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Legal Checklist For Divorce: What You Need To Know Before Filing

You’re unhappy and struggling in your marital relationship, and you’re looking for a solution. Divorce may be an option for you, but it is vital that you understand all of the legal, procedural, financial, and personal implications and issues related to your potential divorce.

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The Family Law Department at the Anderson Hunter Law Firm can help you through the filing of the summons, petition, motions, and all procedural processes related to your divorce. You don’t have to do it alone. Many people assume that it is fine to file for divorce without the assistance of a divorce lawyer, especially if everything is “agreed.” However, there can be significant disadvantages to doing so. 

If there are any disagreements between you and your spouse concerning the proceedings or outcomes of the divorce (division of property and possessions, support, children, etc.), it is vital to have a divorce attorney by your side to ensure that your rights are adequately represented in your case. Your lawyer can help you through the legal jargon and confusing procedures and requirements to ensure you make the right decisions for your future after the divorce. 

Sometimes one spouse tends to dominate any discussion about a divorce and the other spouse simply does not know what his or her rights may be.  For example, one spouse may assert that Washington requires a 50/50 division of assets and liabilities (not true) or that “I earned my 401(K) or pension and therefore it is mine” (no, it can be shared as part of an equitable division and can be divided without tax penalties or consequences).  If this is your situation, you need to consult with an experienced family law attorney such as those at Anderson Hunter.  The initial consultation is free and without obligation. 

For many, a divorce is the biggest financial, personal, and legally binding transaction they will ever make. Don’t make these important decisions without experienced and professional  counsel. The lawyers at Anderson Hunter have extensive experience with and strong respect from the judges and court commissioners in Snohomish, Skagit, Island, San Juan and King counties. 

Conditions Required Prior To Petitioning For Dissolution

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Legal Resident of the State of Washington

In order to file for divorce in the state of Washington, you (or your spouse) must be a legal resident of the state of the state of Washington, or a member of the military who is stationed in Washington. Only one spouse need be a resident, however. If you live in Washington and your spouse does not (or vice versa), a petition for divorce may be filed in Washington. 

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Washington is a “no fault” divorce state, meaning that the only legal requirement to file for dissolution of marriage is a representation that your marriage is “irretrievably broken.” Even if one party does not agree that the marriage is irretrievably broken, a divorce may be granted.

The Process of Mediation

In almost all counties in Washington, if the parties are not “agreed” on all issues, mediation is required before the matter can proceed to trial.   In mediation, the parties (and their attorneys) are generally in different conference rooms and a mediator (often a retired judge or senior family law attorney not associated with the case) works back and forth between the rooms in an effort to bring the parties to agreement. The mediator facilitates communication between the parties and often provides insight into what they would view as a fair and reasonable settlement.  If successful, the agreement is reduced to writing and becomes a binding contract resolving the entire case.

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Even in difficult cases, mediation is often successful in helping the parties reach a reasonable compromise. Mediation tends to be far less costly and ultimately more satisfactory--even when parties compromise--than a trial. At mediation, parties (with the help and advice of their attorneys) have the opportunity to make decisions about the outcome. This is not an opportunity you get at trial.

Some people might assume that they don’t need the help of a divorce attorney during the process of mediation. However, this is where an attorney’s assistance can be critical. Your attorney has the legal expertise to help you make good decisions about the outcome of your divorce. You are in a situation that has long term and legally binding consequences, and you should have an expert by your side to represent your case, explain the issues and proceedings, and answer the myriad of questions that you will have as the process progresses. 

Issues Involved in a Divorce

Divorce is typically an emotionally charged situation, and it is often pursued while the couple is under the pressure of very hard feelings. The emotional stress of your current relationship may seem bad right now, and it is possible that things may get worse before they get better. Attempting to work through the significant financial and personal issues involved in a divorce without a divorce attorney by your side puts you in an even more difficult situation, especially if there are disagreements between you and your spouse.

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Property Distribution

Property division can be the primary issue in a divorce. Decisions regarding what to do with the family home, vehicles, retirement accounts, investments, business interests, and various possessions are often some of the most difficult agreements to reach. A divorce lawyer can explain how Washington law defines and addresses property in a divorce, give you the legal basis to be awarded the property you are entitled to, explain the various facets of property distribution, and work to ensure a fair settlement is made. A lawyer also ensures that the property agreement you think you made is in fact the agreement reflected in the final orders.

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Child Custody

Many divorces involve minor children. Where the parties’ children will live and with whom can be a major source of conflict for the parties in a divorce. The term “custody” is frequently misunderstood. In most situations what the parties (or court, if the parties cannot agree) must determine is a residential schedule for minor children. The overarching goal is to determine a schedule that will be in the best interests of the children. Because child custody is an integral part of any divorce settlement where children are involved, it is a great help to have a divorce lawyer working with you, explaining your options and helping you through the process of establishing a plan that will be best for your kids.

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Child Support

Child support in Washington State is determined using the “Income Shares” model. Essentially, this means that both parents’ income is taken into account in determining the amount of child support that will be paid. However, deviation from this standard model can be made in certain situations - which is one of the ways that a divorce attorney can assist you through the process of establishing a fair amount of child support to be paid in the future. Because child support is an ongoing obligation for the paying parent and a source of support for the child(ren) for the receiving parent, it is important to address it properly up front. Advice from your lawyer will help you do that.

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Maintenance (fka Alimony)

Maintenance payments are generally monthly payments made from one spouse to help support the other after a divorce has occurred. There are many reasons why maintenance may (or may not) be appropriate, and although there are specific legal factors the court is to consider in a maintenance award, the reality is there is a great deal of discretion on the part of the court when it comes to awarding or denying a maintenance request.

As a part of an overall settlement in a divorce case, maintenance can be a significant consideration, worth tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars. It is especially important to have good legal advice when addressing issues related to maintenance, and where the representation of a lawyer can be invaluable.

 

It can be very hard to navigate the rough waters of a divorce without a legal expert by your side. Make sure that your interests are protected and that you begin with a real understanding of how your divorce process will unfold. The family lawyers at Anderson Hunter are ready to walk with you through your divorce, offering legal advice, taking care of the details, and ensuring that your situation is handled professionally and competently, with the least amount of stress possible. Contact Anderson Hunter to schedule a free consultation with one of our friendly, responsive and experienced family law lawyers.

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