May 3, 2007

Out of state: Working with a long-distance lawyer

Going through a divorce is never an easy experience, no matter how amicable the parties might be throughout the process. When the divorce is contested, it’s a lot harder. Multiply that by a hundred, and you have an idea of how difficult it can be when you’re in one state and your case is in another.

Although you might have a lawyer in your state, you’re going to need a lawyer licensed to practice law in Oregon if this is where your case is. When you start shopping for a lawyer in Oregon, you’ll want to make sure you address the following issues.

1. Communication. How will your lawyer keep you informed about developments in your case? Dissolution proceedings generate a lot of paper — letters fly back and forth between attorneys; motions, affidavits, and orders must be served on opposing parties, settlement offers get kicked around — how is your attorney going to keep you in the loop? Find this out before you retain someone, and consider using a firm that handles things the way we do: we scan every document that comes into and out of our office, and we convert them to PDFs. We can then email the documents to our clients ASAP.

2. Mediation. Oregon courts require that parties mediate when child custody or parenting time is an issue before the court. Out of state clients may find it tricky (not to mention expensive) to schedule a trip out to Oregon for a mediation date. Find out how your lawyer proposes to deal with this situation. There are options: you can arrange for mediation during a previously scheduled trip (we recently did this for a client living in Europe), or you can ask the court for an order that would allow you to mediate using a private mediator by phone.

3. Parenting Classes. Another Oregon requirement in cases involving child custody and parenting time is that both parents take a series of parenting classes. These classes can be even more tricky for out of state litigants than the mediation, because to conform with the court rules, parents would have to appear weekly at parenting class sessions. You’ll need to address with your lawyer how you’ll meet the court requirements for parenting classes. You may be able to take classes locally, or possibly online, but you’ll need the court’s permission first.

4. Discovery. One of the most important parts of a dissolution case is discovery, when both parties exchange documentation (lots of documentation). With local clients, it’s fairly easy to work to get everything we need. When we work with international and out of state clients, we often obtain releases so that we can request the necessary documentation on our clients’ behalf (or subpoena them, if necessary), saving them significant amounts of time.