Articles Posted in Divorce

Courts must have jurisdiction over the cases they hear.  A husband recently challenged the jurisdiction of the Washington court that dissolved his marriage.  To petition for divorce in Washington, the petitioner or their spouse must be a resident of Washington.  RCW 26.09.030.  Washington courts have held that this means a party must be domiciled in Washington.

The wife was a Polish citizen and the husband was a Swiss citizen.  They got married in Switzerland in 2012 and then moved with their children to Washington in 2014. They both worked in Washington and enrolled their children in local schools and activities.

The parties separated in October of 2018 and the wife filed for divorce the following April.  The husband argued the court did not have jurisdiction over the divorce because he and the children were not domiciled in Washington. The wife testified that the husband’s job was a permanent position and they had no solid plans to go back to Switzerland.  She said she considered the move to Washington to be “a new beginning.” She said she intended to remain in Washington permanently with the children, her fiancé, and her new baby.

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Washington spousal maintenance generally ends if the spouse receiving then maintenance remarries.  In some cases, however, the parties may agree or the divorce decree may provide that maintenance continue beyond remarriage.  In a recent unpublished case, a former husband challenged a court order that maintenance continue even after his wife’s remarriage.

The parties’ divorce was finalized in 2018.  The decree provided that the husband would pay the wife spousal maintenance for 10 years.  The maintenance provision was on a mandatory pattern form used between 2016 and 2019.  Under the termination section, it stated that maintenance would end on the death of either spouse or the remarriage or registration of a new domestic partnership of the spouse receiving maintenance unless a different date or event was stated below.  Directly below, it stated, “The husband shall pay maintenance for 10 years.”

The wife had been a stay-at-home mother during her marriage to the husband and was not currently employed. The husband earned about $140,000. The wife married someone earning approximately $215,000 per year in 2019.

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Inherited property is generally characterized as separate property in a Washington divorce, but what if the spouse signs a quitclaim deed adding the other spouse to the title? The Washington Supreme Court has clarified that the joint title gift presumption does not apply when a court divides property in a divorce. The court must instead determine whether the spouse intended to convert the property to community property.

According to the opinion, the wife’s mother died the year after the parties married and left half her estate to the wife, some of which would be through future distributions.  The wife inherited a 50% interest in a property in Arlington and the parties moved there.

In 2003, the parties started a horse breeding and training business.  They decided to purchase property in Ford in 2005 with a loan secured by the Arlington property. The lender required the husband to be added to the Arlington property title.  The wife executed a quitclaim deed conveying her interest to her husband and herself “to establish community property.” She did not remember signing the deed and said she had only done so because it was required by the loan.  She claimed they only intended to keep the loan until they could sell the Arlington property.  She testified she did not intend to convert it to community property.

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In a Washington divorce, inheritance will generally be considered separate property.  What happens, though, when a spouse uses separate property to pay off the debt on a community asset? A Washington appeals court recently considered this issue.

According to the unpublished opinion, the wife bought a home in California while the parties were dating.  The husband moved in with her a couple of months later. After they married in 2002, they formed a trust with the two of them as co-trustees.  The trust stated that all property held in joint tenancy was their community property. The wife signed a quitclaim deed conveying the house to the two of them as trustees as community property. In 2013, they executed another quitclaim deed as trustees, this time transferring the property to the two of them as spouses “as joint tenants with rights of survivorship.”

They lived in the house together for 14 years and refinanced it at least three times. They both paid on the mortgage, but the wife ultimately paid it off in 2015 using funds she received from an inheritance. They sold the house in 2016.  They then moved to Washington.

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Washington public policy favors a presumption that a marriage is valid.  Case law has held that a party seeking a Washington annulment must show the marriage is invalid by “clear, satisfactory, and convincing evidence.” A marriage is invalid if one party was induced to enter into it by “fraud involving the essentials of marriage” and the parties have not voluntarily cohabitated after the fraud was discovered.  RCW 26.09.040.

A man recently challenged a denial of his petition to invalidate his marriage, alleging the wife had misrepresented her prior relationship with another man.  The parties’ mothers were long-time friends.  The husband went to Vietnam with his mother in 2015 and met the wife. He visited her again in 2016.  He asked her if she had ever had any prior relationships and she said she had not.  They started talking about marriage later that year.  The husband applied for a K-1 visa in 2017.

When the wife got to the U.S. in August 2017, she asked the husband to get a marriage license the next day.  The couple married as soon as the 3-day waiting period passed.  They slept in separate bedrooms that night. According to the appeals court’s opinion, the parties were only sexually intimate once, later that month.

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Washington family law recognizes committed intimate relationships, which are stable relationships where the parties cohabit knowing that they are not lawfully married.  It is an equitable doctrine, intended to protect unmarried partners who acquire property during the relationship. Before distributing property under the doctrine, the court must first determine whether there is a committed intimate relationship, based on the circumstances of the case with consideration of a number of factors.  If there is a committed intimate relationship, the court must next evaluate the parties’ respective interest in the property acquired during the relationship.  Then, the court must distribute the property in a just and equitable manner.

A woman recently sought relief under the committed intimate relationship doctrine for property acquired after she reunited with her husband following a legal separation. The parties legally separated in 2002, resulting in an agreed judgment and decree of legal separation in California. They got back together instead of following through with a divorce at that time. However, they still divided their assets and the father paid child support and spousal maintenance in accordance with the California order.

They stayed together for several years, but separated again in early 2020.  The wife petitioned for an equitable distribution of the property acquired after the separation order under the committed intimate relationship doctrine.  The husband moved to dismiss the case for failure to state a claim, arguing they were still married.  The trial court ultimately dismissed the petition, finding the wife could not pursue a committed intimate partnership claim because the parties were married.

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In a Washington divorce, a party who claims an asset is separate property must show it qualifies as separate property by clear and convincing evidence. If separate property becomes commingled with community property to the extent it is impossible to distinguish it, then it becomes community property.  In a recent case, a husband challenged the trial court’s distribution of property, arguing the certain assets could not be sufficiently traced to retain their separate character.

The parties were married for nearly 32 years when they separated in January 2018. They owned nine rental properties.  The wife argued she made the down payments for three of the properties from her inheritance from her father’s death.  She claimed she had a traceable separate property interest in those properties.

Her inheritance had been deposited into a joint savings account where community funds had been deposited.  The funds in the account were sometimes used for community expenses.  The wife testified the account was used infrequently so the inheritance “was kind of kept separate in there.” She testified she had wanted to keep her inheritance as separate property, but was concerned putting it in a separate account would look like she was not trying to work things out after a recent reconciliation.

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Many people consider their pets to be part of the family, but the law often treats pets as personal property.  In a recent case, a husband challenged court-ordered visitation with the dogs awarded to him in his divorce decree.

The parties, who had been married for about 27 years, had two dogs at the time of the divorce. They referred to the dogs as “[t]he babies” and regularly texted about them. When the wife moved out into a motor home, the dogs remained in the marital home with the husband.  The wife visited them several times a week.

The husband petitioned for legal separation at the end of August, 2018. In her answer, the wife asked the court to dissolve the marriage and requested at least 10 hours per week visitation with the dogs and the right of first refusal for their care.  She also asked that the parties split costs for the dogs. The commissioner’s temporary orders only ordered the wife to pay half of the dogs’ grooming and veterinary bills, but otherwise did not address the dogs.  She kept visiting them several times per week.

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A court must appoint a guardian ad litem when a party to an action is incapacitated and does not have a guardian.  RCW 4.08.060.  In In re Marriage of Gannon, the Washington Supreme Court held that a guardian or guardian ad litem may pursue a Washington divorce on behalf of an incompetent ward if it is in the ward’s best interests, noting that never allowing divorce to be pursued on behalf of the incompetent spouse would allow the competent spouse “absolute, final control over the marriage” and such a result was “not equitable.”  The trial court must hold a hearing to determine whether dissolution is in the ward’s best interest.

In a recent unpublished case, an appeals court considered whether the trial court properly granted a divorce.  According to the appeals court’s opinion, the parties married in 1989.  The husband was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2014. The parties started having arguments, including a physical altercation in 2016. The wife testified that she told the husband she was afraid he would kill her if she stayed with him. A neighbor testified the husband came to his house and said he could not go home because he was afraid he would be killed.  The neighbor testified the husband asked him to call the police.  The police arrested the wife.

The husband’s children tried to obtain a vulnerable adult protection order, but were unsuccessful. The wife requested a Guardian Ad Litem for her husband, stating she wanted to maintain their finances and control over his healthcare decisions.  The husband signed a durable power of attorney for healthcare and durable power of finances. He stated he wanted a divorce.

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Unless an agreement or the divorce decree provides otherwise,  a Washington spousal maintenance obligation generally ends when the party receiving it remarries or registers a new domestic partnership or when either party dies.  RCW 26.09.170(2).  Generally, the court may only modify a maintenance order if there is a substantial change in circumstances.  RCW 26.09.170(1). Washington law also allow a divorce decree to preclude or limit modification of a maintenance provision if the parties agreed to do so in the separation agreement.  RCW 26.09.070(7).  A court does not have the authority to modify such a provision.

In a recent unpublished case, an ex-husband appealed a court order terminating the spousal maintenance he received.  The parties’ divorce decree in 2007 was based on a separation agreement that required the wife to pay the husband spousal maintenance. The agreement provided that the spousal maintenance would terminate when the husband remarried or died. It stated the spousal maintenance obligation was otherwise “non-modifiable” except in the case of the wife’s disability.

The wife sought to terminate the maintenance in 2019, alleging the husband had remarried.  She claimed she had seen a news article indicating the husband was married to another woman.

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