Washington Divorce Kit
Washington State Divorce Laws
Residency Requirements and Grounds for Divorce
Either you or your spouse must be a resident of Washington or a member of any armed force stationed in Washington to file for a divorce, called a “dissolution.”
Washington is a “no fault” state, which means that either spouse can get a divorce simply by stating in divorce papers that the marriage is “irretrievably broken.” Factors such as adultery do not matter in determining property or custody issues.
The legal divorce process begins when one of the spouses files a “Petition for Dissolution of Marriage” with the court. The other spouse is then served with the paperwork and given time (from 20 to 60 days) to respond to the Petition for Dissolution. If the parties are in agreement about property and debt division, as well as child custody and child support matters, the divorce can be finalized within 90 days of the time the Petition for Dissolution is filed. If the parties can’t come to an agreement, the court will set a time for a hearing, usually months ahead.
After the Petition for Dissolution has been filed, either party can request temporary assistance from the court in the form of temporary custody and child support orders, and orders to determine who pays community debts on a temporary basis.
Dividing the Property
Washington is a “community property” state, which means that assets and debts acquired during your marriage will be divided “equitably” when you divorce.
But not all property is considered “community property”:
- For example, any assets you had before you married will be considered “separate property” if you kept that property separated from property acquired during the marriage
- The income produced by a separate property investment is also separate property, as long as it hasn’t been “commingled” – mixed together with community money
- Property you inherit from your family during your marriage will generally be considered your own separate property if it was willed exclusively to you and you did not commingle it with community assets during the marriage
In deciding how to divide the property owned by a divorcing couple, judges will consider:
- The length of the marriage
- How much and what kind of community and separate property there is
- The financial circumstances and earning potential of each of the spouses
- The health of each spouse
- With whom the children will reside the majority of the time
It’s important to collect all the information you can about all your property, including when you purchased it, approximately how much it is worth, and details such as account numbers, serial numbers and so forth. Collecting this information before you see a Washington divorce lawyer can save you a lot of time and money.
A court can order alimony, called “maintenance” or “spousal support” in Washington, at its discretion. A court will generally consider such factors as the following:
- Financial resources of both parties and the abilities of each to meet their needs
- Length of the marriage
- Standard of living established during the marriage
- Time a spouse may need to retrain or otherwise find employment
- Age and physical and emotional condition of the spouse seeking support
A court can order temporary maintenance while the divorce is pending. Most maintenance is ordered for a specific length of time. Once ordered, maintenance can be modified only upon a showing of a “substantial change in circumstances.”
Child Custody and Visitation
In Washington State, the concepts of “custody” and “visitation” have been replaced with a residential schedule known as a “Parenting Plan,” which sets out specific times the child will spend with each parent. If the parents can’t agree on a parenting plan, the court makes those decisions based on what is in the “best interest” of the child. A parenting plan sets out details such as when the child will be with each parent, which parent will make what decisions regarding the child, how disputes between the parents will be resolved and any limits on parenting functions.
In deciding how much time each parent should spend with the child, the court considers many factors, including:
- The relative strength, nature and stability of the child’s relationship with each parent, including whether a parent has taken greater responsibility for performing parenting functions relating to the daily needs of the child
- Any agreements the parents have made
- Each parent’s ability to perform parenting functions
- The emotional needs and developmental level of the child
- The child’s relationship with siblings and other significant adults
- The child’s involvement with his or her school or other activities
- The wishes of the parents
- The wishes of a child who is sufficiently mature to express reasoned and independent preferences
After the Parenting Plan is signed by the judge and filed with the court clerk, both parents are bound by it. If a parent is denied court-ordered access to a child, he or she may start a contempt action by filing a motion with the court. The parent who violated the parenting plan can be held in contempt of court, fined and even jailed. The first time a parent is held in contempt, the court will order the parent to make the child available to make up the amount of time that was missed.
If a parent who is designated as a “primary residential parent” is held in contempt a second time in three years’ time, the non-residential parent can ask the court to change the parenting plan to be named the primary residential parent for the child.
A Washington court will not modify a Parenting Plan unless there has been a “substantial change in the circumstances of the child or the non-moving party” and the modification is in the best interest of the child and necessary. To change the primary residential parent unless both parents agree to the modification, unless the child’s present environment is detrimental to the child’s physical, mental or emotional health and the harm likely to be caused by a change of environment is outweighed by the advantage of a change to the child.
The parent who is asking for a change in the Parenting Plan files a Petition for Modification. The court then holds what is called a “threshold” or “adequate cause” hearing, where the person bringing the Petition to Modify must tell the court the facts which support the request for a modification of the Parenting Plan. There is a presumption against changing the plan, as courts do not like to see a child bounced back and forth between parents. If the court decides at the adequate cause threshold hearing that the parent asking for the modification can establish grounds for making a change, the court will then schedule a hearing date to hear testimony on the merits of the case. If the court finds there isn’t “adequate cause,” the court will deny the modification of the parenting plan.
In Washington State, child support is based on the income and assets of both parents. If a parent is not currently employed, the court will look at the parent’s past employment record or base their “imputed” income on what a person of their age and gender would typically make. Child support is based on standard guidelines, and there is a statutory formula used uniformly by every court.
When filling out the child support worksheets, all income and resources from both parents must be disclosed. Income for both parents is added together to get a combined income figure, upon which the total child support for both parents is based. Child support for each parent is based on the percentage of the total income each parent individually makes.
Under Washington State law, a nonresidential parent’s child support cannot be more than 45 percent of his or her net income. The nonresidential parent’s net income (after paying child support) cannot be reduced below what is called a “need standard” (currently $800 per month). Childcare expenses are normally calculated separately and are based on proportionate income.
Child support can be set through the Superior Court in a divorce or paternity action, or be set through an administrative action through the Division of Child Support, part of the Department of Social and Health Services.
The standard Washington child support order contains a provision that allows immediate wage withholding, whether or not the paying parent is behind in child support payments. The Division of Child Support can issue a payroll deduction notice with the paying parent’s employer without notice to the paying parent. When there is past due support, the Division of Child Support can also file a lien against property owned by the paying parent.
Support orders can also be enforced through the Superior Court issuing them, by filing a contempt motion to have the nonpaying parent held in contempt of court. Nonpaying parents can be fined and sent to jail if the court concludes they had the means to pay child support but did not.
A Washington child support order can be modified if there has been a “substantial change in circumstances.” Examples of this would include:
- A big increase or decrease in either parent’s income
- The child spending a lot more time with either parent
- The child being several years older or having special financial needs such as schooling or medical expenses
If both parents agree as to the amount of child support that should be paid, the parents can ask a judge to enter an agreed order modifying the child support.
When the parents can’t come to an agreement, the person wishing to modify the child support order files a Petition to Modify with the court, and includes proof of income such as tax returns and wage stubs for the last two years. After the other parent is served, the court sets up a time for a hearing of all the evidence and testimony.
Washington Divorce Kit