As a Portland based firm representing divorce clients in Oregon, we are always interested in what the Oregon Court of Appeals says regarding attorney fees. We previously blogged about how in many types of family law cases you have the right to ask for fees. The Oregon Court of Appeals published a decision in Mcintyre and Freeman, ____ Or. App _____ (2008) dealing with an attorneys fee request after a custody and parenting time case. The case talks about your right to ask for fees, and your right to a hearing if you object to the other sides’ fee request.
In Mcintyre and Feeman, the parties had argued over custody, parenting time, and child support. Mother’s attorney reported that the case was very contentious. Father asked mother to pay a portion of her attorney fees, and mother objected. Mother also asked that father pay her fees. The court, without holding a hearing, ordered mother to pay a portion of father’s legal fees. We previously blogged about how in many types of family law cases you have the right to ask for fees in our post captioned “Divorce Myths: My ex will have to pay for my attorney fees.” The issue in the case was whether Mother objected properly, and whether the court wrongfully denied mother the right to a hearing. The court determined that mother had been wrongfully denied a hearing on the issue of fees. The court determined that mother had, within the appropriate time period, objected to father’s fees. (Oregon extends deadlines by three days when the original notice was served by U.S. mail.) The court then addressed whether mother’s failure to sign documentation showing the date of mailing made the objection defective. (Oregon law requires pleadings and other paper to be signed by the lawyer or client. While not discussed in the opinion, mother’ s attorney stated that the file room lost the properly filed certificate of service.) The court held that the notice was not defective just because mother’s lawyer didn’t sign the certificate of service. The court went on to say that Oregon law requires the other side to point out a lack of signature, and giving the other side an opportunity to fix it, prior to striking an unsigned pleading. One judge dissented, stating that there is no express obligation in the rules to bring a signing defect to the other side’s attention.
What does this mean to divorce and custody litigants in Oregon? Discuss with your lawyer the potential to ask for fees, and the potential to be required to pay fees. Ask for fees in your initial pleadings to preserve your rights to them. Behave appropriately in light of ORS 20.075 during your case (see our post captioned “Divorce Myths: My ex will have to pay for my attorney fees.”) Take reasonable positions. Follow the time line and procedures of ORCP 68 to the letter. And last but not least, sign your pleadings!