Articles Posted in Divorce

Arbitration and alternative dispute resolution can save parties to a Washington divorce some of the expense and stress of litigation.  The ability to challenge a decision resulting from a voluntary arbitration may be limited, however.  In a recent case, a father sought court review of an arbitration decision relating to certain parenting plan disputes.

The parties got married in 2014 and had two children together before separating in early 2022.  They filed a joint separation petition, but the mother subsequently withdrew.  The father amended the petition to seek dissolution.

The parties later signed a CR 2A Stipulation and Agreement that stated they agreed the agreement was “fair, just and equitable” and were signing “freely, knowingly and voluntarily. . .” The agreement indicated it was the parties’ “full and final settlement on the issues in this divorce, including most of the provisions for the final parenting plan, the provisions for the child support order, and property division.  It also stated the parties would negotiate the open items of the parenting plan, and if they could not reach an agreement, they would mediate the remaining items with the first available of three listed mediators.  If they failed to reach a mediated settlement, they agreed to binding arbitration.

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A trial court in a Washington divorce case has broad discretion to justly and equitably distribute the property.  The court must analysis the relevant factors as set forth in RCW 26.09.080. The court may distribute both community and separate property and does not need to find exceptional circumstance to support awarding part of one spouse’s separate property to the other. Additionally, it may be fair and equitable for the court to award one spouse’s separate property to the other spouse who has less earning capacity. A former husband recently challenged a division that awarded the former wife a share of his retirement and pension, including his premarital retirement assets.

According to the appeals court’s unpublished opinion, the parties were married for about ten years when they separated in 2019.  In March 2021, the wife petitioned for legal separation, and that petition subsequently became a petition for dissolution. The trial focused on the property distribution.  Although there was a prenuptial agreement, the trial court found it was unenforceable.

The wife had worked as a flight attendant and later became a stay-at-home mother after the children were born.  She worked as an Amazon courier when the trial occurred.  She had about $85,000 in her retirement account.

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A trial court in a Washington divorce has broad discretion to make a just and equitable property division.  RCW 26.09.080 sets forth certain factors that the court must consider in making a just and equitable property distribution, but those factors are not exclusive.  The trial court must consider the nature and extent of both the community property and any separate property, the length of the marriage, and each spouse’s economic circumstances when the division takes effect.  The court must fairly consider the circumstances and future needs of both parties. An appeals court generally affirms a property distribution unless there was a manifest abuse of discretion.  A manifest abuse of discretion occurs if there is a patent disparity in the economic circumstances of the parties as a result of the decree.  A former husband recently challenged a property division in which his former wife was awarded a $12,000 judgment.

The parties got married in April 2018 and separated in October 2020.  According to the appeals court’s unpublished opinion, they did not have many assets or debts.  They bought a home during the marriage. The wife transferred her interest in the home to the husband in 2019 via a quitclaim deed, though her reasons for doing so were in dispute.

The husband asked that the court award each party the bank and retirement accounts in their own name and the vehicle and any personal property in their possession. He asked the court to award him the home. He agreed to assume the community debt if he did not have to pay spousal maintenance.

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Who gets to claim the children as dependents on their tax returns can be a contentious issue in a Washington custody case.  A father recently sought a contempt order against the mother when she claimed one of the children as a dependent.

According to the appeals court’s unpublished opinion, the parties entered into an agreed child support order when they divorced in 2009.  The trial court’s final child support order provided that the mother would have the right to claim the child identified as T.A.R. as a dependent on her taxes and the father had the right to claim the child identified as M.A.R. The order further provided that “WHEN THERE IS ONLY ONE CHILD ELIGIBLE FOR TAX DEDUCTION PURPOSES,” the mother would have the right to claim the children for even years and the other parent would have the right to claim them “for the opposite years.”

After learning the mother claimed T.A.R. in the 2021 tax year,  the father moved for an order to show cause why the mother should not be held in contempt, arguing she violated the order when she claimed T.A.R. in 2021 after M.A.R. had  turned eighteen. He argued the alternating clause applied after M.A.R. turned eighteen because T.A.R. was then the only “child.” He acknowledged he could have claimed M.A.R., but argued he only would have received $500 by doing so, while he would have a $6,000 tax exemption if he claimed T.A.R.

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Property in a Washington divorce is generally characterized as of the date was acquired, but the date of acquisition alone does not determine its character.  The court must consider whether the property was acquired by community or separate funds.  Additionally, spouses may agree to convert property that otherwise would have been separate property.  A husband recently challenged a trial court’s characterization of certain assets and expenditures.

Marriage

The appeals court’s unpublished opinion states the parties got married in 2004 in Arizona.  Several years later, they signed a family trust agreement stating any property put in the trust would be community property.  They bought a home in Washington in the name of the trust and moved into it in 2009.  They subsequently rented that home out when they purchased another home, using funds from the trust for the down payment.  The husband placed $820,000 he received from an arbitration related to his shares in his former employer in the trust’s bank account.  The parties funded a new business from the trust.  The business was successful, but closed in 2020 when its supplier went out of business.

The wife and child moved out in 2017 and the husband filed for divorce.

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Washington child support is determined based on the Washington State Child Support Schedule.  A trial court may deviate from the standard child support calculation when it would be inequitable not to do so.  The trial court must specify its reasons for deviation or for denying a request for deviation in its findings of fact.  RCW 26.19.075 sets forth a non-exclusive list of reasons for deviation.  A husband recently challenged a child support deviation, arguing the trial court should instead have characterized that amount as spousal maintenance.

According to the appeals court’s opinion, the parties had three children together during their fourteen-year marriage.  The trial court found the wife was voluntarily underemployed and imputed a monthly net income of $2,048 to her, but she actually earned about $800 from her part-time job.  The husband had a net monthly income of $7,374.

The trial court determined the wife needed $3017.27 per month for her basic needs and expenses. The court determined she would receive that amount in combined spousal and child support.  Pursuant to the child support guidelines, the husband’s adjusted child support would be $1,566. The trial court acknowledged that spousal maintenance would change the income of the parties for determining child support.  To get to the intended total, the trial court adjusted the child support amount and ordered the husband to pay $2,017.27 in monthly child support and $1,000 in monthly spousal maintenance for a year.  The court indicated child support would be recalculated based on the parties’ income without spousal support after the spousal support ended in a year.

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Washington spousal maintenance is intended to support a spouse until they are able to support themselves.  The trial court’s primary consideration is the economic situations of the parties after the divorce. Courts must consider the factors set forth in RCW, but those factors are not exclusive. The factors include the financial resources of the spouse seeking maintenance, the time needed for the spouse to obtain sufficient education to find appropriate employment, the standard of living during the marriage, the length of the marriage, the age, physical condition, and financial obligations of the spouse seeking maintenance, the ability of the other spouse to meet their own needs and financial obligations in addition to those of the spouse seeking maintenance.  The trial court does not have to make specific findings of fact for each of the factors.  A maintenance award must be just, and a court abuses its discretion if it does not base maintenance on a fair consideration of the factors.  A wife recently challenged an award of spousal maintenance, arguing the trial court abused its discretion.

According to the appeals court’s unpublished opinion, the parties each finished college with a bachelor’s degree in 1992 and got married in 1994.  They moved several times and lived in multiple states before and after the marriage.  They agreed the wife would stay home and care for the children, but she did teach fitness classes when she could get childcare.

The wife started experiencing health issues shortly after they moved to Arizona in 2000 or 2001, affecting her ability to work.  They moved to Washington in 2006 or 2007.  She eventually started teaching yoga and Pilates.  She started a business offering yoga classes, massage, and certain merchandise in 2010.  She cut back on teaching after having what she believed was a Transient Ischemic Attack, though she was not formally diagnosed. She closed the business center at the end of 2017 as the result of a rent increase. She was in three car accidents in the following two years, causing her constant back and hip pain, issues with balance, shoulder pain, and PTSD.

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When a court enters a Washington child support order, it begins by determining the standard calculation according to RCW 26.19.020.  The standard calculation is the presumptive amount owed.  The court then allocates the child support between the parent’s based on their respective share of the combined monthly net income. The trial court may deviate from the standard calculation based on various factors, including income, expenses and debt, and the residential schedule.  In a recent case, a father challenged a court order, arguing the trial court abused its discretion in denying his request for deviation.

The mother had been a stay-at-home mother during the marriage but got a job after the separation.  The father’s gross monthly income was about $9,353.37 and the mother’s was about $3,120.

The mother petitioned for divorce. The parties subsequently signed a CR 2A agreement including a parenting plan that gave the parents equal residential time.  The father would be responsible for childcare while the mother was at work during her residential time.  Remaining issues would be decided by trial by affidavit.

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An award of spousal maintenance in Washington may generally only be modified if the party seeking modification can show a substantial change of circumstances.  RCW 26.09.170(1). Under Washington case law, the change must not have been within the parties’ contemplation when the decree was entered.  A former wife recently challenged a trial court’s denial of modification of her spousal maintenance.

According to the appeals court’s unpublished opinion, the parties entered into a separation agreement that required the husband to pay $4,000 per month and 40% of his annual bonus as spousal maintenance for seven years, starting February 1, 2014. The terms of the agreement were incorporated into a decree of legal separation, which was ultimately converted into a decree of dissolution.

By the terms of the agreement, the payments would end in January 2021.  The ex-wife moved to modify the decree in December 2020.  She alleged health issues had prevented her from working in her profession as an art teacher since spring of 2019.  She also alleged the ex-husband’s salary had substantially increased since the separation.

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A trial court must grant an annulment to parties married outside Washington if the court finds the marriage was void or voidable pursuant to the laws where the marriage was contracted, unless it was subsequently validated. RCW 26.09.040(4)(c).  A wife recently appealed a court’s denial of her petition for a Washington annulment.

According to the appeals court’s unpublished opinion, the parties had a ceremonial marriage in India in 2009 and subsequently moved to the U.S and lived together as spouses for several years. They had a child together in 2014.  The husband moved out in 2017 and the wife petitioned for legal separation.  She subsequently amended to petition for annulment.  She alleged the husband had fraudulently represented having registered their marriage in Indian, and that, because he had actually failed to register, the marriage was legally void.  The husband asked the court to dissolve the marriage instead.

The primary issue at trial was whether the marriage certificate was signed and registered pursuant to Indian law.  The wife offered evidence of irregularities in the certificate the husband used in his immigration.  She presented an authenticated document from India stating there was no record of the marriage.  The husband presented a partially-signed marriage certificate.  The wife argued it was probably forged.  The husband also submitted a fully-signed version of the marriage certificate with his supplemental briefing.  The trial court denied the wife’s motion to strike it.

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