Providing accurate and objective information to help make the right decisions during a divorce in Washington, this guide provides answers to 360 queries such as What is the mediation process in Washington and is it required? How quickly can one get a divorce? Who decides who gets the cars, the pets, and the house? What actions might influence child custody? How are bills divided and paid during the divorce? How much will a divorce cost? and Will a spouse have to pay some or all attorney fees? Structured in a question-and-answer format, this divorce handbook provides clear and concise responses to help build confidence and give the peace of mind needed to meet the challenges of a divorce proceeding.
About the Author
David J. Crouse, Esq., is a lawyer and the founding partner of David J. Crouse & Associates, PLLC. He has been published in the Gonzaga Law Review, Northwest Woman magazine, Spokane Woman magazine, and has been featured in articles in the Spokesman Review and other radio, television, and media forums. He lives in Spokane, Washington.
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Divorce in Washington
The Legal Process, Your Rights, and What to Expect
By David J. Crouse
Addicus Books, Inc.Copyright © 2014 David J. Crouse
All rights reserved.
Understanding the Divorce Process
At a time when your life can feel like it is in chaos, sometimes even the smallest bit of predictability can bring a sense of comfort. The outcome of many aspects of your divorce may be unknown, but quality advice and guidance can provide much-needed clarity. While initially intimidating, there is one part of your divorce that does have some measure of predictability, and that is the divorce process itself.
Most divorces proceed in a step-by-step manner. Despite the uniqueness of your divorce, you can generally count on one phase of your divorce following the next. Sometimes simply realizing you are completing stages and moving forward with your divorce can reassure you it will not go on forever.
Develop a basic understanding of the divorce process. This will lower your anxiety when your attorney starts talking about "depositions" or "going to trial." It can reduce your frustration about the length of the process because you understand why each step is needed. It will allow you to begin preparing for what comes next. Most importantly, understanding the divorce process will make your journey easier. Who wouldn't prefer that?
1.1 What is my first step?
Find a law firm that handles divorces as a regular part of its law practice. Firms that practice exclusively in the area of family law are highly desirable. You can find firms that focus on family law throughout Washington.
Personal referrals can be very helpful. The best recommendations come from people who have personal knowledge of an attorney's experience and reputation. Referrals from court personnel, other attorneys, mediators, and others with a legal background are often of the highest quality. Financial advisors or accountants can also be a great referral source.
Even if you are not ready to file for divorce, call to schedule an appointment right away to obtain information about protecting yourself and your children. This is especially true if you sense that your spouse might be getting ready to pursue a divorce. Ask what documents you should take to your initial consultation. Make a list of your questions to bring to your first meeting. Start making plans for how you will pay your attorney to begin work on your case.
1.2 Must I have an attorney to get a divorce in Washington?
You are not required to have an attorney to obtain a divorce in Washington. However, if your case involves children, significant property or debts, professional practices or businesses, or spousal maintenance, you should avoid proceeding on your own. Where the issues are more complex, the failure to secure an attorney can have potentially disasterous and long-lasting consequences. Good counsel is an exceedingly good investment.
Even if your divorce does not involve any of these issues, still strongly consider contacting an attorney. Washington divorce law can be exceedingly complex. There are many issues, both positive and negative, that you might not even be aware of. If you are considering proceeding without an attorney, at a minimum have an initial consultation with an attorney to discuss your rights and duties under the law. Meeting with an attorney can help you decide whether to proceed on your own.
If meeting with an attorney is not a viable option for you, seek guidance from other sources. Call your local courthouse to see whether there is a family law facilitator available to provide assistance. The county bar association is a great resource and often coordinates free advice clinics or free (pro bono) representation. Call them. The Washington law schools also provide representation for qualified individuals through law clinics. A person who proceeds in a legal matter without an attorney is referred to as being pro se, meaning on one's own.
Steps in the Divorce Process
Obtain a referral for a lawyer.
Schedule an appointment with an attorney.
Prepare questions and gather needed documents for the initial consultation.
Meet for the initial consultation with attorney.
Pay retainer to attorney and sign retainer agreement.
Provide requested information and documents to your attorney.
Take other actions as advised by attorney, such as opening or closing financial accounts.
Attorney prepares petition for dissolution (divorce) and supporting documents for your review and signature.
Attorney files petition for dissolution with clerk of the court. Attorney obtains ex parte restraining orders if appropriate. Attorney obtains hearing date for temporary matters.
Mandatory ninety-day waiting period begins when other spouse is served or signs an acceptance of service.
Negotiations begin regarding terms of temporary order on matters such as custody, support, and temporary possession of the family home. Attorneys prepare declarations, financial affidavits, and child-support worksheets for temporary hearing.
Temporary hearing is held.
Parties reach agreement on temporary order.
Temporary order is prepared by one attorney, approved as to form by other attorney, and submitted to the judge for signature.
If there are minor children, parties must attend a parent education class, develop a parenting plan, or participate in mediation as required by their particular county.
Both sides conduct discovery to obtain information regarding all relevant facts. If needed, obtain valuations of all assets, including expert opinions.
Confer with attorney to review facts, identify issues, assess strengths and weaknesses of case, review strategy, and develop proposal for settlement.
Spouses, guided by their attorneys, attempt to reach agreement through written proposals, mediation, settlement conferences, or other negotiation.
Parties reach agreement on all issues.
Attorney prepares decree of dissolution and required supporting court orders for approval by spouses and attorneys.
Certificate of readiness for trial is filed with court asking that a trial date is set or a trial date is set by the court pursuant to a case scheduling order.
Pay trial retainer to fund the work needed to prepare for trial and services for the day or days of trial.
Parties prepare for trial on unresolved issues.
Trial preparations proceed and include the preparation of witnesses, trial exhibits, legal research on contested issues, pretrial motions, trial brief, preparation of direct and cross-examination of witnesses, preparation of opening statement, subpoena of witnesses, and closing argument to the court.
Meet with attorney for final trial preparation.
Trial is held.
Judge makes decision.
Attorney prepares decree.
Other attorney approves decree as to form.
Decree submitted to judge for signature.
Judge signs decree of dissolution. Make payments and sign documents (deeds or titles) pursuant to decree.
Documents required to divide retirement accounts and ensure the payment of child support are submitted to the court.
Pay any remaining balance due on attorney's fees or receive refund.
1.3 Is Washington a no-fault state or do I need grounds for a divorce?
Washington, like most states, is a no-fault divorce state. This means that neither you nor your spouse are required to prove the other is "at fault" in order to be granted a divorce. Factors such as infidelity or abandonment are not necessary to receive a divorce in Washington. Rather, it is only necessary for a spouse to state that the marriage is "irretrievably broken" in order to have it dissolved.
Although not required, if your case proceeds to a final trial, then the brief testimony of either you or your spouse is sufficient evidence for the court to rule that the marriage should be dissolved. This testimony will simply state that the marriage is irretrievably broken. The judge is unlikely to ask for any further information as to this issue. If your case settles prior to trial, this "irretrievably broken" language is simply inserted into your final documents and no testimony is required from either you or your spouse.
1.4 How will the judge view my or my spouse's infidelity?
Because Washington is a no-fault divorce state, there will rarely be testimony or evidence introduced about either spouse's infidelity. Generally, the judge will hear testimony regarding an extramarital affair only if it is relevant to the case. Infidelities may become relevant where community assets or funds are transferred to this other individual, where sexual conduct has occurred in front of the child, where the child suffers from exposure to this other party, or where the other person has a background that includes criminal activity or domestic violence that could endanger the child. Ask your attorney if the infidelity could be relevant.
1.5 Do I have to get divorced in the same state I married in?
No. Regardless of where you were married, you may seek a divorce in Washington if the jurisdictional requirements of residency are met. The jurisdictional requirements are discussed in the following question.
1.6 How long must I have lived in Washington to get a divorce in the state?
Washington does not have a minimum residency requirement. Washington only requires that you are actually residing (domiciled) in the state, with the intent to remain a resident of the state. However, just because you can file in Washington does not always mean that this is your best option. If you have recently moved to Washington and your spouse resides in another state, you should discuss with an attorney the issue of where to file your divorce. This is especially true if you have real property (house or land), children, or significant assets in that other state. Under certain circumstances, more than one state can have jurisdiction to grant you a divorce.
1.7 Can I divorce my spouse in Washington if he or she lives in another state?
Provided you are a resident of Washington, you can file for divorce here even if your spouse lives in another state. However, as discussed in question 1.6 above, Washington may or may not be the best state to file in under these circumstances. Discuss with your attorney the facts that will need to be proven and the steps necessary to give your spouse proper notice to ensure that the court will have jurisdiction over your spouse. Your attorney can counsel you on whether it is possible to proceed with the divorce in Washington.
1.8 My spouse has told me that she will never "give" me a divorce. Can I get one in Washington anyway?
Yes. Washington does not require that your spouse agree to a divorce. If your spouse threatens to not "give" you a divorce, know that in Washington this is an idle threat without any basis in the law. At most, an uncooperative spouse can only delay the divorce by not agreeing to orders and forcing a court hearing. Even then, the courts work to ensure the divorce is timely completed. If you have concerns your spouse will try to delay the divorce, talk with your attorney about ways to reduce or eliminate any delay tactics your spouse may attempt.
1.9 Can I get a divorce even when I don't know where my spouse is currently living?
Washington law allows you to proceed with a divorce even if you do not know the current address of your spouse. First, take action to attempt to locate your spouse. Contact family members, friends, former coworkers, or anyone else who might know your spouse's whereabouts. Utilize resources on the Internet that are designed to help locate people.
Let your attorney know of the efforts you have made to attempt to find your spouse. Inform your attorney of your spouse's last known address, as well as any work address or other address where this person may be found. Once your attorney attempts to give notice to your spouse without success, it is possible to ask the court to proceed with the divorce by giving notice through publication in a newspaper or by serving the spouse through certified mail.
Personal service on your spouse is always the best option. Personal service means that an appropriate individual, defined as a competent adult who is not a party to the action, physically hands the documents to the spouse. If you must proceed with service by publication or mail, seek the advice of an attorney. Service by publication or mail (often referred to as alternate service) is truly a trap for the unwary. The rules for this kind of service are very strict and rigidly enforced, and failure to strictly follow these rules can delay your divorce or even invalidate all or part of the divorce action. Talk to your attorney about your options and rights if you don't know where your spouse is living.
1.10 I just moved to a different county within the state of Washington. Do I have to file in the county where my spouse lives?
You may file your petition for dissolution either in the county where you reside or in the county where your spouse resides. In fact, Washington law allows you to file in any county of the state regardless of which county you reside in. However, just because you can file in any county does not mean it is advisable to do so. If a court were to find that the county in which you filed is an "inconvenient venue," it can move your case to a more appropriate county.
Generally, it is best to file in the county that has the most significant contact with your marriage. If the children are located in a particular county, if the family home is located in a particular county, or if the majority of significant assets are located in a particular county, that county is often the best county to file in. Of course, there are always exceptions. If you reside in a different county than your spouse, it is best to discuss with an attorney which county is most appropriate and beneficial to file in.
1.11 I immigrated to Washington. Will my immigration status stop me from getting a divorce?
If you meet the residency requirements for divorce in Washington, you can get a divorce in this state regardless of your immigration status. However, you should first talk to your immigration attorney about the likelihood of a divorce leading to immigration challenges. You do not want to endanger your immigration status by an improperly timed divorce filing.
If you are a victim of domestic violence, tell your attorney. You may be eligible for a change in your immigration status under the federal Violence Against Women Act. The existence of domestic violence may allow you to file for divorce sooner without risking your immigration status. Again, discuss this with your immigration attorney and your divorce attorney before filing for divorce. It is best if both attorneys are in contact with one another, carefully planning a time line for filing for divorce.
1.12 I want to get divorced in my Indian tribal court. What do I need to know?
Each tribal court has its own laws governing divorce. Requirements for residency, grounds for divorce, and the laws regarding property, spousal maintenance, and children can vary substantially from state law. Some tribes have very different laws governing the grounds for your divorce, removal of children from the home, and cohabitation.
Contact an attorney who is knowledgeable about the law in your tribal court for legal advice on pursuing a divorce in your tribal court or on the requirements for recording a divorce obtained in state court with the clerk of the tribal court. Many divorce attorneys who are extremely skilled in representing clients in state courts have little or no experience in tribal courts. There may also be particular reasons you should not file in tribal court which an attorney could explain to you.
1.13 Is there a waiting period for a divorce in Washington?
Yes. Washington has a mandatory ninety-day waiting period. This waiting period begins when the divorce action has been filed with the court and the respondent, (the person who did not initiate the divorce process), is determined to have been given legal notice of the divorce. This date of legal notice is either the day the respondent is served the divorce documents or the date the respondent signs a voluntary "Acceptance of Service" form acknowledging that he or she has been provided with the divorce documents that were filed with the court. If you have been required to serve the divorce petition by publication or mail due to an inability to locate your spouse, discuss with your attorney when the ninety-day waiting period begins as the start date can vary.
Excerpted from Divorce in Washington by David J. Crouse. Copyright © 2014 David J. Crouse. Excerpted by permission of Addicus Books, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
1 Understanding the Divorce Process,
2 Coping with Stress during the Divorce Process,
3 Working with Your Attorney,
4 Attorney Fees and Costs,
5 The Discovery Process,
6 Mediation and Negotiation,
7 Emergency: When You Fear Your Spouse,
8 Child Custody,
9 Child Support,
10 Spousal Maintenance,
11 Division of Property,
12 Benefits: Insurance, Retirement, and Pensions,
13 Division of Debts,
15 Going to Court,
16 The Appeals Process,
17 What Happens after the Divorce?,
About the Author,