Divorce is referred to as "Dissolution of Marriage" in Washington. All marriages end either by death of a spouse or by a court order. The dissolution process begins when a spouse files a Petition and Summons for Dissolution in the Superior Court. Washington is a "no-fault" state, meaning both partners assume equal blame for failure of the marriage. The petitioning party only needs to claim that "irreconcilable differences" exist to end the marriage. In some cases, parties can jointly file the dissolution petition.
The dissolution of marriage can be finalized in Court after a "cooling-off" period of at least 90 days from the date of filing and serving the other party with the petition and summons. This generally happens when there is either complete agreement between spouses, or a party fails to respond to the properly served petition in court, and final orders are entered by default.
Dissolutions are either contested or not. The purpose of the decree of dissolution is not simply to terminate a marriage: a divorce decree also divides property and debts, can order a party to pay spousal maintenance (alimony), awards property and legal responsibility for liabilities to the spouses, and changes a party's name. If there are children of the marriage, the court will also enter a parenting plan, order of child support, and restraining orders if necessary. If any of these issues are contested, then the dissolution is not agreed.
It is important to note that in Washington, property division and spousal maintenance is required to be divided between the parties in a "just" and "equitable" manner under the circumstances. The term "equitably" does not mean "equally."
Legal Separation is an option unique to Washington state granting the same relief as a dissolution, but does not terminate the marriage. The court enters a decree of legal separation instead of a decree of dissolution. Either party can then file a motion to change the separation to a dissolution once the decree of separation has been entered for six months. The dissolution will then be granted.
One of the key issues in a dissolution is timing. The petition requires a party to allege a date of separation, i.e., the date that the marriage was broken. This date can start the clock running on the length of time you will pay or receive support, or determine if income is joint or separate earnings. If you believe you and your spouse are separated, how your intent to separate was communicated to your spouse and others is an important issue.
HOW I CAN HELP.
I assist clients with establishing agreements or contesting any of these issues. I help people to determine the best timing to end a marriage and file for dissolution. I strive to ensure that the division of assets is both fair and equitable for the court's division. I work to identify parties' true income and expenses to reach the most beneficial division of assets, determine accurate child support, and establish appropriate spousal maintenance. I also modify orders post-dissolution decree. My goal is to protect your rightful assets so you and your children can move forward financially secure.