Contested vs. Uncontested Divorce
You must wait 90 days after filing the petition and serving notice on your spouse (which could happen on separate days) before you can enter final orders. If you have an agreement in place with your spouse – called an uncontested divorce – you can file it once the 90 days have passed. If there is no agreement and you cannot reach one, then the divorce will become “contested” during court proceedings, and the judge will have the final say.
Community Property State
One big issue to be decided either in an uncontested or contested divorce is the division of assets and property. Washington is a community property state, meaning everything earned and acquired during the marriage belongs equally to both spouses, including debts. That means a home purchased together is community property, as is all other real property, such as cars, furniture, and the like. One spouse’s assets accumulated during the marriage for a retirement account are also jointly owned, but only during the time of the actual marriage, not before or after.
Personal property is anything one spouse acquired or owned before marriage, or acquired through sole inheritance or gift during the marriage. A spouse having personal property will most likely retain that property in the divorce. However, if one spouse moves in to live in a home that is the personal property of the other spouse, that spouse may be eligible for a portion of the home’s appreciation in value.
Even with the community property standard, the court will aim for what is called a “just and equitable division.” This means that assets and property may be divided so that both spouses end up with an equal living standard, or the spouse with custody (called “decision-making authority” in Washington) is provided the means to care for the children.
Parenting Time & Maintenance Payments
Among the other issues to be resolved mutually, or by the court, are parenting time and child/spousal support payments (called “maintenance” in Washington). Parenting time involves arrangements for each spouse to spend time with the children. If one spouse has custody, the other spouse should have visitation rights or time allotted to spend with the children at his or her residence.
The other side of the equation is whether one spouse should provide financial support to the other while the children are growing up. This can take the form of what is traditionally referred to as child support payments. If left to the court, maintenance payments will hinge largely on economic and “best interest of the children” issues.
Alimony or spousal maintenance may also be awarded so that neither spouse is left destitute during or after a divorce. If the custodial spouse spent years at home bringing up the children while earning little or no money, that spouse will likely be awarded maintenance.
Work With an Experienced
Family Law Attorney
When considering divorce, you should – if at all possible – aim for an “uncontested” resolution. This means that the two of you should agree among yourselves on all the details, such as asset division, parenting responsibilities, and maintenance payments. If left to the court to decide, these issues could become lingering sores far into the future, and one spouse may even feel cheated.
Especially when children and community assets are involved, divorce should never be done without the advice and counsel of experienced family attorneys, who can help you weigh your options and arrive at mutually beneficial decisions accordingly.