Going through a divorce is often the most difficult experience in a person’s life. Divorce impacts one’s children, finances, retirement options, living situations and extended family relationships. In Washington, all property, community and separate, is before the court for just and equitable distribution. In a dissolution proceeding, the court determines whether the parties’ assets and debts are community or separate property. The court then determines the value or amount of the assets and debts. Ultimatley, the court makes a just and equitable distribution of the assets and debts.
Parenting Plans and Residential Schedules
A parenting plan is a document governing the way parents relate to one another as to the schedule of and decisions regarding the children. This includes custody, visitation, decision making, parental restrictions and other provisions involving the children. The court determines parenting plan provisions based upon an analysis as to what is in the children’s best interest.
Parents have a legal obligation to support their children financially. Typically, Washington law requires the non-custodial parent to provide support (money) to the custodial parent to assist in supporting the parties’ child. Child support is intended to pay for a child’s “basic needs” such as food and clothing. The child support transfer amount is derived by applying a formula established by the legislature based upon the parties’ income. The court has discretion in an appropriate case to deviate from the child support calculation (upward or downward) based upon a variety of factors.
In a dissolution, the court may order one party to pay the other party spousal maintenance for a certain period of time pending dissolution and after the dissolution becomes final. A basic premise relating to spousal maintenance is that one party has a “need” for support and the other party has an “ability” to pay support. The court considers several factors in determining whether to award spousal maintenance including the income of the parties, the assets the parties will have upon dissolution, the health and education of the parties and other factors. Spousal maintenance is taxable to the spouse receiving maintenance and tax deductible to the spouse paying maintenance.
The law allows parties to modify certain aspects of their final court order(s) if there has been a substantial change in circumstances. Modifications may apply to child custody, parenting plan provisions, child support, spousal maintenance and other areas. Generally, after filing a Petition for Modification, the party seeking the modification must make a threshold showing known as “adequate cause” to demonstrate to the court that the party meets the “basic” legal standards for proceeding with the Petition for Modification.
With regard to child support modifications, a party has a right to modify child support once a child turns 12 years of age.
Washington’s Relocation Act governs the procedural and substantive aspects of a child’s relocation. When a parent wishes to move (and move the child with him or her), that party must follow specific requirements as to giving the other parent notice of his or her intent to relocate. In Washington, custodial parents have a presumptive right to relocate their children when they move. The non-relocating parent may object to the relocation. If the relocation cannot be settled between the parties, the court will weigh eleven factors to determine whether or not to allow the child’s relocation. The court will also consider a new parenting plan in conjunction with a proposed relocation.
Third-party custody cases involve a party other than a biological parent seeking custody of a child. Generally, a third-party (e.g. grandparents, aunts, uncles, friends) may seek custody of a child when either the biological parents are unfit or the biological parents have voluntarily placed the child in the care of the third party petitioning for custody and it would be detrimental to the child to place the child with the parents. If the court grants a third-party’s custody petition, the court will also enter a parenting plan and order of child support.
Often, third-party custody cases arise when a child’s biological parents cannot care for him or her. The biological parents’ issues may arise from a variety of challenges including drugs, alcohol or other circumstances.
It is important to note that grandparents (or other third-parties) do not have a legal right to visitation with their grandchildren in the context of a dissolution or parentage action.
When a mother gives birth to a child and is not married to the child’s father, the law requires that paternity be established before the court recognizes the individual as the child’s father. After paternity is established, certain legal issues can be addressed by the court including the establishment of child support, medical benefits, residential schedule (custody and visitation) and decision making provisions as to the child’s upbringing and care.
Post Secondary (College) Issues
The court may order parents to pay their child’s college costs including, but not limited to, tuition, room and board, lab fees and books. The court may also order the payment of travel expenses, computers and other items. In ordering such support, courts consider factors such as the child’s age, needs, aptitudes/abilities, type of college education sought, parents’ educational levels, standard of living and current and future resources as well as the parents’ expectations for the child when the parties were together.
It is important that parents raise the issue of post-secondary support before their child turns 18 years and graduates from high school, or the court will lose jurisdiction to establish such an order.
Generally, courts do not order parents to pay a child’s college expenses beyond his or her 23rd birthday.
Pre and Post Nuptial Agreements
To avoid the uncertainty involved in litigation and a court decision dictating the division of assets and liabilities at the end of a marriage, many individuals wish to negotiate and execute agreements before or during marriage specifying how property will be divided upon dissolution of their marriage. Such an agreement can significantly reduce the cost and uncertainty of contested dissolution litigation. There are several critical components to an enforceable pre or post nuptial agreement that require skilled and precise drafting.
Whether you are in the Active or Reserve Component of the Armed Forces, your family law case will proceed in the civilian court in a manner similar to that of non-military parties. However, as a military soldier (enlisted or officer), there are many issues that impact family law cases including PCS and military relocations, deployments, BAH, retirements, tax free income, TRICARE, DFAS involvement and other issues.
We are familiar with the nuances of military life and can help you navigate through the civilian legal system in light of your military status.
Domestic Violence Issues
Both women and men are the victims of domestic violence. It is important to stop any and all violence between individuals to ensure that the victim is safe. Initially, a party seeks a temporary order of protection, and later, pursues a permanent domestic violence protection order to ensure protection from the perpetrator’s physical harm, harassment, and other forms of contact.
In the event a party is wrongfully accused of acts of domestic violence, it is important to vigorously defend against the assertions of the alleged victim to ensure that the matter is decided by the court at a hearing on the merits of the case.