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Articles Posted in Family Law

Sadly, suspicions or allegations of abuse sometimes arise in Washington custody cases.  Although there may be circumstances where a party makes an allegation in an attempt to affect the custody case, some parents have sincere concerns about their children.  A father recently challenged an order that he pay the mother’s attorney fees related to his motion to modify the parenting plan after he sought a protective order against the mother.

The father claimed he noticed injuries on the child after he picked her up from the mother’s home in June 2017.  He said he asked her about them, and she said words in her native language that translated to “Ouwie,” “Hit,” and “Mama.”  He took the child to the doctor and the doctor reported finding bruising with small abrasions on her feet and linear areas of bruising on her upper inner forearm.  The doctor contacted CPS.

The father claimed he noticed more bruising after picking the child up a few days later.  He took her back to the doctor and a nurse practitioner examined her and noted she had bruising on her right periorbital area and healing bruising and abrasions on the top of her feet.  The nurse practitioner called CPS, and they recommended calling the police and seeking a protective order.  The nurse practitioner called the father and recommended he seek a protective order and not return the child to the mother.

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When a couple reaches an agreement regarding their divorce, it is not uncommon to agree that any disputes regarding the agreement are subject to arbitration. Generally, Washington law favors arbitration. In a recent case, however, a husband challenged a court’s decision not to refer a matter to arbitration.

The couple established a business during their marriage.  The husband ran the business and the wife raised their children.  The husband had developed a gambling compulsion and lost $185,000 in the year before the divorce.

The wife filed for divorce and asked for a restraining order keeping the husband from conducting the business’s finances.  The court granted the wife full authority to run the business “in a fiscally responsible manner.”

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Courts handling Washington child custody cases should base their determinations regarding parental responsibilities on the best interests of the child.  The court has broad discretion in determining the parenting plan.  However, the court must place restrictions on a parent’s decision-making if it finds he or she has a history of domestic violence.

A Washington appeals court recently reversed a parenting plan that allowed joint decision-making despite a history of domestic violence.  The parents divorced in 2014.  The final parenting plan required the father to meet with a doctor to address domestic violence issues before his summer residential time with the children.  The parenting plan also required him to get a certified evaluation regarding domestic violence and follow any treatment recommendations.

The plan also awarded the mother sole decision-making until the court heard from the domestic violence counselor or evaluator.  The order provided that there would be joint decision-making after the father met the requirements regarding domestic violence.

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Once a Washington divorce decree is issued, a maintenance award can only be modified by the court when the party seeking the modification shows a substantial change in circumstances.  A fact unknown to the trial court or an unanticipated fact that arises after the decree is entered may constitute a substantial change in circumstances.  In a case involving spousal maintenance, commonly referred to as “alimony,” a substantial change may involve a significant increase or decrease in income.  In a recent case, the ex-wife sought to continue maintenance when her ex-husband decided not to retire at the time they had previously expected him to do so.

The divorce decree required the husband to pay spousal maintenance in the amount of $1100 per month for 48 months.  The wife sought to extend the maintenance four years later.  She alleged there was a substantial change in circumstances because the husband had not retired from the military as she had expected.  If he had retired, she would have started receiving part of his retirement benefits when the maintenance payments stopped.  She provided an email from the husband in which he stated he would pay the maintenance “until [he] got out.” The husband told her he was not ready to retire in December 2016, and suggested he would not do so until 2019.  The wife requested the maintenance continue until the husband’s retirement. She also requested attorney fees in her reply declaration.

The commissioner denied the wife’s motion, finding no substantial change in circumstances.  The commissioner also granted the husband’s motion to strike the wife’s request for attorney’s fees and denied the request.

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Washington child custody rules do not favor modifying parenting plans to decrease visitation.  A court may, however, modify a parenting plan if it finds, based on information that occurred after the decree or that was unknown to the court at the time, that there has been a substantial change that makes a modification necessary to serve the child’s best interests.  RCW 26.09.260.  Additionally, restrictions or limitations may be appropriate when certain circumstances are present.  A court may, for example, preclude or limit a provision in the parenting plan if the parent’s involvement is not in the child’s best interest, and one or more specified factors are present.  Those factors include neglect, long-term impairment, and withholding access to the child from the other parent.  Additionally, one of the listed factors is essentially any other factor the court finds to be adverse to the child’s best interests.  RCW 26.09.194.  Even when a court does place limitations or restrictions on visitation, it may put something in place to allow the parent to work toward resuming regular visitation.  This process may include working with a counselor or therapist to ensure that resumption of the visitation is in the child’s best interest.

A mother recently challenged a court’s restriction on her visitation on a number of grounds, including the engagement of a counselor to make recommendations on reinstating visitation.  The previous parenting plan ordered the daughter to reside with her father and visit her mother every other weekend.

The mother petitioned for increased visitation when she married several years later.  The father petitioned to decrease her visitation, alleging physical and emotional abuse of the daughter, domestic violence in the mother’s home, and abusive use of conflict.  The trial court granted the father’s petition and suspended the mother’s visitation for 45 days.

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Courts should remain impartial regarding religious beliefs and sexual orientation when considering custody arrangements and parenting plans.  When a court relies on and adopts the opinions and recommendations of witnesses who express biases based on these issues, the entire parenting plan may be called into question.  Such was the situation in a case recently decided by the Washington Supreme Court.

The couple had been married for nearly 20 years at the time of their divorce.  They had three sons, whom they raised in a conservative Christian church and sent to Christian schools.  The wife had been the primary caretaker of the children, and the husband had been the primary wage earner for most of their marriage.

In 2011, the wife told the husband she thought she might be gay.  She stopped going to the family church and began a romantic relationship with a woman.

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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

Dissolving a marriage can be difficult even in relatively simple, straight-forward circumstances.  Things can become much more difficult in divorces that involve a business owned by one or both spouses.  The end of a marriage can also mean the end of the business.  Ending the business is not always in the best interest of the divorcing parties.  Below are a few issues for consideration by parties seeking to dissolve their marriage in Washington, when one or both spouses own a business. Continue reading

For many families the spring is an exciting time.   During spring, the weather gets warmer, the flowers bloom, the baseball season begins, and families plan for their summer vacations.  For families whose children’s residential time is split between two unmarried parents, it is also often a time that the parenting plan requires parents to swap summer schedules.  In many plans both parents submit their desired summer schedules and one parent has the prevailing preference for each year.  Here are a few ideas that some families have found helpful when addressing notice for summer vacation schedules: Continue reading