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Understanding The Divorce Process in Washington

May 20, 2021

Man and woman filling out divorce paperwork with a house and keys in front of themWashington has one of the nation’s top ten divorce rates, coming in at 9.6% according to a recent study from the American Community Survey. That rate placed the state tied for the ninth-highest rate with Nevada and 1.9% higher than the national average. Data was calculated based on divorces per 1,000 women aged 15 or above in the state.

If you live in Grays Harbor County, Washington, or the nearby communities of Montesano, Aberdeen, or Hoquiam, and are considering a divorce or have recently been served with divorce papers, contact William E. Morgan, Attorney at Law, today to discuss your options. You will benefit from his experienced and compassionate legal counsel as you attempt to navigate the complexities of your divorce.

How Divorce Works in Washington

To get a divorce in Washington, one or both of the spouses need to simply proclaim that the marriage cannot be saved, that it is — in popular parlance — beyond reconciliation. There is also almost no state residency requirement other than the requirement of living in Washington at the time of filing. For Washington State to have jurisdiction over an out-of-state spouse in a divorce proceeding, he or she must have lived in the state at some point, given birth to a child in the state, or have been stationed in the military in Washington.

Since Washington is considered a “no-fault” divorce state, all that’s needed to commence divorce proceedings is to file a Dissolution of Marriage statement with any of the state’s superior courts. There will then be a 90-day waiting period before the court can act on the request. What happens after that will depend, time-wise, on whether the divorce is contested, uncontested, or collaborative. These can be defined as follows:

Uncontested Divorce

This is when two spouses agree on the division of assets, child custody, parental visitation rights and scheduling, child and/or spousal support, and any other relevant factors. If an agreement can be reached on these issues, the divorce process can be accelerated.

Contested Divorce

Conversely, this is when two spouses cannot agree on any disputed matters including the division of assets, child custody, parental visitation rights, and more — forcing the court to rule on any lingering disputes. This can definitely stretch out the duration of divorce proceedings.

Collaborative Divorce

When filing for divorce, the couple can present the court with an Order and Joint Notice of Participation in Collaborative Law. This then leads to a gathering of the couple with legal, financial, and mental health professionals to iron out the dissolution essentials. This is a form of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) that saves the anxiety and cost of battling out everything in court or trying to go it alone when emotions can often overwhelm discussions between both spouses.

What Happens During
the 90-Day Waiting Period?

After filing the divorce papers and before the court takes up the petition, temporary law orders may be issued if requested by one or both spouses. These temporary orders can cover a variety of issues, including:

  • A parenting plan: who gets the children and who gets visitation rights

  • A restraining order to keep one spouse from harassing or threatening the other spouse

  • A restraining order to keep one spouse from taking the children out of state

  • A restraining order to keep one spouse from selling property, taking out loans in both names, or removing the other spouse from insurance and retirement plans

  • Orders for temporary child or spousal support

  • Orders regarding the use of house and cars

The Division of Assets During Divorce

Washington is one of only nine states that use the community property standard during divorce as opposed to the equitable distribution standard used by the other 41 states.

Community property means that anything acquired by either spouse during the time of marriage belongs to both partners, even if it’s acquired in the name of only one spouse. Community property also includes any money earned by either spouse, as well as any retirement savings accrued. Unfortunately, it also includes any debts incurred by either spouse — as all debts become communal.

Separate Property vs Community Property

Separate property can be defined as any property that was acquired before the marriage or during the marriage through inheritance or as a gift, so long as the gift is not from one spouse to the other. Separate property can sometimes be subject to community property rules if the other spouse acquires an interest in it. For instance, if one spouse begins to make mortgage payments on a house owned separately by the other spouse, that property could become community property.

However, the community property standard does not always equate to a 50/50 split of all property and assets upon divorce. Courts will often aim for a division that is “just and equitable” based on several factors, including:

  • The length of the marriage

  • The economic circumstances of each spouse

  • The potential earning capacity of each spouse

  • The participation of one spouse in helping the other spouse’s career or educational advancement

  • The nature and extent of the community property

  • The nature and extent of the separate property

  • The need for the spouse with child custody to retain the home

The Length of Divorce Proceedings

If the couple can agree on all essentials of the divorce — including asset and debt division, child custody, spousal or child support payments, visitation rights, and other matters — they can submit their agreement to the court. The court will then review the proposal, approve it fully or partially or modify it, and the whole process can be over in a fairly accelerated manner after the 90-day window.

If the couple chooses the collaborative approach, that will likely lengthen the time of ultimate resolution because of the mediation and resolution processes involved, but it might also ease any potential post-divorce conflicts or other bitter feelings.

If the divorce is contested in the courtroom, with attorneys for each side presenting arguments for their clients and against the opposing spouse, court proceedings may drag on for quite some time. This can often result in raised tensions for either spouse — or both — clouding any potential for future collaboration.

Seek Help from an Experienced
Washington Divorce Attorney

Divorce is a difficult and trying experience that most often requires the help of outside professionals. Attorney William E. Morgan is an experienced and compassionate family law and divorce attorney. He can work with both you and your spouse to resolve the terms of your divorce, in an effort to expedite the proceedings and lessen the potential for future conflicts. He can also represent your best interests in court if matters end up escalating.

So if you or someone you know is considering a divorce, don’t face these challenges on your own. Contact William E. Morgan, Attorney at Law, today to receive reliable legal counsel and representation. Attorney William E. Morgan proudly serves clients in Grays Harbor County, Hoquiam, Montesano, Aberdeen, and Pacific County, Washington. Call today to schedule an initial consultation.