I Was Just Served Divorce Papers. Now What?
The state of Washington ranks among the 10 states with the highest divorce rates. If you have been served with divorce papers, even if you expected them, you probably have a lot of questions about what comes next.
Understanding the divorce process is a great way to lower your stress about the life change you are facing. You should also know which actions you should take, and which you should avoid.
At Curiale Hostnik PLLC, we provide knowledgeable and compassionate representation for clients in Tacoma and Pierce County, Washington, and help them navigate the divorce process.
Divorce in Washington
Washington is a no-fault state for divorce. This means one party in the marriage files for divorce on the basis that the marriage is irretrievably broken. No blame is assigned to either spouse.
Although many other states require at least one spouse to have been a resident for a period of months to be eligible to file for divorce in that state, Washington requires only that the filing spouse is currently a resident and plans to continue residence in the state.
Washington does impose a waiting period of 90 days from the date when the other spouse is served with divorce papers. The 90-day period is designed to give the couple time to work out their own settlement agreement regarding the division of assets and liabilities, spousal support, and child custody and support. If they are unable to reach an agreement during that time, the court will then schedule a trial.
What to do First
Hire an Attorney — Although you can represent yourself in a divorce, all paperwork and documents must be filed correctly and completely. If you do not, the court can dismiss the case and you begin the process over again. If you have significant assets and debts or are arguing about custody of your children, it is wise to retain a family law attorney to represent you. Retaining an experienced attorney will help ensure that your best interests are taken into consideration throughout the divorce process. Furthermore, an attorney will know how to prepare and file all the necessary documents with the court.
Review/Serve Papers — The initial document filed with the court is the “petition,” filed with the appropriate court in the county where one of the spouses resides. The petition must be accompanied by a completed Confidential Information Form that includes information such as full names, addresses, Social Security Numbers and dates of birth for both spouses, and information regarding minor children.
Once the petition has been accepted by the court, a copy must be personally “served” upon the other spouse. The filing spouse pays a $10 fee to the auditor in the county in which the registered process server resides or operates their business.
Upon receipt of service of the petition, you have 20 days to deliver your response to the filing spouse either on your own or by your lawyer. If the filing spouse has an attorney, you should submit your response to the attorney.
Protect Your Assets — Washington is a community property state, which means all marital assets are divided equally among the spouses. Property either spouse had prior to the marriage is separate and remains that spouse’s property, unless funds from both spouses were commingled during the marriage.
Division of assets is often the most contentious part of a divorce. You need to take steps to protect them during the process. Those assets include items such as bank accounts, investments, vehicles, homes, and jointly owned businesses. You can ask the court to issue temporary financial orders which restrict both spouses from spending money and designate who continues to pay bills during the interim prior to an approved settlement agreement and divorce decree. Your attorney can help you take steps to protect your spouse from liquidating assets or ramping up debt during the divorce process.
Gather Documentation — You should also use the 90-day period to gather documentation about insurance policies, investments, retirement plans, motor vehicle titles, credit card statements, and other information about community assets and debt. Likewise, gather documentation affirming any separate property you believe should be excluded from a settlement agreement.
Review Options with Legal Counsel — You should review your options for divorce with an experienced family lawyer. Those options would include whether you want to agree to an uncontested divorce, in which you and your spouse agree to the terms, or a contested divorce, which requires a trial during which the judge decides the terms. If you are caught somewhere in between the two, you could explore the option of mediation, in which a neutral party attempts to negotiate an agreement between spouses.
What Not To Do
There are also a few things you should not do until your divorce is final, such as:
Take your stress out on your kids
Refuse to see a therapist or counselor
Dismiss mediation out of hand
Increase your debt
Forget to pay your taxes and other obligations
Hastily sign a settlement agreement
How Your Attorney Can Be Instrumental in Your Divorce
Even the most amicable of divorces can be complicated. While couples can agree to general terms, they often disagree on the specific details. Divorces are emotional and impact the lives of the couple and their children in major ways. Few divorces are ever “easy.” If you have been served with divorce papers, call us now.
Hiring a team of experienced and compassionate Washington family law attorneys can make the entire process less stressful for you by placing a protective layer between you and your spouse. Your legal counsel will advocate for your best interests and those of your children. You also won’t have to worry whether or not you are filing the proper documents or complying with the legal process if you have representation to handle it for you.
At Curiale Hostnik PLLC, we are dedicated to helping our clients navigate the life-altering process of divorce. Don’t tackle this alone. We are here to help.
If you live in Tacoma, Puyallup, Gig Harbor, University Place, or elsewhere in Pierce County, Washington, call our office today.