Divorce Laws in Washington State: 12 Surprises

January 16, 2023

Divorce Laws in Washington are difficult, and they can sometimes be very confusing. Laws vary depending on the state where you reside. Individuals facing divorce shouldn’t attempt to handle their own divorce as there are nuances to the rules that people who aren’t professionals might not know about or understand.

When you’re facing divorce, you want to have someone on your side that is well-versed in Washington divorce laws. Your divorce lawyer will know how to handle any surprise that may come your way. In Washington State, there are 12 surprises in divorce regulations that you should know about.

1. Adultery Is Inconsequential

The first thing that might surprise you is that adultery is of no consequence when determining child custody, spousal support, or property division. Washington is considered a no-fault state. If a person doesn’t have an experienced lawyer with them, they might be surprised by the no-fault status. Bringing up the other side’s infidelity can often upset the judge rather than help the divorce case.

There are rare instances where adultery is considered relevant in a divorce case. For example, large amounts of money spent on an affair could be argued to be a waste. In that case, the innocent party could request reimbursement for half of this waste.

2. Custody Goes to the Person Who Has the Kids the Most While Separated

If there is an informal separation before the court issues an order regarding the parenting plan, whichever parent had the children more during the separation will usually win custody. Often, this happens when a husband moves out of the home but decides to leave the children with their mother. In this case, the court will assume that the informal separation carries more weight than later arguments regarding custody. Whoever had the children the most during the separation is almost guaranteed to win primary custody in a custody battle.

3. Pets Are Property

Many people think of pets as their children. However, Washington divorce laws consider pets to be property. With that being the case, you can expect the judge to apply property division laws rather than performing a custody analysis. While you may not see this as fair, that is how the law is written.

4. You Can Evade the Person Trying to Serve You Divorce Documents

Another surprising thing about Washington divorce laws is that you can evade the Service of Process without breaking any rules or regulations. That means if one person is trying to serve divorce papers on their spouse, the spouse being served can run away, hide, or avoid being served. Even though you can evade Service of Process, the court might not look kindly upon the action, and there is a good chance the papers will eventually be served anyway. It’s advisable for people to cooperate with Service of Process.

5. Trickery Is Okay When Serving Divorce Documents

If you serve someone with divorce papers, you can trick them into ensuring they are served. For example, if the person isn’t opening the door or if they are trying to hide, you can trick them into opening the door or admitting their identity. Often process servers pretend to be delivering a package, and when the person opens the door, they serve the papers. If you are going to employ trickery to serve legal documents, you can’t impersonate a firefighter or police officer because that’s illegal.

6. People Married by Common Law Can Divorce in Washington

In some instances, common-law marriages are recognized in Washington. Washington isn’t a state that typically recognizes common-law marriages. However, Washington recognizes common law marriages that happened in a common law marriage state.

For example, if the people lived together as a married couple for 20 years in a common law marriage state, like Montana, Washington would recognize their marriage for divorce purposes. If that same couple had been living together for 20 years in Washington, they would not be considered a married couple.

7. Common Law Marriage in Washington Is Called Committed Intimate Relationship

Washington does have an equivalent to common law marriage. A couple who lives together as if they are married for years is said to be in a committed intimate relationship. They are allowed by Washington law to dissolve their ties and divide their belongings and other property as they would if they had been married.

A dissolution of a committed intimate relationship and a divorce differ in one significant way. That difference relates to alimony. Judges won’t award alimony to people dissolving a committed intimate relationship.

8. Divorce Takes a Year in Washington

The average divorce in Washington State takes almost a year. Most people don’t realize how long the process is. There is more to getting a divorce than simply saying you no longer want to be married. Many decisions must be made regarding property division, spousal support, and child support.

9. The Fastest You Can Divorce Is 91 Days

The fastest divorces in Washington occur in 91 days. Even if the parties agree about every aspect of the divorce, like who will get custody of the children and how to divide the property, the divorce can’t be faster than 91 days. Washington has instituted a 90-day cooling-off period to ensure the couple is sure they want to be done with each other.

10. If You Don’t Name It a Divorce, You Can Be Done in Less Than 90 Days

If you call your divorce from each other a legal separation, you can be basically divorced without the required cooling off time. Often, you can be granted a legal separation the same day you petition if you and your spouse agree on all the terms. Legal separations can later be converted into a divorce as well.

11. Legal Separation and Divorce Are Almost the Same

A legal separation is basically the same as a divorce in Washington. For most purposes, the difference is simply terminology. Some differences can become significant for some individuals. One of the most significant differences is if you’re in a legal separation, you can’t marry someone else unless you convert the separation to a divorce.

Most other aspects of divorce and legal separations are the same. They follow the same laws, have the same procedures, have the same kind of trial at the end of a case, and have the same type of documents and relief. You get a decree, a parenting plan, child support orders, division of their property, and possible alimony.

12. People Can Be Imputed with Money They Don’t Have

The last of the 12 things you might find surprising is that Washington allows for the imputation of someone who is voluntarily unemployed or underemployed. Imputation is primarily for calculating child support, and it’s sometimes used for alimony calculations and division of property. Imputation allows the court to treat someone as if they have income, even if they don’t have it. The most common example of imputation is when a person quits their job to try to appear as if they can’t pay child support or alimony, and the court declares the party has an income they would’ve had if they hadn’t quit their job.

Sometimes, the court can apply the imputation rule in surprising ways. One example is the courts saying that if one of the people goes back to school for a degree, that person can be imputed even if they are going to school to make a better life for their children. Another example is that the law says someone can be imputed if they reduce their hours at work to care for their children. However, if someone has been a lifelong stay-at-home spouse during a long-term marriage, that person shouldn’t be imputed until they’re able to become more financially stable.

How a Washington Divorce Lawyer Can Help You in Washington

When you’re facing divorce, a qualified divorce lawyer can help you ensure that you are not making rash decisions. They can advise you on how to negotiate a divorce agreement that is in your best interest and your children’s best interests. These negotiations include the terms of your divorce, your parenting plan, property division, child support, and alimony.

These are sensitive matters, and no two divorces are exactly alike. For that reason, it’s essential to have a divorce attorney that you trust and who has experience handling divorces in Washington State. A qualified divorce lawyer can help you navigate the terms of divorce based on the current laws of the state, and they can anticipate any surprises you might face, even ones we might have missed with our list.

An experienced divorce attorney can help you understand the difference between legal custody and physical custody. They can also help you understand how child support is determined as well as the rules for dividing marital property.

Finding the Right Divorce Attorney For You in Washington

Divorce law is complicated, and each state has its own rules regarding what is or isn’t allowed in that state. Washington State has 12 rules that many individuals likely won’t expect. For a full understanding of the laws, consulting with an experienced divorce lawyer is essential.

If you have questions about divorce laws in Washington, contact the lawyers at the Aberdeen Law Firm. Call the Aberdeen Law Firm at 206-790-6430 to discuss your case with an experienced divorce lawyer.

Related Content: What is a Wife Entitled to in a Washington Divorce?

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