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Frequently Asked Questions – Part 1

In family law, we see a wide variety of cases; family law cases can vary as much as the families involved in the cases do.  That said, there are some similar issues and questions that come up in our cases.  This is a FAQ list for Washington State family law cases.

  1. How soon can I be divorced?

Many people that come into our office are hoping to get divorced as soon as possible.  Washington State has a ninety day waiting period before a divorce can be finalized.  This means that from the day the petition is filed (not the day you tell your spouse you are divorcing or the day you see an attorney) ninety days must pass before the decree of dissolution is entered and your marriage is over.  In some cases, issues are not resolved during the ninety days and the process takes longer.

  1. Is Washington State Law biased in mothers’ favor?

In a family law case involving divorcing, divorced, or otherwise unmarried parents, one of the frequent issues is the parenting plan (the document that includes a residential schedule describing where the child will live).  Many parents have heard of a bias in the court system in favor of mothers and against fathers.  While there is no law explicitly benefiting mothers, there are laws that may favor mothers over fathers.

One of the objectives of the parenting plan laws set forth in the Revised Code of Washington’s (“RCW”) chapter involving parenting plans is maintaining stability.  The factors for consideration described in RCW 26.09.187 requires that courts weigh a number of factors when determining a parenting plan, but require that they give the most weight to “The relative strength, nature, and stability of the child’s relationship with each parent.”  The same statute also requires that the court look at “Each parent’s past and potential for future performance of parenting functions … including whether a parent has taken greater responsibility for performing parenting functions relating to the daily needs of the child.”  RCW 26.09.187(3)(a)(iii).  Because in many families the mother does the majority of the child care duties, the statutes described above may seem to lean in the mother’s favor.  In actuality the law benefits the primary caretaker of the children.  If the father is the main caretaker the same benefit should apply to him.  (Also, in some cases even if one parent is the main caretaker, the courts still decide to give the other parent the majority of the time with the child.)

  1.    Do I have to have to get legally separated before I get divorced?

There is some confusion in the area of legal separation.  Many people incorrectly assume that a formal legal separation is part of the dissolution process.  That is not the case.  When you file for a legal separation you do so by a petition and ask that the court declare you legally separated.  Then, you become legally separated when the court grants that petition and declares you legally separated.  This process is not a necessary part of the divorce process.  Instead, if you want to be divorced you file a petition for dissolution of marriage asking that the court dissolve their marriage.  Some people (and sometimes the within the legal system as well) will refer to you as being separated after the petition has been filed, or after the spouses have discussed ending their marriage, but this is a different kind of separation from the legal separation process.  (It is worth noting that a decree of legal separation can be converted into a decree of dissolution six months after the decree of legal separation has been entered.)

If you would like to speak with a Seattle area family law attorney about these or any other questions, please contact us today!  We look forward to speaking with you.