Navigating the family law court system can be quite overwhelming for both self-represented and attorney-represented clients. The confusion can be further magnified if the client lives in one state yet has to litigate in a different state. I am currently licensed in both Oregon and California and see this situation quite frequently. Not only is the court system unfamiliar to non-lawyers in general, but the unfamiliarity is far more enhanced when a party has to deal with out-of-state opposing counsel, different laws, and often has to retain an attorney in that state.
One of the most sensitive things to navigate in a multijurisdictional case is how to adjust a client's expectations to fit within the laws of that state. For example, joint custody exists in Oregon only by mutual agreement – the Court has no power to order joint custody unless the parties agree. This is not so in California, where joint custody is frequently and almost routinely ordered by the Court. Another arena of confusion is child support. Specifically, in Oregon, the Court can order that a party pay child support up until the child is 21 years old, so long as they are attending school full time. However, in California, the Court (with some limited exceptions) has no ability to order child support after the child turns 18 or graduates from high school, whichever is later. Therefore, while Oregon clients come to terms with the Court's significant power to choose which parent has custody, California clients come to grips with the reality of supporting their own children through college without child support assistance.
While representing oneself is a bold choice, taking on this responsibility in such an unfamiliar arena can have lasting consequences, particularly if the litigation takes place in another state. The best choice is to find an experienced attorney you can trust to navigate the laws and procedures in whichever state your case lies.
-Tabitha Brincat, Attorney