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Ten Things You Need to Know About Divorce Law in Washington

by | Mar 23, 2023 | Family Law

1. Residency Requirement

You can file for divorce in Washington State if you are a Washington state resident, a member of the armed forces that is stationed in Washington State, or if you are married to a Washington State resident or member of the armed forces that is stationed in Washington. You do not have to maintain your residency for any period of time before the court has authority to hear your case.

2. Waiting Period

Washington State requires divorcing parties to wait 90 days after filing a Petition for Divorce before a final Divorce Decree can be entered, however, most divorces take longer than 90 days to finalize.

3. No-Fault Divorce

Washington is a no-fault divorce state. Neither party has to prove that the other did anything wrong to lead to the divorce. Divorcing parties need only state that the marriage is irretrievably broken. Evidence of domestic violence, mental health, or extramarital affairs are generally not considered by the court unless the court also needs to enter a parenting plan and the evidence would help the court make a decision about what is in the children’s best interest.

4. No Jury

A jury will not determine the outcome of your divorce in Washington State. If your case goes to trial, a judge will be the only person your attorney presents evidence to. Your attorney will still be expected to call witnesses, prepare an opening statement and closing argument, and present evidence exhibits to the judge for review.

5. Informal Family Law Trial (IFLT)

Washington State recently adopted a new rule that allows parties to participate in an informal family law trial (IFLT). In an IFLT, witness testimony (with a few exceptions) is presented in writing, evidence is submitted directly to the judge, and the judge questions the parties to the divorce directly which means neither party is subject to cross examination. The rules of evidence are suspended in IFLT’s which means hearsay evidence, which is usually excluded from the courts’ consideration, can be submitted and considered by the court if it is relevant to the family law issue being decided.

6. Spousal Support

Washington State law allows the court to order spousal support in some divorces. The court considers the length of the marriage, the standard of living during the marriage, the age and health condition of each spouse, and each spouse’s ability to pay.

7. Length of Marriage

The length of the marriage has a significant impact on the final outcome of a dissolution case. Parties who have been married for five years or less have a “short-term marriage” under Washington Law. In a short-term marriage divorce, the court strives to divide the shared assets in a fair and equitable manner and return the parties to the financial position they were in before the marriage.

If you have been married between 5 and 15 years, you may have a medium-length marriage. In medium length marriages, the court strives to divide the shared assets in a fair and equitable manner and equalize the parties’ standard of living for a limited period of time.

If you have been married for 25-years or more, you have a long-term marriage. In a long-term marriage, the court strives to divide the shared assets in a fair and equitable manner and equalize the parties’ standard of living on a long-term or permanent basis.

8. Division of Property

Washington State law seeks to divide the assets and liabilities of the marriage in a fair and equitable manner. The judge has a lot of discretion to divide property in a divorce; “fair and equitable” does not always mean 50/50. Your attorney can help you advocate for a division of assets and liabilities that will set you up for success in the future.

9. Child Custody

The court will issue a parenting plan that determines the amount of residential time each parent has with the child(ren) and a child support order that will ensure that all of the child(ren)’s financial needs are met. The judge will review the evidence presented to determine a residential schedule that is in the child’s best interest. Absent limiting factors like a history of domestic violence or substance abuse, both parents are usually awarded a significant amount of residential time with the child.

10. Retirement Plans

If one or both spouses invested money into a retirement plan, contributions made during the marriage are considered to be assets of the marriage. Like with property distributions, the judge will divide the retirement contributions in a fair and equitable manner. The parties will need to enter a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO) with the court before the accounts can be properly separated by the retirement account manager.

Final Thoughts

Navigating the divorce process is stressful. An experienced family law attorney will present your case to the court in a way that will highlight your contributions to the marriage, protect your parenting time, and help you walk away with as many assets of the marriage as possible. If you are contemplating divorce in North Central Washington, the family law attorneys at J.D.S.A. are experienced and ready to help with your case.