Who’s to Blame? Does it Matter?

In some states determining whose fault it is that the marriage ends is a necessary part of the dissolution process. However, in Washington it is unnecessary to show who is to blame. A divorce may be ordered by the court without establishing that one party is at fault. In the majority of cases fault is also irrelevant to the property division, order of child support, and the parenting plan. There are, however, some circumstances when the behavior of one party during the marriage can affect the dissolution proceedings:

  1. Parenting – A spouse who acts in a way that could threaten the health or welfare of the children should be aware that his or her behavior could affect the parenting plan. If the divorce was caused by one parent being abusive, using drugs, or otherwise living in a way that could compromise the safety and/or security of the children, then who is at fault in the divorce may become relevant.
  2. Property – In limited circumstances, a party’s behavior during marriage can affect the property distribution and/or spousal maintenance. If it is found that one spouse used marital assets in a way that had no chance of benefiting the community the court may consider this when dividing assets. In determining spousal maintenance, the court may look at the behavior of the spouses during marriage.
  3. Child Support – It is unlikely that the court will consider spousal fault in determining child support. However, if the spouses divorce because of one spouse’s failure to contribute to the family finances, this may become relevant to determining child support. In most cases, the parents’ income determines child support. In circumstances where one parent is unemployed or underemployed, the court has to set a child support level based on an imputed income.

It is important that you discuss with your attorney the reason that you and your spouse are divorcing. While it will not determine whether you can get divorced in Washington, it may impact other areas of your dissolution case.

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