Facing up to the fact of a failing marriage and the possibility of divorce can be one of life’s most anxious moments. A divorce may affect where your children live, whether one spouse must pay support to the other spouse, how will the couple’s property be divided? Before beginning formal divorce proceedings, knowing how the process will play out can be a major source of comfort and may lead to a more favorable outcome.
The first formal step in a Washington divorce is filing a petition requesting the court to end the marriage. Before the petition is filed, however, a consultation with a capable and reputable divorce lawyer is recommended. Such a lawyer can review your situation and provide advice about how the divorce process will answer the questions mentioned above. An attorney’s advice may help a person decide whether to go ahead with the divorce or pursue some other alternative, such as marriage therapy or divorce mediation.
Once the petition is filed, the parties must begin the process – called discovery – of sharing information about their personal property, jointly owned assets such as a residence or a family business, and their wishes for custody of any children. Washington is a community property state. By law, every asset acquired by the couple after the marriage is joint property and must be equally divided in the event of divorce. This rule does not mean that every asset must be split in half. Instead, it means that the total net marital estate must be equally divided.
This process can be especially trying for a couple that has accumulated significant assets. Some individuals attempt to short-circuit the discovery process by secretly selling assets and transferring the proceeds of the sale to banks in foreign countries. This strategy does not often succeed because finding such assets may be easy for an attorney or accountant who is experienced in such searches. In addition, hiding assets is contrary to the divorce laws in Washington and may violate one or more federal statutes. Most competent divorce attorneys will advise against any attempt to hide assets.
If the spouses cannot agree on a plan for visitation and custody of the children, a struggle to resolve these disputes may become very acrimonious. Most lawyers will work hard to persuade their clients to compromise their position on parental time. If an agreement cannot be reached, the matter can be decided by the judge assigned to hear the case at trial.
Washington courts often enter temporary family law orders to resolve conflicts during the period between filing of the petition and the trial. These orders can cover child support, parenting time, harassment, the sale of assets and payment of attorneys’ fees. Not every divorce requires such orders, but a lawyer’s advice on seeking such orders is usually based upon experience and should, in most cases, be followed.
Many couples sign what are called “premarital” or “prenuptial” agreements before the marriage takes place. If the agreement has been properly executed and is otherwise valid, the court will divide assets and grant additional relief according to the terms of the agreement.
Anyone facing a divorce should consult a capable attorney for detailed advice on the divorce process. Divorce can be exceedingly painful, but a knowledgeable family law attorney can help ease the pain.