Articles Tagged with petition

When a person is served with a divorce petition they are often left feeling afraid and unsure of what to do next. There are a few things that should be done within a few days of being served with divorce papers:

  1. Read every word of every document you are served with.
  2. Repeat step number one until you feel like you understand what the documents mean.
  3. Make an appointment with a family law attorney in your area. Be sure to advise the person you are setting your appointment with that you were served with a petition (and any other documents that were included). Provide the appointment-setter with the date you were served, and when you must respond to the petition by. It will usually be twenty days from the date you were served.
  4. Spend the time between when you are served and your appointment going through all your affairs. Make copies of documents related to your assets, debts, children, income, and your spouse’s income. Keep the copies well organized and ready for reference at your first appointment.
  5. Create a list of questions you want to ask the attorney at your first meeting.
  6. At your initial meeting with an attorney you will want to discuss the three (more likely only the first two) options you have in responding to the petition: (a) you may respond with a response to petition; (b) you can respond with a counter-petition asking the court for different relief than that requested in the petitioner’s petition; and (c) you can do nothing. In most cases, this is the worst choice you could make. It can result in a default judgment in favor of the petitioner without the court hearing your side of the story.

As you can see you do have options when you are served with divorce papers. You can choose to hire an attorney, or choose to represent yourself. You can choose to complete a response to the petition or a counter-petition. In most cases, the only thing you shouldn’t do is nothing. If you do nothing you may lose rights and benefits you didn’t even know you have. The effects of having a judgment entered without your input are likely to be detrimental and enduring.

If you have been served and you want to discuss your case with a Seattle family law attorney, please contact us.

Jurisdiction is the power of a court to make decisions regarding an issue or case. In family law, questions of jurisdiction can be very simple, extremely complex, or somewhere in between. For example, if the parties (to a family law action) have children and all involved parties and children live in Washington (and the children have been in the state for six months), Washington courts will have jurisdiction. Unfortunately, things are not always this simple. Family law actions are often precipitated by one parent and/or spouse moving out of the state. So where is the proper place to file if the parties live in two different states?

Jurisdiction over most family law cases is governed by RCW 4.28.185. This permits Washington courts jurisdiction over nonresident parties (i.e., parties living outside the state) if the nonresident party may have conceived a child in the state, lived as a married couple in the state, agrees to jurisdiction in Washington, or if the petitioning party still lives here or is a member of the armed services stationed here. Please note, even if the court does not have personal jurisdiction over the nonresident party, the court may still dissolve the marriage of the parties, but it will be unable to divide property and liabilities.

Jurisdiction in cases involving child custody is governed by the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act. This act requires that jurisdiction over initial custody determinations be made by the child’s home state. (The home state may  decline jurisdiction if Washington is deemed a more appropriate forum.) The home state is the state where the child has lived for six months prior to the filing of the action. (If the child is under six months of age then the child’s home state is where the child has lived since birth.) The issue of jurisdiction can be further complicated if the child and both parents are no longer present in the state that would otherwise be deemed the child’s home state, but the child has not been in a new state long enough to create a new home state.

The first pleading in a family law case usually has to be served upon (not just mailed) the other party. In general, this means that the other party will need hand delivered the initial documents by someone of suitable age and discretion (This person cannot be a party to the suit.). (After a case has been initiated, some pleadings can be provided to the other party by mail, fax, or even email [upon agreement].) Service of the initial pleadings can set the tone of the case. There are some legal requirements for service, but these are not the only things to consider when serving the other party. Here are some other considerations:

  1. Where are your kids? If you are serving the other party, and you share children with that person, you will probably want to make sure they are served when the children are not present. It is unlikely that service in front of the children would ever help your case (or your kids).
  2. Where is the other party at the time of service? In family law cases involving money (which is most of them) you want to be sure that serving the other party does not negatively impact their ability to earn money. Getting served at work can be embarrassing, but it can also reflect negatively on the person being served. Others might not know that the service is in regard to a family law case, and may assume the worst. If the other party ends up out of a job, it can impact your case.
  3. Is the other party going to leave town? Service becomes more difficult if the other party is not in the state (and even more difficult if they are not in the country). If you know the other party is about to leave town, it is important to tell your attorney that at your first meeting. Your attorney may advise that you quickly draft initial pleadings and have the other party served before s/he leaves town.
  4. Is there another way? In some cases where parties agree that there is a legal issue to be resolved, parties can join in a petition. If the other party joins in the petition, there is no need to serve that person. This can avoid embarrassment for the party, and can start proceedings off amicably.

How and when someone is served is something you will want to discuss with your family law attorney. Please contact us if you would like to discuss this, or any other family law issue, with an attorney at  our firm.

Many people wonder when is the right time to consult with an attorney about their family law case. Often, the difficulty in making this decision results in people waiting too long to confer with an attorney. Having a client come into our office long after pleadings have been filed, arguments heard and even orders entered is often a frustrating experience. As family law attorneys we are able to see how the case might have gone differently if the person would have been represented throughout the process. Often, by the time the person comes into our office our ability to help them is severely limited by actions previously taken while unrepresented.

While each person’s case and circumstances are different, here are occasions when you may want to consider speaking with a family law attorney:

  1. If you are served with a petition, motion, notice, or other court document.
  2. If you are considering filing a petition or complaint in your family law case.
  3. If you are entering a marriage and you want to know about protecting the assets you currently have.
  4. If you are experiencing a change in circumstances in your family and want to know how it might affect your legal rights or obligations.

Just because you speak with an attorney about your case does not mean that you have to hire that attorney to represent you; however, at least you can ask that attorney what the process will be like. With more information you will be more prepared to decide whether you want to represent yourself, be represented by an attorney, or consult with an attorney, but do some of the work yourself.

Many clients seeking a divorce (called dissolution in Washington) come into our office ready get things started. By the time they’ve come to us they’ve often already done the hard work of deciding that they are emotionally prepared to leave their spouse. They are anxious to get the legal process started, and want to know how they get their spouse served. Some are worried about how their spouse may react to service. Most think of movies they’ve seen where someone knocks on the (soon-to-be-former) spouse’s door and tells them: “You’ve been served.” The served spouse usually looks shocked, angry, sad, or a combination of all three. While for some family law clients these are the responses they desire, most want a more discreet approach. There are ways to initiate your dissolution process without undue embarrassment, surprise or anger:

  1. Think about the kids. It is usually best to plan a time to serve your spouse when he or she will not have the children. (In fact, it is hard to imagine a time when it would be a good idea to serve your spouse in front of your children.) In addition to saving your spouse from the experience of being served in front of the children, you are also saving the children from the confusion and concern likely to occur as a result of seeing mom or dad served. Furthermore, it may please a decision-maker whom is made aware of extra steps being taken to protect the kids.
  2. Consider who else might bear witness to service. Serving your spouse at work or in another public place is not likely to start things off in a friendly fashion. If you’re trying to preserve goodwill between spouses, consider having your spouse served at home at a time you know they will be alone. Also, serving your spouse at work may affect their employment. This is an important consideration as both parties’ ability to earn will be considered in your dissolution negotiations and/or litigation.
  3. Consider asking the other party to join. If you and your spouse agree about what issues need to be resolved during the dissolution process, you might consider having him or her join in the petition. When the petitioner and respondent join in a petition it means that both parties are asking the court to resolve some issues (though you are free to negotiate and resolve things outside the courtroom). No one needs to be served because you both participate in filing the petition. In addition to saving your spouse from the emotional toll of being served, you can also save yourself money and time (You will not have to pay someone to serve your spouse, and the 90-day waiting period begins when the petition is filed.). There may be other ramifications to signing a joinder that should be discussed with your family law attorney.

We would be remiss not to point out that these modes of service only work in certain cases. Sometimes the element of surprise is part of a legal strategy that seeks to protect a party’s interests (safety, financial or otherwise). Sometimes, it is impossible to find a time for service that the spouse will not have an audience of either children or coworkers. As with all legal questions, this is one that should be discussed with a qualified family law attorney who understands your individual circumstances. Please contact us with your family law issues.

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.)

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