Many clients, in the first meeting, ask me what effect will their spouse’s bad acts have on the case. We hear about many human problems, from alcohol and drug addiction to abuse to adultery. We are frequently asked will they do better in court because their spouse has committed bad acts. The answer is that except for issues relating to custody and parenting time, fault is irrelevant.
In ORS 107.036, the Oregon legislature abolished fault in annulment, divorce (dissolution) , and separation cases. The court is barred from hearing evidence of specific acts of misconduct, except to the extent necessary to prove that a couple has “irreconcilable differences.” The court is specifically barred from considering “fault” when dividing real and personal property, and in setting the duration or amount of support.
What does this mean to divorcing parties in Oregon courts? When it comes to property and support, affairs don’t matter. Being a jerk doesn’t matter. Being a bad parent doesn’t matter. Being verbally or physically abusive doesn’t matter. When it comes to dividing assets and setting support, the court only wants to hear relevant, non-fault based testimony.
There is always an exception, and it is for custody and parenting time cases. When the court is analyzing who should have custody of the minor children, and what parenting plan is appropriate for the parties, it will hear evidence of specific acts of misconduct. While this evidence is not supposed to affect property division or support, it can and will affect the court’s ruling regarding custody and parenting time. The reason is that the court’s job when dealing with kids is to do what is in “the child’s best interests.” So, being a jerk means you will likely get half of the property, but not custody of the kids.