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Articles Posted in Divorce

In any divorce, it is important for the parties to identify all of the assets they want to be considered and divided.  While all of the property is before the court for distribution in a divorce, the court can only distribute those assets of which it is aware.  If the parties fail to follow the appropriate procedures to timely identify property, the court may exclude evidence of that property.

A Washington appeals court recently reviewed a case in which the trial court had excluded certain property that had not been included in the property worksheets the parties submitted before trial.

The parties each submitted property worksheets with their trial briefs before trial.  At trial, the wife testified about property that was not included on the property worksheets.  The husband objected to this testimony, but the objections were generally overruled.

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Often, the family home is one of the more difficult assets to address in a divorce.  Even if both parties agree to sell the home, the process can still be difficult.  In a recent unpublished case, a Washington appeals court determined whether the sale of a home was “imminent,” as required by the divorce decree, or whether the husband was required to pay the wife $15,000 because it was not imminent.

The marriage was dissolved by a degree of dissolution that awarded the home to the husband.  The wife was required to execute and deliver a quit claim deed.  The trial court subtracted $30,000 from the net value of the home for the closing costs and used that reduced value to determine the property award.  The court subtracted the closing costs because the husband assured the court he intended to sell the home imminently.  The decree included a provision that required him to pay the wife $15,000 if he did not sell the house “imminently,” which was defined as within nine months from the entry of the decree. February 18, 2016 was nine months from the entry of the decree.

A purchase and sale agreement was signed on February 11, 2016, although the purchase was subject to contingencies.  The buyers then waived all contingencies on February 17.  The wife moved the court for an order enforcing the decree and awarding her the $15,000 on March 10.  The sale of the home then closed on March 15.

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Washington courts are to consider several factors when determining property distribution in a divorce.  Those factors include the nature and extent of community property and of separate property, the duration of the marriage, and the financial circumstances of the parties.  Thus, although the court characterizes property as community or separate, it may award one party’s separate property to the other if necessary to reach a just and equitable distribution.  A Washington appeals court recently considered whether the duration of the marriage outweighed the characterization of property as separate.

The couple was married approximately 45 years.  They lived on the property the husband’s grandparents had homesteaded without paying rent or mortgage.  The husband ultimately inherited the property. The husband had been a farmer, and the wife was employed by a department store.  They each earned around $20,000 per year and lived paycheck to paycheck.  The husband inherited several hundred thousand dollars, however.

The wife petitioned for dissolution in 2014, and they separated later that year.  They were 72 years old at the time.  The wife had a monthly income of about $1,100, including social security and a pension.  The husband had a monthly income of about $1,900 from social security and federal crop reclamation project payments.

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Under Washington law, courts may order postsecondary support for children in some circumstances, but as a recent case reminds us, it is not automatic. Parents must be sure they understand the child support order and follow any deadlines for filing the petition for postsecondary support.  It is important that parents consult with their attorneys before the child turns 18 or graduates from high school.  The child support order may require the parent to petition for postsecondary educational support before the child’s high school graduation.

In this case, the child support order stated that support would continue until each child reached the age of 18 or graduated from high school, whichever was later, but not after a child reached the age of 19, except as provided in the paragraph on postsecondary educational support.  That paragraph provided that the right to petition for postsecondary support was reserved as long as it was exercised before the child turned 18.

The child had already turned 18 at the time the father filed for postsecondary educational support, but they were still in high school.  The court dismissed the petition as untimely, and the father appealed.

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Divorces can be very complicated when a valuable business is part of the community property.  The party who keeps the business may be unable to pay their spouse’s share immediately, resulting in long-term property distribution payments and interest.

A Washington appeals court recently addressed these issues in the unpublished case of In Re: Marriage of Cheng.  The wife had graduated from Harvard Business School in 2002 but had not really been employed since.  The husband had a consulting and distance learning company that the court valued at $3.6 million.  The trial court awarded the wife $640,000 in maintenance to be paid over 44 months and a judgment of $1.455 million with 6% interest over 15 years as property distribution. The court also awarded child support greater than the standard calculation.  The husband appealed.

The husband argued that the wife was receiving an improper double recovery.  Trial courts are to consider “all relevant factors including but not limited to” those listed in RCW 26.09.090(1) when considering how much maintenance should be awarded.  The maintenance award must be just, but the trial court otherwise has broad discretion.  One of the listed factors is the division of community property.    If the maintenance and property award are paid from the same asset in a way that unfairly burdens the spouse that is paying, the maintenance may duplicate the property division.

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Emotions run high during divorce, and sometimes unfortunately the parties will try to hurt each other.  When a party to a divorce intentionally damages property or wastes the couple’s assets, the other party may seek a remedy through the court. In the recent case of In re Marriage of Fellows, a Washington appeals court reviewed an order for contempt of court against a wife who allegedly damaged the couple’s home.

The wife, Michaela, appealed the order finding her in contempt of court for violating the dissolution decree.  The trial court found that she had intentionally violated its order by damaging the couple’s home.

The decree awarded the home to the husband, Charles, but allowed the wife to remain there for another 60 days.  At the request of the husband’s counsel, the court ruled the home was to be maintained in the condition it was in.  When presenting its written ruling, the court also instructed the wife not to damage the home in any way, and it noted that if damage did occur, the court would consider contempt and address the damage.

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High-asset divorces are very complex and difficult matters.  It is not uncommon for one party to allege the other has either wasted or hidden assets.  Additionally, the standard calculation may not be an equitable way to determine the appropriate amount of support, so the court has some discretion to deviate from the standard if it considers the appropriate factors and makes findings of fact.

A Washington appeals court recently considered waste, separate property, and a possible deviation from the standard distribution calculation in In re Marriage of Hansen. The couple married in 2001, and the decree was issued in 2015.  The couple had two children.  The husband owned and operated a bail bond company, which was the couple’s primary source of income.  The wife did not work outside the home and had been financially dependent on her husband well before the marriage.

In 2013, the husband purchased another bail bond company, for which he paid partially with funds from shared retirement accounts.  The couple incurred early withdrawal fees and taxes of more than $120,000.

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Everyone can relate to the experience of walking into the grocery store without a shopping list and leaving the store without what you went in for, having spent lots of money on things you didn’t need.  Notes aren’t only important for grocery shopping.  They can help keep meetings on task, organized, and efficient.  That is why we recommend that people bring notes into their first meeting with a family law attorney.  One sheet of paper is probably enough for your first meeting.  The paper should include the following: Continue reading

Myth 1:

You don’t have to pay child support if you have a 50/50 parenting plan.

Fact:  While it is true that in some cases with 50/50 parenting plans there will be no transfer payment of child support from one parent to the other, in many 50/50 cases, especially those where the parents’ incomes are very different, one parent may still have to pay money to the other parent for the support of the child.

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Washington family law clients and attorneys alike should know that there are changes coming to the Washington State Family Law Forms.  The revised forms will become required on May 1, 2016, but they are available now on the Washington Courts Website for review and preparation for adoption.

The forms are called “Plain Language” forms and are meant to be easier to read and understated.  From our review, many of the forms are easier to read and understand.  This will benefit pro se litigants (those people that are not being assisted by a family law attorney).  It will also benefit people that have attorneys, because they won’t have to waste their valuable time having the complicated forms explained, and, instead, will be able to spend their time telling their family law attorney about the facts of their case and giving the attorney time to discuss strategy and the best way to move forward.  It will also benefit people that are represented by an attorney, but are opposing a party that is pro se.  These pro se opposing parties sometimes make claims that they did not understand the online forms and as such should not be held to what they agreed to therein.  The Plain Language forms will be easier to understand and thus, if someone signs these documents the courts will probably be less likely to believe that a party did not understand what they were signing.   Continue reading

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