Articles Posted in Family Law

When a court finds a parent has engaged in a history of acts of domestic violence, a permanent Washington parent plan may not require mutual decision-making or a dispute resolution process other than court action if the court finds a parent has a history of acts of domestic violence.  RCW 26.09.191. A mother recently challenged a parenting plan that required joint decision making for health care and the court’s failure to enter a restraining order after she presented substantial evidence of a history of domestic violence.

According to the appeals court’s opinion, the parties got married in 2013 and had a child in 2014.  They divorced in August 2015.  The parenting plan acknowledged a “[h]istory of intimidation and verbal abuse. . . in the presence of [the] child,” but the trial court did not impose restrictions.

The father started a relationship with another woman in February 2015 and they had a child.

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A non-parent may petition for Washington child visitation if they are a relative, have “an ongoing and substantial relationship with the child,” and show a likelihood the child will experience harm or a substantial risk of harm without visitation.  RCW 26.11.020.  In a recent case, a child’s grandparents appealed the trial court’s dismissal of their petition for visitation with their grandchild.

The father had residential time with the child under the parenting plan.  He lived with his parents for a period of time, such that the child stayed with his grandparents during his father’s residential time with him.

According to the appeals court’s opinion, the father had issues with drugs and mental illness.  He was arrested following an incident involving the mother, her brother, and the child. At some point thereafter, the father’s whereabouts became unknown to the parties.  The mother continued to allow the grandparents limited visitation with the child.  She attended the visits, sometimes with a relative.  The grandparents claimed they were supportive of the mother, but the mother and her family claimed the grandparents were rude, controlling, and aggressive.

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A former spouse seeking modification of Washington spousal maintenance must generally show a substantial change in circumstances.  A former wife recently challenged the denial of her request for modification.

According to the appeals court’s unpublished opinion, the parties married in 1991 and divorced in 2014.  The wife was a stay-at-home parent. The husband co-owned two businesses with a partner and had an annual income averaging $598,244 in the three years before the divorce.

The wife sought spousal maintenance.  According to a vocational evaluation, she had not worked in over 21 years and needed retraining.  It described the effect her multiple chronic medical conditions had on her ability to work.  She was qualified for low or unskilled positions, which were generally not appropriate due to her balance and lower back issues. Her medical issues limited the training and work she could do and could require time off beyond the norm. The evaluator also noted the importance of the wife working for an employer large enough to be subject to Family Medical Leave.

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Parents have a fundamental right to make certain decisions regarding their children, including decisions regarding visitation with grandparents.  A nonparent relative may petition for visitation if they have an ongoing and substantial relationship with the child and harm or the substantial risk of harm to the child is likely if the court denies visitation.  RCW 26.11.040.  The court will order visitation if it is in the child’s best interest and there is a likelihood of harm or the substantial risk of harm if visitation is not granted.  Washington family law presumes the decision of a fit parent to deny visitation to a nonparent is in the child’s best interest and does not create either a likelihood of harm or a substantial risk of harm.  RCW 26.11.040(2). To overcome the presumption, a nonparent seeking visitation must show by clear and convincing evidence that visitation is necessary to prevent harm or the substantial risk of harm to the child. RCW 26.11.040.  The petitioner must state the specific facts supporting the petition in an affidavit. The trial court will only hold an evidentiary hearing if it finds it more likely than not the petition will be granted based on the petition and affidavit. RCW 26.11.030.

A grandmother recently appealed a court’s denial of her petition for visitation.  The child and both parents lived with her grandmother after the child was born in 2015. The father and child moved out after he learned the mother was using drugs again.  The father was granted full custody. The parenting plan prohibited contact between the mother and child until the mother could show she had been sober, employed, and stable for an extended period of time.  The parenting plan also stated the grandmother’s home was not appropriate for the mother and restricted the grandmother from driving the child due to her history of DUIs.

After the custody case concluded, the father allowed the mother’s grandparents to visit the child.  They sometimes took her to visit the grandmother.  The grandmother also sometimes spent holidays and the child’s birthday parties with the father’s family.  The relationship between the father and grandmother soured, however, due to disagreements regarding the child and concerns about the grandmother’s use of alcohol.  The father then limited the grandmother’s time with the child.

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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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A parent may think there is nothing they can do if the parent who has the child most of the time wants to relocate.  Washington family law, however, has a process for a parent to object to the relocation of a child in some circumstances.

In a recent unpublished opinion, a Washington appeals court considered whether the trial court had properly denied a mother’s request to relocate with her child.  The child, E.S., was born in August 2012.  The parents, who were not married, separated in 2015. They initially had an informal arrangement, under which E.S. primarily lived with his mother but was with his father two or three nights a week.

A parenting plan signed in 2018 established that the father would have E.S. Wednesday to Sunday every other week.  The plan could be modified by agreement of the parties and E.S. subsequently began staying with the father 5 nights of every 14.

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Some custody cases can become so acrimonious they result in Washington civil protection orders and even criminal court.  In a recent unpublished case, a mother challenged her convictions of felony harassment and felony violation of a protection order.

When the parents divorced, the mother was awarded sole custody of the children.  After the father obtained treatment for a brain injury he incurred in the military, he was given visitation. The mother would not comply with the visitation order and the father was given sole custody in September 2018.

According to the appeals court’s opinion, the father found the mother attempting to break in to his home the day he took custody. She physically attacked him and his father.

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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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