Top Ten Questions Divorce Clients Need to Ask
When I worked on my first divorce case I had a list of my top WA divorce questions and spent hours searching for answers. Since then, I’ve kept track of the most common divorce questions and have compiled the answers below.
As someone new to the divorce process you’ll be asking yourself many of the same questions. Here are the top 10 questions I’m asked by clients about divorce in Washington.
- Where should I file my divorce?
- Do I need to prove anything in order to file for divorce?
- What if I don’t want a divorce?
- How long will it take to divorce?
- What is the average cost of divorce in Washington?
- How do I begin the divorce process?
- Who pays the bills before the divorce finalized?
- Will all our property be divided 50/50?
- Will I be liable for my spouse’s debt?
- Will I have to pay spousal support and child support?
As complicated as divorce can be, this post will help clarify the basics so you’ll know what to expect.
1. Where should I file my divorce?
This is a two-part answer. First you’ll need to determine if Washington courts can hear your case. Second, you’ll need to select the best county.
Am I eligible to file in Washington?
In order to file for divorce in Washington, you’ll need to show that the court has jurisdiction over 1) the marriage, 2) your spouse (in some cases), and 3) any children you may have together. Simply put, jurisdiction means that a Washington court has the authority to make a legal decision regarding your divorce.
Jurisdiction Over the Marriage:
If you are Washington resident or your spouse is a Washington resident the court will have jurisdiction over the marriage. This also applies to individuals stationed in Washington as members of the armed services. In cases where there is no property or debt and there are no children, this is the only jurisdiction requirement you’ll need to meet.
A follow up question many people ask is if they need to have lived in Washington for a set amount of time before divorcing. You do not; Washington does not have a residency time requirement. Similarly, it doesn’t matter if you married outside of Washington.
Jurisdiction Over Your Spouse:
If property is divided in the divorce or spousal support is requested, the court needs jurisdiction over your spouse as well. This is also known as personal jurisdiction. Below are the three ways to establish personal jurisdiction over your spouse.
- You and your spouse lived in Washington during the marriage.
- Your spouse still lives in Washington. If your spouse lives in Washington at the time you file personal jurisdiction requirements are satisfied.
- You both conceived a child together in Washington. If your child was conceived in Washington then the court should have personal jurisdiction, which will allow them to divide the property, divide any debt, and order spousal support.
Jurisdiction Over The Children:
If you have children in your family the court will need jurisdiction over the children in order to issue a Parenting Plan and Child Support Order. Below are the most common ways a Washington court will establish jurisdiction over the children:
- The children lived in WA for the last six months. (Note: If the children are less than 6 months old, they must have lived in WA since birth.)
- If the children do not live in Washington right now, Washington was their home state some time in the last 6 months and a parent or someone acting as a parent still lives in Washington.
- The children do not have another home state.
As long as one of the above criteria applies to your children a Washington court will have jurisdiction to decide on child related issues.
Here are three other less common scenarios: a) Washington courts has already made a custody order or parenting plan for the children, b) other state or tribal courts have declined to take the case because it is better decided in WA, or c) the children qualify for temporary emergency jurisdiction.
What’s The Best Washington County To File For Divorce In?
Each county handles divorce in a slightly different way, so you can benefit from shopping around. Most spouses have 3 choices.
First, you can choose the county you live in. This is typically your best choice if your divorce is contested (parties don’t agree). You’ll be close to the courthouse if you need to attend a hearing or status conference. Also, it is close to home in case you ever return to court to modify an order.
Second, you can choose to file where your spouse lives. You may do this because you plan to move to this county after the divorce. Also, you may choose to do so if it would be a burden for your spouse to travel. Your spouse can ask the court to move the case to a different county. If the reasons are compelling, it may be smart to save money on legal fees and just start the case in county most convenient to your spouse.
Divorce By Mail
Last, you can divorce by mail in either Wahkiakum or Lincoln County. It doesn’t matter where you live as long as you meet the jurisdiction requirements above.
There are two main drawbacks to divorce by mail. One, spouses have to agree to terms. If your case is contested you won’t be eligible for this process. Two, if you need to modify the case down the road, you’ll pay a higher fee to reopen the case if it is in a new county. Typically the filing fee will be around $150 more.
The main benefit to filing by mail is convenience. You do not ever need to attend court in person. You simply send in the paperwork and wait for the court to process the divorce. Also, there is no need to attend parenting classes or family law orientation classes, which are required where I primarily practice in King County. Both classes cost money and a few hours of your time.
It’s easy to get copies of your documents from Wahkiakum County. You can request copies by filling out a form online and paying by credit card. Once the commissioner signs the forms, the clerk will either send the forms by email or through the mail.
2. Do I need to prove anything in order to file for divorce?
Washington is a no-fault divorce state. This means you don’t need to give a reason for the divorce and you’ll never be asked to show proof of why you wanted a divorce. The most you’ll be asked is for a declaration that the marriage is “irretrievably broken.” You can submit this declaration in writing or if you attend the final hearing, the commissioner will ask you in person.
In a contested case, proof will be important when it comes to property division, spousal support, and child related issues. In some cases, one spouse controls the finances and the other has no idea what’s going on with the money. In these cases you can use interrogatories to get answers.
Interrogatories are a set of questions served to the other party, which ask for all sorts of information important to divorce. The King County Bar Association provides a good sample set for family law cases, which can be easily edited and downloaded for free. Your spouse will have thirty days to respond to the questions, which will give a clear picture of financials and any other items you requested.
Also, proof is needed of spousal misconduct when determine a parenting plan. If one spouse has a history of domestic violence, substance abuse, or mental illness, you’ll want to show the court proof of these issues if they endanger the children’s health or safety.
Typically in an uncontested case, the parenting plan is agreed and the parties are aware of the assets, so the spouses skip interrogatories. Although, if you believe that your spouse may be hiding assets it’s best to play it safe and request they provide the requested information. If it is later found that they did not disclose all their assets, you’ll be able to return to court with proof that they hid assets by not including them on the interrogatories.
3. What if I don’t want a divorce?
I’ve been asked a few times, “what can I do if I don’t want a divorce” and it’s always a tough question to answer. The truth is, if your spouse is determined to file for divorce you can’t stop them. Only one spouse needs to declare that the marriage is irretrievably broken in order for the court to sign the divorce order.
If you are served with divorce papers, it’s important not to ignore them. Just because you don’t want it doesn’t mean you can stop it. In fact, if you don’t respond after being served the petition and summons the court will enter a default judgment against you and can award your spouse whatever they request without your input.
Even though it is difficult, it’s best to hire an attorney and protect your interests. Also, there is no reason that you couldn’t work with a marriage counselor even after a divorce is filed. If you have a breakthrough in the relationship, your spouse can withdraw the case.
4. How long will it take to divorce?
The shortest amount of time to complete a divorce is 90 days, but the length of time will vary based on the circumstances. Uncontested divorces, where both parties have agreed on the issues, can be finalized 90 days after filing the joint divorce petition. Courts impose a 90-day cooling off period, before they will finalize any divorce.
Contested cases last longer. The longest you should expect the case to last is through trial. I just filed a divorce petition yesterday and the trial is set for November 2019, 11 months from now. You can expect your trial date to be set a similar distance in the future.
Keep in mind, over 90% of cases settle before trial. Therefore, it is rare for a case to last the full 11 months. If you do agree to a settlement, the divorce can be finalized shortly afterwards.
5. What is the average cost of divorce in Washington?
There are four common ways to get a divorce: 1) Self-Represented Divorce, 2) Attorney Led Uncontested Divorce, 3) Collaborative Divorce, and 4) Adversarial Divorce.
Below are the price you should expect to pay for each method:
- Self Represented Divorce ($334 – $1,100)
- Attorney Led Uncontested Divorce ($800 – $2,500)
- Collaborative Divorce ($7,500 – $25,000)
- Adversarial Divorce ($15,000 – $200,000)
For an in depth discussion of the cost of divorce in Seattle, including the pros and cons of each method, read our post: How To Predict The Cost Of Your Divorce & Where You Can Save.
6. How do I begin the divorce process?
In order to begin the divorce process you’ll need to file your case at your local clerk’s office. The clerk will ask for a court-filing fee ($314 in King County) and for originals of the following forms:
- Petition for Divorce
- Confidential Information Form
- Certificate of Dissolution
- Summons (if your spouse has not signed the petition)
***Remember to make copies for yourself ahead of time.
For those in King County, you can file your forms either at the King County Courthouse in downtown Seattle or at the Maleng Justice Center in Kent.
King County Courthouse Clerk’s Office
516 3rd Ave, Room E-609
Seattle, WA 98104
Maleng Justice Center Clerk’s Office
401 4th Ave N, Room 2C
Kent, WA 98032
Alternatively, you may choose to divorce by mail in which case you’ll mail in all your required forms at once. Unlike a divorce at your local courthouse, there aren’t multiple steps. As long as your paperwork is in order, your divorce will be finalized 90 days after it is received.
If you’re interested in divorce by mail, read our post The Ultimate Guide to Divorce by Mail in Washington State.
7. Who pays the bills before the divorce is finalized?
If you and your spouse are on good enough terms to make a financial plan before the divorce is finalized, you may do so without court interference. If you can’t agree you can file temporary orders.
Temporary orders are issued to establish rules between the parties until the final divorce orders are signed. Temporary orders can cover financial items like spousal support and child support. Often they include parenting plans and sometimes protection orders.
If you plan to file temporary orders, an attorney can help you get the financial support and family time you need before the divorce is finalized. Here are some of the most common Temporary Order forms:
- Notice Of Hearing – FL All Family 185
- Motion For Temporary Family Law Order – FL Divorce 223
- Financial Declarations – FL All Family 131
- Restraining Order – FL All Family 150
- Declarations From Relevant Parties – FL All Family 135
- Temporary Family Law Order – FL Divorce 224
- Proof Of Mailing Or Hand Delivery – FL All Family 112
Once the paperwork is ready you’ll need to schedule the hearing with the court and serve your spouse the appropriate papers. In King County your hearing must be at least 14 days from the time you filed your documents with the Clerk and served copies on your spouse. Check your local court rules to determine the appropriate timeline based on where you’re filing.
8. Will all our property be divided 50/50?
The distribution of property will be different for each divorce. It will depend mostly on how much property is considered separate. In order to understand how a court will divide your property you’ll need to classify your property as community or separate.
Community property, for the most part, is any property that is acquired during the marriage. Each spouse owns community property equally and you can expect the court to divide it 50/50.
For example, if you purchased a home together during the marriage it would be considered a community asset. Similarly, the bank account where you deposit your paycheck would be community property, since the pay you earn is a community asset.
Separate property, is owned by just one spouse. If you own separate property you can expect the court to let you keep 100% of the separate property.
For example, say you owned an investment account worth $30,000 before the marriage. During the marriage you never used the account. If you then divorce, the investment account would be considered your separate property since it was never mixed in with the community assets and you would keep the $30,000 account.
If a couple has been together for over 25 years a court may divide separate property, since they tend to leave each spouse in equal positions after long term marriages.
If you mixed separate property with community property the asset can change classifications. Take the $30,000 investment account example from earlier. If during the marriage, you added and withdrew monies from the account so it became unclear, which funds were community and which were separate, the investment account would be considered community property. The court would then divide it evenly with the rest of the community property.
Gifts and inheritances are exceptions to the rule that property acquired during the marriage is community. If you receive these types of funds and keep the monies separate from community assets, the inheritance will be considered separate property.
9. Will I be liable for my spouse’s debt?
If the debt was acquired during the marriage, it is considered a community obligation. The court will divide debt from the marriage at the time of divorce and you may be held responsible for it.
Conversely, you aren’t responsible for separate debt or pre-existing debt. This is debt incurred before the marriage. For example, you won’t be on the hook for your spouse’s student loans if they took out the loans before you married.
If you plan to get a divorce and you’re worried about your spouse incurring more debt you can separate. The date of separation is a cut off point. It can be the day the divorce petition is filed or often the date one of you moved out of the shared home. After the separation date, unless a debt is incurred to pay for essentials you generally aren’t held responsible for it.
Lastly, it’s important to know that lender’s are not bound by divorce decrees. What this means, is that if your ex-spouse does not pay a debt given to him by the court the creditor may try to get payment from you even if it’s not your responsibility.
Therefore, it’s often smart to pay down as much shared debt as possible as part of the divorce. This means selling assets and using funds to remove as many obligations as possible before the final decree. By paying off as much debt as possible, instead of dividing it, you’ll be protected in the event your ex-spouse does not pay.
10. Will I have to pay spousal support or child support?
Spousal support is optional. Child support is mandatory.
It is up to the spouses whether or not they will ask for spousal support. A court will look mainly at the length of the marriage and the financial positions of the spouses when it decides how much is paid and for how long support will last.
There is no set formula in Washington for spousal support, but if you’d like to get an idea for support based on your own finances, read our post Complete Guide To Washington Spousal Support For Non-Lawyers.
If you have a dependent child, commonly any child 18 or younger who has not graduated from high school, child support is required. Unlike spousal support the state provides an exact formula based on the amount of dependent children in the family and the combined income of the parents.
Parents do have the option to ask for a deviation from the standard amount of support, which could lower the obligation. For example, in situations where a child lives with both parents exactly 50% of the time and the parents make equal income, they may agree to a very low value of support, but this is rare. Most parents will pay the amount, which is calculated by the formula. In order to determine, how much support you should expect, read our post Washington Child Support: How Much And How Long Will I Pay?