. And it's hard to, you know, it's not always perfect and easy to predict what the other side is going to do. It may be, you know, it may be something that flares up at a specific time during the case that, you know, there's there's no way to predict that, you know, that the other party is going to either care about or slow down and not want to deal with it because of the emotions that are involved. And so there are a lot of factors that are outside of our control. You know, I always say, you know, out of the five, there's two pieces that we control, which is you know, client and our you know, and us as the attorney we can control how we are doing things, but we don't get to control the other three pieces, judges may get sick and have to reset something, judges may have to follow the docket and have to bump it out two or three months. Like we don't have control over that. So the things that that we want to do to make sure that that we are helping our clients get through the process as quickly as possible is to get all of our clients information as quickly as possible. Get the get our goals really written out so that so that we know exactly what we're working towards. You know, if we're all on the same page of what we're trying to achieve at the end. It makes our job easier so that we can start to work towards that, you know, when goal is shift in the middle of litigation that just that extends the time because maybe, then we have to go after something that we didn't have to go after at the at the beginning. And so we're trying to, you know, we're trying to make sure that the representation is individual to, to our client, and not every case is the same. So we're not going to do things that doesn't don't make sense for a client, but then, you know, if we have to shift goals, and that causes us to do other things that just make it more timely and more costly. So, you know, the most that we can do to be on the same page and to, and to work towards a common goal and, and have that communication, you know, flow back and forth, the faster the process is gonna go. And
Steve Altishin 20:51
that kind of, sometimes, it's hard to talk for the client to understand, or anyone understand, and it's it again, when it's an emotional situation, what's going on. Because, you know, you're, you're doing 56789 different things at once on this case, and, you know, it doesn't involve necessarily the client having to do something. And so there's periods where, you know, again, when I talk to people, it's like, well, I don't understand what they were doing for those four months, or whatever, because I wasn't involved in it. And that's just sort of a, an issue that I think attorneys fight through. Because it's, you know, they don't want to spend more money by having to communicate every day with the client. And but those things have to get done. Yeah, it's,
Lewis Landerholm 21:48
it's the, it's always a constant concern, which is 100%, understandable, you know, clients want to know what's going on in their case, but at times, there isn't much going on in the case. And so we try to, you know, we give those updates, and we will update a client on where wherever their case is, but there are times when literally, we're just waiting, and we're waiting for the other side to give us what we need, and there's no deadline at that point, that's forcing us to do something. So you know, what, what we don't want to do is, you know, in, in, input ourselves into the system, and into that process to make it more contentious, or to make it more expensive by, you know, by causing work to be done. So we're, we're constantly trying to balance what that looks like, you know, try and push in when we need to push, but also understanding, you know, where to back off a little bit and let the process sort of, you know, write itself out without then you know, spending, you know, clients money, where it's where it can be, you know, unnecessary at times. Yeah.
Steve Altishin 22:54
And that kind of then flows into what, you know, what are some ways that it can actually be sped up? And are there things that a client or spouse could do to help that,
Lewis Landerholm 23:10
I think, you know, the biggest thing to me is, if you do go into it, the expectation that it's going to be slow, and it's gonna take time, it actually will finish faster, because we're not then forcing the process to do things that then cause it to be more difficult and take longer. So the more contentious it is, you know, there's a balance, we're not, we're not going to sit there and do nothing for months on end. But we also need to balance that need to go and push something when we have the court involved. So we've got deadlines, we're eventually going to get all of these things. And so you know, it's, you know, having a good relationship with opposing counsel when we can, that helps the process move along. And so being congenial and being professional with the other side, really makes a huge difference. You know, same with parties. Yes, it's emotional. It's very difficult to work with somebody who you're going to be divorced from. But the more you can, you know, work through some of the things have conversations, you know, try to get through it as adults so that, you know, there's the least amount of carnage, the faster the process is going to go. Because you can understand the other person's position on things and try to, you know, there's going to be given takes throughout the whole process. So the more patient you know, somebody can be the allowing the process to work, it ends up it ends up going more smoothly and faster, and the more likely that settlement is going to happen. Whether you know, we need to get the help of a mediator or if we can, you know, if we can settle that between, between the parties with just the attorneys
Steve Altishin 24:58
and I think that emotional thing is really, really hard for people. But like you said that they have people, you just kind of understanding it. And I like when you said, about setting expectations and having an expectation that okay, there's a reason that's going to take a while, and then I'm going to be able to understand that is a huge deal. Because it otherwise it can create tensions between an attorney and their own client, if they don't do that, or don't understand it.
Lewis Landerholm 25:36
Yeah, 100% all the time. So, yeah, and we tried to set that expectation. And, you know, again, our crystal ball isn't, you know, perfect, by any means. But, you know, we try to give the, you know, the reasons why something would take longer or, you know, go a little bit slow, you know, go a little faster. So, you know, that's, that's constant dialogue throughout the process, and trying to trying to advise our clients on on, you know, what course of action to take.
Steve Altishin 26:04
And, and just, I know, we're almost gotta go, we're almost already at 30 minutes. While this goes fast. I think that the last three years, you know, in COVID, has slowed the process down, just because the courts were even close for a long time. And has, in some sense, it feels to me, given a sense of, like, desperation that it's so long, and like, that's, you know, it's, that's always the way it's gonna be, you know, and and I think coming out of COVID, and getting courts back up and running, will probably bring it back to where it more likely was a few years ago, and maybe even less, because now there's a lot of remotes of the can get done that used to have to wait for a physical hearing
Lewis Landerholm 26:56
on. Yeah, we're I mean, we will see, depending on the county cases, still take longer than they used to probably for another year. But what we've done is really push settlement options. So getting mediators involved sooner rather than later judicial settlement conferences, you know, getting into that process. And that's where the discovery process getting done, or sooner rather than later, is important, because then we can engage in that dialogue, and we can start that process. So you know, it's getting creative and doing things that, you know, to not involve the court as much as possible. Plus, then you have control over what that looks like more than you when you have to give it to the judge. And the technology has definitely come a long ways and will help to speed up the process.
Steve Altishin 27:45
Yep, absolutely. Well, shoot, we have hit our 30 minutes. And again, thank you, Louis, for explaining, you know, this whole divorce, timetable and process. And you know, why it can take a while for divorce and in even why sometimes it needs to take a while. So thank you so much for being here today.
Lewis Landerholm 28:08
You're welcome. Anytime. Oh, absolutely.
Steve Altishin 28:11
And everyone else. Thank you for joining us today. If anyone has any further questions on today's topic, you can post it here. We can get you connected with an attorney here at Pacific cascade legal, and until next time, stay safe, stay happy and be well.
This has been Modern Family Matters, a legal podcast focusing on providing real answers and direction for individuals and families. Our podcast is sponsored by Landerholm Family Law and Pacific Cascade Family Law, serving families in Oregon and Washington. If you are in need of legal counsel or have additional questions about a family law matter important to you, please visit our websites at landerholmlaw.com or pacificcascadefamilylaw.com. You can also call our headquarters at (503) 227-0200 to schedule a case evaluation with one of our seasoned attorneys. Modern Family Matters, advocating for your better tomorrow and offering legal solutions important to the modern family.