Articles Tagged with Dissolution

Happy New Year! We hope that 2014 brings you happiness and joy.

January is often a busy time for family law attorneys. Clients come into our office for all sorts of reasons. Some people come into our office having just suffered through a stressful, contentious holiday season, intent on making sure they never have go through it again. Getting an early start on their family law action makes it much more likely that they will be able to conclude the action prior to the next holiday season.

Other clients come in with a resolution to resolve their family law disputes. They may have a nagging need to adjust their parenting plan or modify their child support. It is almost always best to act soon, rather than wait until later to make changes. For example, if changes need to be made to child support the court will usually only adjust the level back to the date the petition for modification is made.

People contemplating taking legal action to resolve a dispute involving their family are often nervous, emotional and stressed. This can be especially true when they go to meet with a family law attorney for the first time. Although it can be a challenge, we suggest you keep your focus. Remember that time is money, and be prepared for your first meeting. We hope providing the following list will help you feel more prepared.

Suggested items to bring with you when you visit your family law attorney for the first time:

  1. Any court order relating to the issue at hand. If you want to change your parenting plan, child support order or other order, be sure to bring the actual order with you. It is very hard for an attorney to advise you on the proper way to ask that an order be changed (or if it is even possible to do so) without having the order in front of them.
  2. Other documents related to your legal issue. If you are asking for a change in your spousal maintenance or child support, you may want to bring your tax return, or recent paystub including year-to-date pay amount. If you are asking about a change in your parenting plan (or initial creation of a parenting plan), you may want to bring a copy of your calendar, showing when the child was at your place, and when the child was at the other parent’s home.
  3. A list of questions you would like to ask during your initial consultation. This might include questions that help you learn a bit about the attorney you are meeting with. You may want to ask about fee structures that are available, the attorney’s litigation style, and how much experience the attorney has in the area of law you are inquiring about.
  4. Any intake form the law office might ask you to fill out. When you make an appointment, you might ask if there is a client intake form that you could fill out in advance.
  5. Any other documents the attorney requests you to bring. When you call to make an appointment, ask whether there is anything you should bring with you to your first meeting.

Please feel free to contact us if you’d like to setup an appointment to talk about your family law issue.

For a variety of reasons, some people choose to be in a long-term committed relationship instead of getting married. When these relationships end, many people feel like they are going through a divorce. As you can imagine, after years in a committed relationship there is often co-ownership of real and personal property, and debt associated with the property. Although in many ways these long-term relationships can be like a marriage, the dissolution process is not available to the couple. This can leave many people feeling without resources to resolve the property issues associated with the end of their relationship.

Fortunately for some, while common-law marriages may not be formed under Washington law, in some circumstances unmarried couples that are able to show that they are in a committed intimate relationship may ask the courts to help them divide property and debt. To qualify as a committed intimate relationship the parties must show that they were in a marital-like relationship. To determine whether the relationship was marital-like the courts will review several factors (ex. pooling of resources, continuous cohabitation, and duration of relationship). Property acquired during a committed intimate relationship is subject to equitable division by the court.

These cases are not without their challenges, and should only be brought when the relationship is likely to qualify as a committed intimate relationship. Also, it is important to note that not all the remedies available to divorcing parties are available to parties to a committed intimate relationship. For example, parties ending a committed intimate relationship will not be awarded spousal maintenance (often called alimony).

A woman approached me at a social gathering recently to ask me to help her resolve her confusion regarding a family law issue. She said that she had two friends get divorced under similar circumstances, but obtain very different results. She wondered whether laws varied from county to county or courthouse to courthouse, and if that was the reason for the variation in results. Her confusion reminded me of the misperception I have heard from many family law clients who come in expecting that they can get the same result as a friend did because their “circumstances are so similar”, or that they can avoid the result a friend obtained because “their circumstances are totally different”. The reality is that no two families are similar enough to guarantee similar results.

Family law is mostly governed by state laws. There are some laws in family law that come from the federal level (ex. DOMA, IRS Code, PKPA), but for most of the laws that impact most families we look to the Revised Code of Washington, the  Washington Administrative Code, and the case law from Washington’s appellate courts. There are court rules that vary from county to county, but these are mostly (if not entirely) procedural and should not (but may) affect the outcome of a case. In other words, whether your family law proceedings are handled in Spokane County, King County, Kitsap County or any other county in Washington shouldn’t make much of a difference. In reality, things do vary from county to county, courthouse to courthouse and decision-maker to decision-maker (commissioner or judge). Part of being a family law attorney (or rather any attorney that appears before a decision-maker on a regular basis) is knowing how the decision-maker(s) in your county is likely to rule on a particular issue. That way you are best able to advise your clients whether settlement or continued litigation is in their best interest.

But variations based on the decision-maker is not a complete answer to why there is so much variation in family law court decisions. It is more likely that the differences arise from one of two things. First, what may appear to be similar circumstances to someone looking at two families from the outside, may not be so similar when you take a closer look at the families’ finances, structure, and parenting histories. For example while two divorcing families’ may live in the same neighborhood and drive similar vehicles, their debt to income ratios and retirement savings may look entirely different. In other words, the similar families you see, may not be so similar upon further investigation.

It’s hard to believe that September is more than half over. School supplies have been opened and used, new clothes worn and homework assigned. Families with school-age children are getting back into the routine of school five days a week. As has been previously discussed on this blog, children of divorced parents are often also adjusting to a different (school schedule) residential schedule. Some kids have been through this transition before. For some kids, this is the first time they are dealing with a new school year as part of a two-home family. The Huffington Post recently published an article entitled “How Our Schools Can Better Serve Children of Divorce.”

As previously suggested on this blog, and as suggested in the article, parents can do many things to make the transition back to school easier on children of divorce. The article suggests (and we agree) that parents should let the school know that the children are going through (or have recently been through) a divorce. Parents can ask teachers of elementary age children and (perhaps more appropriately) guidance counselors of middle school or high school students whether they are seeing any issues with the child that may be attributed to stress at home. If the adults at school are seeing issues, it may be time to consult with a counselor trained in dealing with children of divorce. Kids are at school for many hours each day. Teachers and other school staff can be a divorcing (or divorced) parent’s ally in helping kids adjust.

Transitioning from summer to school schedules, sun to rain, and free play to structure can be enough to deal with. If your child is also dealing with a new family structure, it might be good to give their well-being some extra thought and attention.

Many divorcing people wonder how long their divorce will take, and whether there is anything they can do to speed up the process. RCW 26.09.030 requires that ninety days elapse after the filing of a petition for dissolution of marriage before a divorce decree cam be entered. This means that the minimum length of divorce proceedings is ninety days. The maximum length of time the dissolution of marriage process can take is more difficult to determine. In a highly contentious divorce, including continuances and other delays, the process can take well over a year.

Once the decision to dissolve a marriage has been made, most people want to get out of the marriage as quickly as possible. If your goal is to get your divorce finalized as quickly as possible there are things you can do to speed things up:

  1. Compromise on the Little Things: This doesn’t mean to agree to any terms or conditions that will make a significant difference in your life, but you should be willing to compromise on issues that won’t. Compromising on issues that aren’t imperatives for you will help you isolate issues that are, and focus your resources on having them resolved.
  2. Tell Your Attorney: Tell your attorney that one of your main priorities is for the process to move as quickly as possible. Be prepared for them to tell you that it might not always be in your best interest to rush things. That said, even if your attorney does respond in that fashion, at least she will know that one of your goals is to be divorced soon.
  3. File Early: Ask your attorney to file the petition as soon as possible. As stated above, the petition has to be filed to get the ninety-day-clock to start ticking. Often settlement negotiations start before a petition is filed. Sometimes negotiations are completed quickly and the parties are still forced to wait the ninety days. The sooner the petition is filed, the sooner the courtroom doors are open to enter the decree.
  4. Be Prepared: Be ready to provide your family law attorney with information and documentation to help them do their job as quickly as possible. Ask them what they want you to provide, and then provide it. They will often need certain information prior to advising you on the best next step. The sooner they see the complete picture, the sooner they can advise you what to do next.

With these tips comes one additional thought – it is not always in your best interest to get a divorce finalized as quickly as possible. A family law attorney will be able to give you advice regarding the appropriateness of quick settlement and finalization of your divorce in your specific circumstances.

One of the first decisions that needs to be made in a divorce case, is where to file the petition for dissolution of marriage (or other family law action). For some, our response is very straightforward: if the children and both spouses have all lived in the same county for ten years, then it is likely that they should file in that county. If only all jurisdictional question were all that easy! In reality, jurisdiction – especially over issues relating to children – can be one of the most difficult issues in family law. While this article does not intend to cover all issues related to jurisdiction in family law cases, it does hope to provide an introduction to the concept. Jurisdictional issues can be very fact intensive and each set of circumstances may render a different result. It is advisable to discuss this issue with a family law attorney. We would be honored if you choose us.

Jurisdiction is the court’s ability to make binding decisions regarding an issue. If the court has jurisdiction (there are two types, but for these purposes we will assume the court has both types), the court is able to issue orders (ex. parenting plan, decree of dissolution, temporary orders, etc.). In most cases, if the court does not have jurisdiction, it will not be able to make decisions regarding your case, other than to dismiss the case for lack of jurisdiction. (In family law, there is a caveat to this: if you or your family is in danger, and has fled a state with jurisdiction for you or your children’s safety, the court may have emergency jurisdiction to provide a temporary order of protection.)

The first type of jurisdiction the court has to have to provide litigants any relief is personal jurisdiction. This means the court has the power to enter an order ordering either party to do something. For example, Washington has personal jurisdiction over a person living outside the state for purposes of entering a divorce decree (an order ending their marriage) and dividing property in association therewith, if s/he lived in a marital relationship in this state, may have conceived a child in this state, agrees to jurisdiction, or if the petitioning spouse continues to reside here or is a member of the armed forces stationed here. (If a person lives in the state on a permanent basis, Washington has jurisdiction to dissolve their marriage.)

As summer vacation draws near, thoughts of swimming pools, suntan lotion and backyard barbeques fill most of our minds. But for parents facing their summer parenting plan schedule, other thoughts might be coming to mind. Many families with parenting plans have one residential schedule for their children during the school year and another for the summer. This means that in the coming months, these families have to adjust to more than just getting used to seeing a bit more sun in the sky.

Kids often spend more time during the summer with the parent that they don’t reside the majority of the time with during the school year. This can mean excitement and some stress for the kids and the non-majority parent. There are adjustments to family schedules, how much food to make for meals, limits on screen-time, the setting of summer bedtimes, and more. For the parent with whom the children reside the majority of the time it can often mean less time with the kids. Some parents use this as a time to do some adults-only traveling, or a time to do some summer cleaning without frequent interruptions from the kids.

For most families, summer parenting plans can be personalized to the needs of a particular family. If the kids are young they may do better with an every-other-week rotating schedule (or perhaps even maintaining the school year schedule). When kids are older, some families choose to have a three to five week block of time with each parent. Still other families choose to maintain the school year schedule. The plan should be personalized to meet the needs of a particular family.

For some divorcing couples, the dissolution process can be relatively short. If the parties agree on the disposition of their property, where the children should reside, child support, and other details, a decree of dissolution can be entered in as little as ninety days after the filing of the petition for dissolution. However, if things are not this simple (and they usually are not) people often wonder what happens to their kids, property, child support, spousal maintenance (commonly known as alimony) and financial accounts in the time between the petition and decree. The answer is often temporary orders. (Temporary orders may also be requested and entered in other non-dissolution family law cases.)

Temporary orders are orders entered by the court that provide how issues are to be handled prior to the entry of the decree. They can limit the spouses’ rights to spend money from certain accounts, order which spouse should pay debts, order child support, order spousal maintenance, provide the parties with a temporary parenting plan, and much more. These orders can be especially helpful in situations where communication and cooperation between spouses has strained or ceased.

While temporary orders are replaced by the final orders at the time of the decree, their importance should not be underestimated. The schedule in the temporary parenting plan can have effects on the final parenting plan. The temporary maintenance and child support can have huge ramifications on the standard of living for the economically disadvantaged spouse and the children (and the paying spouse too). Court orders requiring debts be paid can save both parties’ credit.

Prior to dividing marital property during the dissolution process, a judge must characterize the marital property as community or separate. Even when a judge is not involved (in the case of private settlement or mediation/arbitration), attorneys for both parties will likely want to know what property is held as community, and what is held separately by the parties. Let’s start with a definition of community property. Community property is all property acquired during the marriage that is not separate property. RCW 26.16.030. Separate property is property received prior to (or after) the marriage and/or property received during the marriage by gift, bequest or inheritance (etc.) to one spouse only.  RCW 26.16.010. Rents, issues and profits from separate property are also considered separate property, while rents, issues and profits from community property are considered community.

Why does this matter? It matters because of how it affects a spouse’s right to manage property during marriage, as well as potentially affecting how property will be divided upon divorce. Per RCW 26.16.030, separate property may be managed during the marriage as if the party owning the property was unmarried. Community property management is limited in some regards (ex. gifting of property, transferring of real property) by a requirement that both members of the community be involved.

At the time of dissolution, the court considers the character of property (i.e. community or separate) when determining how it is to be awarded. Even after property is characterized as separate, equity may require the court award separate property of one spouse to the other spouse. In other words, just because property is deemed separate property by the court does not mean it cannot be awarded to the other spouse.

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