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Washington Information

Washington Frequently Asked Questions
Is there a waiting period before a divorce can be final?
Answer:The waiting period to finalize a divorce in Washington is 90 days. This means the summons and petition must be filed with the court and served upon the other spouse for more than 90 days before the judge signs the decree. This is a minimum period and is intended to allow time for reconciliation between the parties, or for the parties to “cool down,” because often emotions are highest at the beginning of a dissolution action. The process could take much longer if the parties have difficulty reaching an agreement. Sometimes a spouse will not respond at all to a petition after it is served. In that case, the decree of dissolution can be entered after the waiting period.
Can spouses legally change their names during a divorce?
Answer:Yes. Typically, if either party requests a name change, the wife requests to change her name back to her former or maiden name. The request should be included in the petition.
What is a “separate property”?
Answer:Sometimes one or both spouses may have a separate property. “Separate property” means possessions or real estate that was owned before the marriage, or that was received during the marriage as a gift or as an inheritance, or that was bought with separate property.
How does a court divide property and debts?
Answer:In Washington, a court is required to determine what is separate property, what is community property, and then divide the property and debts between the spouses justly and equitably. To do this, the court uses a series of factors under Washington law, such as how long the couple was married, employment history, how much property the couple has, and other factors. The court must also consider whether a parent should be allowed to continue living in the family home so the children do not have to be moved.
What if a spouse has misbehaved during the marriage?
Answer:Bad behavior does not usually affect how property and debts are divided. This means that the courts will not award one spouse more of the property just because the other spouse misbehaved or was at fault. An exception to this general rule is when the misbehavior was intended to and resulted in the destruction of property. A court may give one spouse more property when the other spouse did something to waste or destroy their community property.
What is spousal maintenance?
Answer:Spousal maintenance (alimony) is financial support provided by one spouse to the other during or after a divorce, separation, or invalidity proceeding.
How does the court decide about alimony?
Answer:If you file for divorce, legal separation, or request that your marriage be declared invalid, you have a right to ask for alimony. Alimony is generally based on financial and economic factors, not whether one of the spouses is at fault. Instead, if there is a big economic difference between the spouses, alimony may be ordered to help achieve financial independence. The court has a great deal of discretion to decide how much and for how long alimony will be paid. The court considers many factors (such as the length of the marriage, health and ages of the spouses, and employment history), but there is not a formula like there is for child support. If alimony has been ordered, a spouse can later ask that the order be changed under certain situations. Alimony can greatly affect your tax situation. Getting advice from a tax lawyer or qualified financial planner is important.
How is a dissolution (formerly divorce) case commenced in Washington?

Answer:A dissolution is started by filing a Summons and Petition with the clerk of the superior court and by serving copies of these papers on the other spouse. If the case is agreed, a dissolution is started by filing a Petition also signed by your spouse or a separate joinder form signed by your spouse. The spouse filing the Petition is the “petitioner.” The Petition asks the court to “dissolve” the marriage. It makes no difference who files the Petition.

The Petition also tells the court what the petitioner would like the court to do concerning the parties’ property and debts. A petitioner must be a resident of Washington at the time the Petition is filed. There is a filing fee for filing the Petition, unless the court decides the petitioner is too poor to pay the fee.

The spouse responding to the Petition is called the “respondent.” The court cannot enter a Decree of Dissolution until 90 days after the Summons and Petition have been served on the respondent. The respondent has a limited time in which to file a written Response with the clerk of the superior court. The Response must be filed within 20 days after being served the Summons and Petition (or 60 days if the respondent is served out of state; or 60 days if the respondent is served by publication pursuant to an order allowing service by publication; or 90 days if the respondent is served by mail pursuant to an order allowing service by mail). The respondent must also make arrangements to have copies of the written Response served on the petitioner or the petitioner’s lawyer within the same time period. If the respondent does not file or serve a written Response within the required time period the court may enter a default judgment against the respondent.

What happens if my spouse does not respond to the petition for dissolution?

Answer:This is called a default. If the other spouse never answers the Petition for Dissolution by filing response papers, default allows you to finish your case. You should file a Motion for Default with the clerk of the superior court. Schedule a court hearing and ask the judge or court commissioner to sign an Order of Default.

But before filing the Motion for Default you must wait at least 20 days after service of the papers (spouse in state); 60 days (spouse out of state); 60 days (order allowing service by publication); or 90 days (order allowing service by mail).

You still have to wait 90 days to present final paperwork to the court. To finish the dissolution, only you have to appear and sign the documents.

Keep a copy of all papers filed.

How is property divided under Washington law?

Answer: Washington is a “community property” state. Each spouse retains his or her separate property, consisting of:

  1. All property acquired prior to marriage;
  2. Any gifts or inheritances; and
  3. Any increase in value of the separate property.

“Quasi-community” property is property that is acquired while a spouse resides outside of Washington, but that would have been considered community property if acquired while they were living in Washington. “Quasi-community” property is divided as if it were community property. The court will divide the community property of the spouses, consisting of all other property acquired during the marriage, equally or equitably, after a consideration of the following:

  1. The nature and extent of each spouse’s separate property;
  2. The economic circumstances of each spouse at the time the division of property is to become effective;
  3. The length of the marriage;
  4. The nature and extent of community property; and
  5. The desirability of awarding the family home and the right of occupancy for reasonable periods to the custodial parent if there are minor children. Marital misconduct is not to be considered. [Revised Code of Washington Annotated; Title 26, Chapters 26.09.080, 26.16.010, 26.16.020, 26.16.030, and 26.16.220].
Selected Washington State Domestic Relations Laws
RCW 26.09.020
Petition in proceeding for dissolution of marriage, legal separation, or for a declaration concerning validity of marriage — Contents — Parties — Certificate. :
  1. A petition in a proceeding for dissolution of marriage, legal separation, or for a declaration concerning the validity of a marriage shall allege:
    1. The last known state of residence of each party, and if a party’s last known state of residence is Washington, the last known county of residence;
    2. The date and place of the marriage;
    3. If the parties are separated the date on which the separation occurred;
    4. The names and ages of any child dependent upon either or both spouses and whether the wife is pregnant;
    5. Any arrangements as to the residential schedule of, decision making for, dispute resolution for, and support of the children and the maintenance of a spouse;
    6. A statement specifying whether there is community or separate property owned by the parties to be disposed of;
    7. The relief sought.
  2. Either or both parties to the marriage may initiate the proceeding.
  3. The petitioner shall complete and file with the petition a certificate under RCW 43.70.150 on the form provided by the department of health and the confidential information form under RCW 26.23.050.
RCW 26.09.070
Separation contracts.
  1. The parties to a marriage, in order to promote the amicable settlement of disputes attendant upon their separation or upon the filing of a petition for dissolution of their marriage, a decree of legal separation, or declaration of invalidity of their marriage, may enter into a written separation contract providing for the maintenance of either of them, the disposition of any property owned by both or either of them, the parenting plan and support for their children and for the release of each other from all obligation except that expressed in the contract.
  2. If the parties to such contract elect to live separate and apart without any court decree, they may record such contract and cause notice thereof to be published in a legal newspaper of the county wherein the parties resided prior to their separation. Recording such contract and publishing notice of the making thereof shall constitute notice to all persons of such separation and of the facts contained in the recorded document.
  3. If either or both of the parties to a separation contract shall at the time of the execution thereof, or at a subsequent time, petition the court for dissolution of their marriage, for a decree of legal separation, or for a declaration of invalidity of their marriage, the contract, except for those terms providing for a parenting plan for their children, shall be binding upon the court unless it finds, after considering the economic circumstances of the parties and any other relevant evidence produced by the parties on their own motion or on request of the court, that the separation contract was unfair at the time of its execution. Child support may be included in the separation contract and shall be reviewed in the subsequent proceeding for compliance with RCW 26.19.020.
  4. If the court in an action for dissolution of marriage, legal separation, or declaration of invalidity finds that the separation contract was unfair at the time of its execution, it may make orders for the maintenance of either party, the disposition of their property and the discharge of their obligations.
  5. Unless the separation contract provides to the contrary, the agreement shall be set forth in the decree of dissolution, legal separation, or declaration of invalidity, or filed in the action or made an exhibit and incorporated by reference, except that in all cases the terms of the parenting plan shall be set out in the decree, and the parties shall be ordered to comply with its terms.
  6. Terms of the contract set forth or incorporated by reference in the decree may be enforced by all remedies available for the enforcement of a judgment, including contempt, and are enforceable as contract terms.
  7. When the separation contract so provides, the decree may expressly preclude or limit modification of any provision for maintenance set forth in the decree. Terms of a separation contract pertaining to a parenting plan for the children and, in the absence of express provision to the contrary, terms providing for maintenance set forth or incorporated by reference in the decree are automatically modified by modification of the decree.
  8. If at any time the parties to the separation contract by mutual agreement elect to terminate the separation contract they may do so without formality unless the contract was recorded as in subsection (2) of this section, in which case a statement should be filed terminating the contract.
RCW 26.16.030
Community property defined — Management and control.

Property not acquired or owned, as prescribed in RCW 26.16.010 and 26.16.020, acquired after marriage by either husband or wife or both, is community property. Either spouse, acting alone, may manage and control community property, with a like power of disposition as the acting spouse has over his or her separate property, except:

  1. Neither spouse shall devise or bequeath by will more than one-half of the community property.
  2. Neither spouse shall give community property without the express or implied consent of the other.
  3. Neither spouse shall sell, convey, or encumber the community real property without the other spouse joining in the execution of the deed or other instrument by which the real estate is sold, conveyed, or encumbered, and such deed or other instrument must be acknowledged by both spouses.
  4. Neither spouse shall purchase or contract to purchase community real property without the other spouse joining in the transaction of purchase or in the execution of the contract to purchase.
  5. Neither spouse shall create a security interest other than a purchase money security interest as defined in *RCW 62A.9.107 in, or sell, community household goods, furnishings, or appliances, or a community mobile home unless the other spouse joins in executing the security agreement or bill of sale, if any.
  6. Neither spouse shall acquire, purchase, sell, convey, or encumber the assets, including real estate, or the good will of a business where both spouses participate in its management without the consent of the other: PROVIDED, That where only one spouse participates in such management the participating spouse may, in the ordinary course of such business, acquire, purchase, sell, convey or encumber the assets, including real estate, or the good will of the business without the consent of the nonparticipating spouse.
RCW 26.16.125
Custody of children.
Henceforth the rights and responsibilities of the parents in the absence of misconduct shall be equal, and the mother shall be as fully entitled to the custody, control and earnings of the children as the father, and in case of the father’s death, the mother shall come into as full and complete control of the children and their estate as the father does in case of the mother’s death.

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