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Divorce

There is never a bad time to contact a lawyer for information regarding a possible divorce. Even if you are not ready to take the step of filing, it is always good to be prepared and know your rights and the appropriate tips before making such a decision.

Whether you have a contested divorce, uncontested divorce, complex property issues, custody issues, etc., we are here to help you. Divorce and custody cases are one of the most stressful events an individual can go through. One of the main reasons causing this stress is the fear of not knowing or having answers; living in limbo for what feels like eternity. Our lawyers understand this and do their best to get you through the process as quickly as possible, so long it as it meets with your individual goals and best interests.

Tips On Preparing For Divorce

Unless you and your spouse have already agreed to divorce, you generally don’t want your spouse to know you are thinking about divorce. This is a defense tactic, although it may not seem that way at first. The reason for this is once your spouse knows of your intentions, the relationship can often become quickly strained and the person you once knew might start hiding or concealing information and/or property, or do things to prevent you from getting a fair result. This may include: withdrawing money from bank accounts, hiding information about income, hiding assets, and obtaining legal counsel without your knowledge. As such, it is best not to let on until you have consulted with a lawyer and collected all of the information you need.

Please remember that all communications with an attorney are privileged/confidential; therefore, meeting with an attorney does not have to be shared.

Whether you are ready to file or not, it is extremely important to collect all of the financial information you can. Make copies of as many of the following documents as possible and keep them in a safe and private place (where your spouse will not find them). This may be needed for proof if your case becomes contested or your spouse won’t provide the information. You should collect as many of the following documents as possible:

  • Your tax returns and W-2 tax forms for the last two years for you, your spouse, and any businesses.
  • The last six months of pay stubs for you and your spouse.
  • Any other income documents (such as interest, stock dividends, retirement compensation, etc.). Note: if your spouse owns a business, try to copy its income and expense records for the last three years.
  • Deed to real estate and mortgage documents.
  • Pension, stock, or retirement fund papers and statements.
  • Bank statements for all accounts held in your or your spouse’s name.
  • Any account statements for funds held at financial institutions.
  • Any other papers showing what you and your spouse earn, own, or owe.

Often, it is advised to inform your spouse just before you are ready to initiate the divorce, withdraw half of the funds in any jointly held bank accounts and move that money into an account in your name only. Please consult with a lawyer to confirm whether this is appropriate for your situation.

If you are served with divorce paperwork, do not wait to contact a lawyer. There are short deadlines in responding to the paperwork to avoid the other party defaulting you or obtaining court orders that you likely do not agree with.

Divorce In General

The following list are the main issues typically resolved in a divorce:

  • Your marriage contract is legally broken
  • Custody, child support, and/or visitation with respect to any children you may have is determined
  • Property and debts are divided
  • Spousal Maintenance

You do not need your spouse’s consent to obtain a divorce. Washington is a “no fault” divorce state, which means it only takes one party to believe that the marriage is “irretrievably broken.”

How long does divorce typically take?

If you and your spouse agree on how your property and debts are to be divided, whether alimony is to be paid, and on custody, support, and visitation regarding your children, the earliest you can officially be divorced is 91 days after you file and serve your spouse with divorce papers.

If you and your spouse do not agree on any of these issues it can take anywhere from eight months to a year or more to be officially divorced because a judge will have to decide any disputed issue(s) in a trial.

How much does divorce cost?

If you and your spouse are able to agree on the issues involved, or even some of the issues, your divorce will be less expensive, quick, and you will avoid leaving decisions concerning your property and children to a stranger, i.e., a judge.

The cost to obtain a divorce varies, depending upon whether you and your spouse can agree on a reasonable settlement or whether the issues need to be determined by a judge because you are unable to agree. Naturally, if you are able to agree on a reasonable settlement, the cost will be substantially less. Other factors that affect cost include whether there are children, substantial property or debt, and whether other contested issues such as alimony need to be addressed. Certain fees are set by the court, and there is also a cost to have your spouse served with the initial papers.

I want to reach an agreement, but my spouse / partner is not cooperating.

There are some instances where a person will not budge and has it set in stone that trial is the only option. However, there are other avenues you can attempt to provoke a response and reach a settlement. Please see our free legal guide for more information on settlement negotiations.

Property & Debt Distribution

Generally, a judge will look at your property and debts and attempt to divide them “fairly.” This does not mean they will necessarily be divided fifty-fifty. The general rule is all property and debt that either of you acquired during the marriage should be divided fairly between you. This property and debt is called “community property” and “community debt.”

All property and debt that you acquired prior to the marriage and after you separated is normally yours to keep. This property and debt is called “separate property” and “separate debt.” Again, these are general rules and there are exceptions.

The court considers several factors in attempting to make the division of property and debt fair:

  1. The nature and extent of community property.
  2. The nature and extent of separate property.
  3. The duration of the marriage.
  4. Each party’s economic circumstances, including whether the party with custody of the children should remain in the family home.
  5. Any other relevant factors.

Absent an agreement with your spouse as to how your property and debt will be divided, you should be prepared to offer the judge a reasonable solution that is perceived as fair and allows you to keep the property you really want. There are many different techniques, strategies and key words when negotiating or making an argument to the Court to adopt your proposal. This is one of the major benefits of having experienced and confident legal counsel.

Legal Separation

A legal separation and a divorce are very similar. In both cases the court divides all the property and debt. If the parties have children, the court orders child support and enters a parenting plan which determines custody and visitation within the separation case.

The primary difference between a divorce and a legal separation is in a legal separation the spouses remain legally married. Once a decree of legal separation is entered, either party may convert it to a divorce but there is a six-month waiting period. If the decree of legal separation has not yet been entered, then 90 days must pass before the divorce decree may be entered.

One of the main reasons this option is selected is for marital benefits such as remaining on your spouse’s health insurance, taxes, etc. Another reason may be that you need to quickly enter a final separation order that divides your assets/debts without having to wait the mandatory 90-day waiting period in a divorce.

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