Changes in family structure are difficult, even when the people involved can see eye to eye and mostly agree on what should happen next. Spouses might agree they just want to split things evenly, but then they have to decide what that means. Making such big decisions is hard enough without the added stress of dealing with a changing life. Honest and reasonable advice from an attorney that can look at the situation from the outside and protect you from unexpected risks is invaluable.
I have represented people in dissolutions without children, complex parenting plan cases involving allegations of abuse or neglect of parenting duties, committed intimate partnership, and many other types of family law matters. Just like each person is different, each family is unique and no two family law cases are the same. I know there is no “standard divorce,” and that the most important first step is to understand my clients and their goals.
There are many types of family law cases, but they generally break down into two categories – starting a completely new case, or changing or enforcing current court orders. In a brand new case, for example, a spouse seeking divorce could file a Petition for Divorce (formerly Dissolution) or an unmarried parent could file a Petition for Parenting Plan. Once an order has been set, one side or the other might want to change the current arrangement for some reason or could ask the court to find the other person “in contempt,” or purposefully out of compliance with the order, and require that person to obey the rules the court has put into effect and even pay penalties. Whether you are considering divorce, establishing a formal parenting plan, or you need to enforce or change a current order, I have the knowledge, experience, and skill to help you toward your goals and advise you on all of your options along the way.
No longer called Dissolution, Divorce in Washington starts with a Petition saying that the marriage is irretrievably broken and ends with an agreement at least 90 days later or a "bench trial" with only a judge, no jury. Washington has community property laws, but does not follow a 50-50 rule like in some other states. Instead, the court divides a couple’s debts and assets in a just and equitable way, creates or approves parenting plans that are in the child’s best interest, and sometimes orders maintenance from one spouse to the other.
Legal Separation is similar to divorce, and courts can do many of the same things. Debts and assets can be divided, and courts can enter parenting plans and set child support. But it is not Divorce, and that can make a difference. Also, after at least six months of legal separation, either person can ask the court to convert from legal separation to divorce.
Unmarried parents can petition the court to create a parenting plan. In Washington, parenting plans must be in the child(ren)’s best interest. That broad rule gives parents or courts wide latitude to make decisions. Plans set out a schedule for where children will live when, but they also set out a framework for how to make decisions on school, healthcare, and many other decisions. Even when parents can get along, having a plan everyone follows can help everyone know what to expect. When parents have a history of disagreement, a parenting plan is even more important to set the ground rules and avoid dispute.
Child support is either set by agreement or by using a standard calculation based on each parent’s finances. It can be simple math in some cases, but there are also a wide variety of reasons for the court to make exceptions, or deviations, from the calculation. Child support covers many expenses parents face, but some costs are outside the standard payment. In those cases, the child support order can set up how to divide the extra costs.