When divorce becomes a reality, you may have a lot of questions about the process. Divorce law works differently in Washington than in other states.
Here are ten common misconceptions people have about the divorce process in this state.
Divorce Law Misconception #1: One spouse can refuse to get divorced.
Only one spouse needs to initiate the divorce proceedings, and they become the petitioner in the case. They can cite “irreconcilable differences” as the reason for divorce and the other spouse doesn’t have to agree.
If the divorce is contested, it can take anywhere from 6-18 months to get finalized. Your divorce attorney may be able to help you move toward case resolution faster, whether that is by scheduling mediation or getting a trial date.
Mediation is effective because it takes less time and is more cost effective than taking your case to a judge. If matters cannot be resolved, the judge at trial will determine the division of assets, alimony, child custody, and all other related issues. This will ultimately happen whether both parties agree to the divorce or not.
Divorce Law Misconception #2: You can finalize the divorce immediately if it’s uncontested.
Although both parties may agree on going through with a divorce, all uncontested divorces take three months from filing to become finalized.
There is a standard 90-day waiting period from the time of filing before the divorce becomes final. This is viewed as a period when the parties may change their mind once the initial emotions of filing for divorce settle down.
Divorce Law Misconception #3: All property will be divided in half between the spouses, no matter what.
Washington is a community property state, meaning each spouse usually receives half of the marital assets. However, this isn’t always the case, and assets can be unequal after the divorce is final. This could be due to one spouse having separate property that they owned before getting married or receiving an inheritance during the marriage.
Community property includes all assets and debts acquired during a couple’s marriage. This can include the family home, cars, bank accounts, stocks, and credit card charges collected during the marriage. The court will divide this property between the parties.
Separate property will include the assets and debts each spouse had before the marriage, any property acquired by gift or inheritance during the marriage, and property covered by a prenuptial agreement.
Divorce Law Misconception #4: Inheritances are always considered separate property.
While Washington law states that inherited property or assets are not community property and belong to the spouse who acquired them, sometimes that isn’t the case. These assets can become community property through commingling.
If one spouse deposits money into the other’s bank account, the funds typically become commingled and not separate. If one spouse inherits a home and they both move in, it could be considered community property and would then become an asset to be divided between the spouses.
Divorce Law Misconception #5: Spousal support or alimony is usually for life.
The marriage length, among other factors, determines spousal support or alimony. The court will consider each spouse’s financial position and earning potential, as well as if they are caring for children at the time of divorce. Age, physical and mental health, and other financial obligations can factor into the court’s alimony decisions.
There is no blanket formula for how spousal maintenance is determined in Washington, but here are some ideas of what you can expect:
- For short-term marriages (less than 5 years), courts will generally try to put both parties back into similar financial positions to what they were in before the marriage. If both parties are healthy and able to work, the court is unlikely to award alimony.
- For medium-term marriages (up to 25 years), the court will typically award one year of spousal maintenance for every 3-4 years of marriage.
- For long-term marriages (over 25 years), the court will usually try to put both parties in an equal financial position for either the remainder of their lives or until both parties retire.
Divorce Law Misconception #6: If you commit adultery, you give up all your rights.
No, whether or not one spouse committed adultery doesn’t affect how property will be divided. Since Washington is a no-fault state, it doesn’t matter who is to blame for the failure of the marriage, at least from the legal point of view.
Adultery also doesn’t impact the judge’s ruling on alimony, custody, or child support in most instances.
Divorce Law Misconception #7: Mothers automatically get primary custody.
Each parent may petition the court for primary custody, and multiple factors are considered when deciding who will get it. In Washington State, a mother’s and father’s rights over a child are the same.
There is no single factor in determining custody in a divorce, but Washington child custody laws base a lot of the decision on the child’s relationship with each parent. Typically a parenting plan is made that gives each spouse time with the child, and the court determines custody.
Divorce Law Misconception #8: Children can choose which parent to live with.
If a child is mature enough, they can express their preference on which parent to live with. However, the court will look at many other factors when determining a parenting plan and which parent gets custody.
Some of those factors include the child’s relationship to each parent, their care needs, parents’ employment schedules, each parent’s physical and mental health, and where each parent resides in relation to the child’s established school and community.
If both parents are equally fit for custody, the child’s preference is the tie-breaker. Usually the child’s preference has more weight with the court if they are 12 years old or older. Once the final parenting plan is approved, that plan stays in place until the child is 18 or a modification is done.
Divorce Law Misconception #9: You will probably be forced to sell your home.
If a house was acquired during the marriage, it is considered community property. Washington courts divide this property 50/50.
However, the court will generally avoid forcing the sale of the home unless there isn’t any other suitable option for dividing the couple’s assets equally.
Divorce Law Misconception #10: You can only get a divorce in the state where you were married.
Washington doesn’t have any residency requirements when filing for divorce. The parties only need to reside in the state at the time of filing, as opposed to having lived here for a set amount of time beforehand.
Even if you were married in another state, there is no requirement that you must get divorced there if you are living in Washington.
Looking for More Help on Divorce Law?
You don’t have to navigate the divorce process alone. At Anderson Hunter, we have the expertise and care you need to reach successful legal results.
Schedule a consultation with one of our skilled divorce attorneys to get all your questions answered about the divorce process.