Articles Posted in Family Law

Washington family law recognizes Committed Intimate Relationships (“CIRs”), which are stable relationships, similar to a marriage, in which the parties live together knowing that they are not lawfully married.  CIRs have also been referred to as “meretricious relationships.” Washington courts consider five factors to determine if a CIR exists: whether the parties have continuously cohabitated, the length of the relation, the relationship’s purpose, whether the parties pooled their resources and services, and the parties’ intent.  If the court determines there is a CIR, it then must determine the parties’ interest in the property acquired during the CIR and distribute the property in a just and equitable manner.  Connell v. Francisco.

A man recently challenged a court’s finding of a CIR and division of property. The parties were in a romantic relationship from 2008 to September 2020, according to the appeals court’s unpublished opinion.  They purchased a home and lived together from December 2012 until they broke up.  The female partner made the down payment on the home, but they otherwise paid bills equally.  They had two children.

The female partner alleged the male partner committed domestic violence.  She petitioned for division of the property of a CIR.  She separately petitioned to establish parentage of the children and sought a parenting plan and dissolution of the CIR.

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Trial courts have broad discretion to create a parenting plan, and abuse that discretion only if they make a decision that is manifestly unreasonable or based on untenable grounds or reasons.  In re Marriage of Littlefield. A mother recently appealed a parenting plan allowing the father parenting time on the Sabbath both parents claimed to observe according to the Seventh-day Adventist faith.

The final parenting plan identified the mother as the primary parent and the parties entered an order by agreement for the father’s visitation.

The father objected when the mother moved for relocation.  A temporary order allowed the move and gave the father one weekend a month for eight hours each on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.

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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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In some circumstances, Washington family law may recognize a person as a de facto parent, or a person who is not a child’s biological or adoptive parent, but who has the rights and responsibilities of a legal parent.  A person seeking to be declared a de facto parent must prove the elements set forth in RCW 26.26A.440(4) by a preponderance of the evidence.  They must show that they lived with the child for a significant period, consistently took care of the child, engaged in “full and permanent” parenting responsibilities without expectation of compensation, held the child out as their own, and established a parental relationship with the child that was “fostered or supported” by another parent of the child.  Additionally, they must show that continuing the relationship is in the child’s best interest.

A mother recently appealed a court order awarding her former romantic partner the rights of a legal parent to her child.  According to the appeals court, the mother’s relationship with the petitioner began while she was pregnant with the child and continued until the child was about nine years old.  The petitioner was not the child’s biological father, but petitioned for de facto parentage after his relationship with the mother ended. The mother wanted to move out of state to be closer to her family, but remained in Clark County to respond to the petition.


The petitioner alleged he provided the child “emotional and material support.” He filed documents, including evidence the school listed him as the child’s guardian and emails with the child’s teacher, principal, and school counselor.  He also submitted transcripts of videos in which he and the mother stated he would be the child’s father and the child called him “daddy.”

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Washington family law recognizes a rebuttable presumption that relocation of a child under a parenting plan will be permitted.  That presumption does not apply, however, if the parents have “substantially equal residential time.” “Substantially equal time” generally means the child spends at least 45% of their residential time with each parent pursuant to a court order. RCW 26.09.525. A father recently challenged a relocation, partly because the trial court applied the presumption by considering how the residential time changed under a Domestic Violence Protection Order (“DVPO”).

According to the appeals court’s opinion, the mother sought a DVPO against the father after seeing severe bruising on their two-year-old daughter.

The mother filed a notice of intent to move the children.  She asked that the father be evaluated for substance abuse and anger management or domestic violence and comply with the treatment recommendations. She also requested the court suspend his residential time for non-compliance.

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When a parent seeks a Washington domestic violence protection order (“DVPO”), they may want to include their minor children as protected parties.  If the protection order is against the other parent, it can affect that parent’s visitation and custody.  In a recent case, a mother appealed a DVPO that did not include her three-year-old child as a protected party.

The appeals court’s opinion stated the mother had petitioned for a protection order to protect herself and her child against her boyfriend, who was also the child’s father.  She requested an order restraining him from any contact with her or the child, from coming within 1,000 feet of her home or workplace or the child’s daycare.  She asked for sole custody of the child.  She asked the court to order the father to participate in treatment or counseling.  She requested the order be effective for over a year.

She alleged multiple incidents of domestic violence by the father, including incidents in which she said he shoved her and threatened her.  She stated the father was under investigation for an incident in which he threw her against the wall and to the floor, choked her, and banged her head against the floor.  She alleged this incident occurred in front of the child.

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Washington postsecondary educational support may be ordered when a child is dependent and relies upon the parents for reasonable necessities.  The court has discretion in ordering postsecondary educational support.  RCW 26.19.090 provides a non-exclusive list of factors to be considered.

A mother recently challenged a court’s denial of her motion for postsecondary educational support for her son after the court had awarded such support for her daughter a few years earlier.

According to the unpublished opinion of the appeals court, the initial child support order entered in 2012 was amended in June 2020 to adjust the support for the son and order the father to pay 58% of the daughter’s postsecondary educational expenses.  At that time, $9,454.69 in monthly net income was imputed to the father.

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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.


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 law recognizes “committed intimate relationships,” (“CIRs”) and allows courts to equitably distribute property when people separate after living together in a marriage-like relationship and acquiring property that would have been considered community property if they were lawfully married.  In determining if a CIR existed, courts consider a number of factors, including the parties’ intent, the length of the relationship, whether the parties cohabited continuously, whether they pooled their resources for joint projects, and the purpose of the relationship.  In a recent case, a mother appealed a trial court’s judgment that she had not been in a CIR with her child’s father.

According to the appeals court’s opinion, the mother and her young child lived in a rental when the parties met.  The father owned his home and several acres, as well as a rental home.  The parties agreed to date exclusively in October or November of 2011.  The mother told the father she was pregnant in April 2012.  The mother claimed they had agreed to have a child, but the father denied discussing or wanting a child before the pregnancy.

The father claimed the mother wanted to live together because she was having difficulty paying her bills after changing jobs.  He said he thought it was too soon, but felt pressured due to the pregnancy and the mother’s expenses.  The trial court found they started living together around June 2012.  Continue reading

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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