Each divorce case offers a unique set of complex issues for the parties to work through. Finding a way to resolve these issues can feel daunting, while doing so in a strategic and objective manner near impossible. If you’re in the throes of a divorce case or thinking about starting one, it is integral to maintain an objective view that allows you to act in the best interest of your goals. Our Bellevue divorce attorneys can help you understand this difficult process and empower you to act strategically in your best interest.Overview
In Washington state, the legal term for a divorce is the dissolution of marriage. As a no-fault divorce state, the spouse asking for the divorce need not prove the other spouse had committed some act, like adultery, that broke the marital union irretrievably. In practice, this means the court’s objective is not to determine who’s at fault for the divorce, but rather to find an equitable distribution of assets that allows both parties to maintain the relative standard of living they achieved during the marriage.
If children are involved, the paramount concern of the court is ruling in a way that protects the “best interests of the child.” Determining the “best interests of the child” is highly subjective in nature, so Washington State courts use a standardized set of criteria during their deliberations to reduce this variability. Most importantly, the court’s value stability for the children above everything else. So, in these types of cases, the courts will usually rule in favor of the parent who has spent more time raising that child.
Although this consideration is important, courts in Washington state do not base their deliberations solely on it. Just because one spouse spent more time raising their children than the other did does not necessarily mean that spouse is the better parent. Nor does it mean the spouse who spent less time raising the children should not be substantially present in the child’s lfie moving forward. Whether there are children of the marriage or not, divorce proceedings fall into one of two main categories explained below.Contested vs. Uncontested Divorces
There are two broad categories all divorces fall under: contested and uncontested. An uncontested divorce or dissolution is one in which the parties agree about the terms of the divorce. Most often these cases do not involve minor children of the marriage, as considerations related to the care of children are often contentious.
A contested divorce on the other hand, is one in which the parties disagree about one or multiple terms regarding their divorce. The most common points of contention revolve around: the division of assets and debts acquired during the marriage; whether one spouse should pay spousal support to the other; the terms of one party’s child support obligation; and how much time the children get to spend with each parent. If the parties do not have any minor children, the main area of contention usually surrounds the division of the party’s assets and debts.
If you and your spouse are thinking about getting a divorce, working to resolve disagreements privately is always the preferred option. Oftentimes though, it is worthwhile to have a second set of eyes review the case before final documents are entered. In situations like these, divorce attorneys at our Bellevue office can offer an objective review with your best interests in mind. This means ensuring the terms of the divorce are equitable while keeping costs to you as low as possible.Roadmap for Washington Divorce Cases
To begin a divorce case in Washington State, at least one party must file a set of documents called moving papers and serve these documents on the other party. For courts in Washington, the moving papers necessary to begin a divorce proceeding include: Summons, Petition for Dissolution (Divorce), Confidential Information Form, and Certificate of Dissolution. If children are involved, additional documents such as proposed parenting plans, child support orders, and child support worksheets may also be filed with the moving papers listed above. Once moving papers have been submitted, the clerk of the court will issue an Order Setting Case Schedule (ORSCS) that outlines important deadlines for the case, including the eventual trial date.
After the moving party (a.k.a., the petitioner) submits these documents to the court, they must properly serve them on the opposing party (a.k.a., the respondent). Proper service, or Service of Process as it’s formally known, is complete if and only if the respondent themselves receives the documents in person. Once proper service on the respondent is complete, they have 20 days to file a Response to Petition with the court; otherwise, the petitioner or their lawyer can move to dismiss the case. If the respondent does not object to the dismissal by the relevant deadline, the court will enter the petitioner’s proposed orders with no input from the respondent.
On the other hand, if the respondent files a response to the petition within 20 days, the case moves to phase two. For most divorce cases in Washington, the trial date is set roughly a year after the moving papers were filed. So, in phase two, both parties submit their proposed temporary orders to the court. The court’s decision between the two sets of temporary orders will structure the party’s lives until final orders are entered at trial or mediation.
In the case of a contested divorce, the courts require the parties participate in a process called Alternate Dispute Resolution (ADR). This can take the form of mediation or arbitration; the difference being that an arbitrator hears the facts of a case and makes a decision, while a mediator acts as a neutral third party who helps the parties come to a compromise. If the parties cannot resolve their issues through ADR, the court will make a determination on all contentious issues.