Not every marriage is “till death do us part.” Big issues can often drive a couple apart like infidelity. In other cases, the couple simply grows apart over time. In Washington, it doesn’t matter why your marriage ended – all divorces are “no-fault” divorces. In addition to citing “irretrievable breakdown of the marriage” as the reason for your divorce, you must have lived in the state for at least 90 days to file your divorce petition.
As divorce lawyers in Tacoma, our aim is to work within the context of Washington divorce law to ensure that our clients know and exercise their rights through every step of the divorce process. Our clients’ success is our success. A successful divorce settlement is one where all parties come away from the process with arrangements that suit their needs.
We Want you to Agree with your Spouse – It’s Easier for Everyone
In Washington, divorcing couples are encouraged to negotiate themselves to divorce settlements they agree on. Although it might seem like the last thing on your mind—spending time in a conference room with your soon-to-be ex—settlement actually has many benefits:
- You control what you get. If you dispute everything and go to trial, then the judge will have the final say on what you walk away with, if anything. By reaching an agreement with your spouse, you can guarantee that you are at least partially happy with some of the terms of the divorce.
- You can maintain cordial relations. Look, no law says you must be best friends with your ex as soon as the divorce is granted. However, if you have children, chances are you will be continuing to see him or her for decades to come. Things will be a lot easier if you don’t walk out of the divorce thinking your ex is completely unreasonable.
- The divorce is less stressful. If you reach agreement, you will not need to testify at a trial. Also, there is no chance your children will need to testify, which will take a tremendous burden off them as well.
- The divorce will go faster. A contested divorce can drag on for a year or more. If it’s time to move on with your life, then it is time to actually settle. You can reach an agreement on a divorce in a few months.
There are many tools available to help people reach an agreement with their spouse, even during an emotional time such as a divorce. You should seek out and use these tools to your advance.
For example, many couples benefit from mediation, in which they meet to talk about the divorce with a neutral third person, the mediator. Mediators can be found online or by looking in the phone book. Each spouse can bring their divorce lawyer to mediation, so you will not feel like you are all alone, but the purpose of mediation is to find common ground with your spouse. Many people report positive experiences with meditation, which allows them to whittle down the issues in dispute.
Issues in a Divorce
In a divorce, a judge must divide a couple’s finances and determine issues surrounding any children. In particular, you will need to reach an agreement on the following:
- A property division order. Washington is a community property state, which means both partners have the same right to all of the couple’s marital assets. Marital assets are those assets you obtained while married but does not include things that each spouse brought into the marriage or which they inherited while married. Although you have equal rights to your assets, the court may divide them equitably, rather than equally, which means each partner gets a share based on his or her personal needs.
- A parenting plan. If you have minor children, your divorce settlement will include a parenting plan developed to fit their best interest. The plan should identify who the children will live with and when. A parenting plan should be as detailed as possible to prevent future conflicts from breaking out between parents.
- A child support order. Using a state formula, the court determines an appropriate amount of money for one spouse to pay the other to help cover child-related expenses. In some situations, you might need more child support than the state guidelines provide. For example, if your child is disabled, then you will need extra funds to pay for medical care.
- A spousal support order. In some cases, it is fair for one spouse to pay the other for a specified period of time following their divorce to prevent him or her from facing financial hardship. Some common examples include one spouse who forfeited a career and college to help raise the children. This spouse might be entitled to support after the marriage so that they can get an education and some work experience under their belt, with the goal of becoming self-supporting. In other cases, a spouse might be entitled to lifelong spousal support, such as when a spouse is disabled and unable to work.
These issues are difficult to analyze in a vacuum. No two divorces are alike, and your rights depend on the circumstances of your marriage. Ideally, you will meet with an experienced Tacoma divorce lawyer who can review the circumstances and help you identify your options.
Even if you hope to negotiate a settlement, you need to understand how a judge would likely rule if you contested your divorce. For example, if you gave up the chance for a career to raise a family and make a home for your husband, you might be entitled to spousal support. You need to know that going into negotiations since it is a good bargaining chip. In exchange for not asking for spousal support, you might request the family home or even primary custody of the children.
Steps in a Contested Divorce
You hire a Tacoma divorce lawyer for yourself, not for you and your spouse to share. Although our goal is to guide our clients toward mutually satisfying divorce settlements that work for them, their spouses, and their children, sometimes this just isn’t possible. When this is the case, we fight for our clients in court.
A contested divorce can take a long time, but the steps are fairly common:
- One spouse files a petition for dissolution of marriage (and other forms) in the Superior Court in the county where at least one spouse resides. The spouse who files is called the “petitioner.”
- The petition is served on the other spouse. He or she has a chance to respond, so they must see the petition. The person who responds is called the “respondent.”
- The judge will have to grant temporary orders that stay in place while the divorce is pending. These temporary orders can address child custody, child support, and spousal support. It is very important to take temporary orders seriously, since in many cases judges will model permanent orders on the temporary ones.
- Parents must attend a seminar on parenting education, which addresses how divorce affects children. You will learn ways to relieve stress on your children (and yourself). You must attend this class and submit proof of attendance.
- If you cannot reach a settlement, you will need to engage in discovery. This is the fact-finding stage of a divorce where each side requests information from the other. For example, you might need to sit down and answer questions under oath in a deposition. You might also ask to know the identities of everyone your spouse intends to call as a witness.
- You can engage in settlement or mediation. If you reach an agreement, your attorneys will draft final orders that each side will sign before submitting them to the judge, who must also sign off on them.
- Trial. A judge will decide the issues, not a jury. At the end of trial, a judge will issue final orders. You will be able to modify them only in very limited circumstances. If you think the judge made a legal error that affected your case, you have the option of filing an appeal.
We’re On Your Side
We are our clients’ advocates. As your advocate, your lawyer’s job includes:
- Informing you of the law and your rights;
- Helping you gather and use evidence to support your positions;
- Negotiating with your spouse’s lawyer to work out appropriate divorce settlement terms;
- Using evidence to refute incorrect claims made about you; and
- Advising you on how to proceed with your divorce. For example, if mediation isn’t working out, we might suggest that you litigate your divorce.
Work with the Tacoma Divorce Attorney Who Works for You
When you’re ready to end your marriage, you need an experienced divorce lawyer. Give our team at Alliance Law Group a call to set up your legal consultation in our office, where we’ve been helping Tacoma area families work through divorces and other legal issues since 1950. Don’t fret, and don’t wait to make the call – we’re here to answer any questions you have and help you move closer to your divorce settlement.
Remember that it is never too soon to talk to a divorce attorney, even if you hope to salvage your marriage. You need to know what your rights and responsibilities are before filing a divorce petition. Let our Tacoma divorce lawyers explain the law and help you find the best path forward. For more information please reach out to us today, 253-581-0660.