Friday, March 11, 2011


Here are some random Friday musings about some of the misconceptions I often hear. No particular order or importance just as I thought about them. As always, this is informational only and not intended as legal advice for your particular situation. Always confer with an attorney before taking any action regarding these issues.

My Spouse won’t give me a divorce

You don’t need your spouse’s permission or agreement. Washington is a “no fault state” and the only grounds for divorce (technically called “dissolution of marriage”) are “The marriage is irrevocably broken”. If one person believes this is true, then the marriage will be dissolved. The person seeking to dissolve the marriage first files a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage. If the spouse refuses to sign anything and there is proper service meeting specific legal specifications the divorce can be completed by default. Even if you don’t know where your spouse is, you can still accomplish legal service with a court order for mail or publication in a legal newspaper.

While the divorce can be accomplished without the other person’s cooperation, you still may have issues regarding children or division of property. If you are very clear on you petition as to what you are requesting and your spouse does not respond, then your request will be granted.

A divorce by default is probably only appropriate if there are no children, real estate and very little property.

My spouse and I agreed to 50-50 custody so no one will be paying child support

I hear this constantly and it is simply not true. Custody is now called a “parenting plan” and the parenting plan determines where the children are on a day to day basis. Child support is a separate issue and is based upon the Washington State Support Schedule. While there may be some adjustment for residential time, child support is mostly based on the parents respective income.

Washington is a community property state so if we get married everything will be community property

Only property acquired during the marriage is community. This means that if you owned a house or business before you married it does not automatically become community property when you get married. What gets tricky is that your income during the marriage is community and if you put that money into the business or property, the community has an interest. Gets tricky here doesn’t it? Gift or inheritance also is separate. A common problem I see is when parents give a gift to the couple. Was it a gift only to their offspring or was it to the couple? Depends who you ask. At the time of the wedding, everyone may think it is to the couple but if the marriage is dissolved, they parents may claim the gift was to their son or daughter only.

Community property is one of the most difficult subjects in law school and even professionals differ over this issue. Don’t be surprised if you and your spouse have a different opinion. And don’t be surprised when your lawyer answers your question with “that depends”.

Community property means everything is divided 50-50

My clients are shocked when they learn this is not true in Washington. The operating word in Washington State is “equitable”. Is it safe to say that divorcing couples rarely agree on what is equitable? Some folks actually believe property should be divided by who contributed the most toward purchase. They couldn’t be more wrong. Equitable is based upon the relative position of the parties, the length of the marriage, the earning capacity of each and many other factors. In a long term traditional marriage it is not unusual for the stay at home spouse to receive 55 to 60 percent of the community assets and sometimes more.

Every case is different and, as they say “these results are not typical”. By the way, don’t think this just applies to stay-at-home moms. I have had several cases where the higher earning spouse was the wife. Once again, the lawyer answer: “It depends”. If you really want to know, here is the specific law:

“the Court shall, without regard to marital misconduct, make such disposition of the property and liabilities of the parties, either community or separate, as shall appear just and equitable after considering all relevant factors, including but not limited to:
1. The nature and extent of the community property
2. The nature and extent of the separate property
3. The duration of the marriage, and
4. The economic circumstances of each spouse at the time the division of the property is to become effective, including the desirability of awarding the family home or the right to live therein for reasonable periods to a spouse with whom the children reside the majority of the time." (Revised Code Of Washington 26.09.080)
Often "just and equitable" will mean a greater than 50% to a spouse who has forgone a career and does not have the ability to build retirement assets. The other surprise to some people is that separate property is taken into consideration when making this distribution. Not that it is divided but it does affect the relative economic circumstances of the parties.

My name is not on title to the house/car/boat etc. therefore it is not community.

See numbers 3 and 4 above. Only one name on the title doesn’t necessarily mean it is not community.

I worked hard all these years for my pension so it is mine. Or, I built this business myself without any help from my spouse, therefore it is all mine.

See number 3 and 4 above. I often tell my clients “I don’t care if your spouse sat on the couch and ate bon bons all day, your business/ pension is community property.

When my child turns 14 (or 12, or 16, or name an age) he/she can decide which parent to live with.

The age when a child can decide which parent to live with is the age of majority in Washington, Not only is there not an age when a minor can choose which parent to live with, most parenting specialists would not approve of putting a child in such a position.

If I move out of the house, it will be considered “abandonment” and I will lose my house and custody of my children.

No. While most divorce attorneys would advise making some arrangements for parenting time with the children before moving, you will not lose your rights because you moved out. Moving out does not affect ownership of the property. I really urge folks to get a consultation before they move but moving is not "abandonment" as it is in some states.

Disclaimer: These answers are intended for Washington State residents. The laws of every state are different and these answers may not apply in another state.

1 comment:

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