360-718-2235 | Advocates for Accountability

Family Law FAQs

Dissolution of Marriage

Are grounds for divorce required?
No. Washington is a no-fault divorce state. Only a general statement needs to be made, claiming that the marriage is “irretrievably broken”. No additional explanation will be necessary.
How long between the filing of the Petition and the finalization of the divorce?
90 days must pass between the time that the Petition is filed and the finalization of the divorce. Usually, only those cases in which all issues are agreed are finalized upon the completion of the 90 days.
What are the typical steps in the divorce process?
The party who files the Petition is called the “Petitioner”. The other party is called the “Respondent”. After the papers are filed by the Petitioner, they must be served on the Respondent. If they are served in the State, the Respondent will have 20 days to respond. If they are served out of state, the Respondent will have up to 90 days to respond depending upon the circumstances. If the Respondent does not respond, the Petitioner can enter the final papers by default. If the Respondent does respond, typically, one party will request a temporary orders hearing. There, the Court will temporarily address the use of the property, placement of the children, child support, maintenance, division of debts and any other issues that need to be dealt with. The parties may engage in discovery, where documents are exchanged. Additional hearings may be necessary if issues arise during the pendency of the proceeding. If at any time the parties reach agreement, the divorce can be finalized, provided that 90 days have passed from the date of filing. If the parties are unable to reach agreement, one party will request that the case be set for trial. In Clark County, Washington, this would put the case on track for a formal settlement conference. This is a scheduled time to meet with a judge or commissioner in an attempt to resolve the case short of trial. If the parties settle, the matter will be placed on the record and final papers prepared and entered. If no settlement is reached, the case will be assigned a trial date. At trial both sides will present their positions. The Court will make the decisions based on the evidence presented. From that decision, final papers will be prepared and entered, and the process will be complete.
Can the Courts recognize non-marital relationships and make awards to the parties?
Yes. The court can determine that there is a meretricious relationship and make a just and equitable distribution of the property accumulated during the relationship. A meretricious relationship is defined as a stable, marital-like relationship, where the parties live together knowing that there is no marriage. The Court will consider whether or not the parties continuously lived together, the length of the relationship, the purpose of the relationship, whether or not the parties combined their resources, and what the intent of the parties was.
Can the Court use this theory to divide assets in a same-sex relationship?
This is a growing area of the law. You will want to check with an attorney regarding recent developments and possible theories of recovery.
When can the Court modify a parenting plan?
There is a strong preference for keeping continuity and stability for children. The Court must find that a substantial change has occurred in the circumstances of the child or in the party that is not seeking the modification. The Court must also find that the modification is necessary to serve the best interests of the child. The Court is only allowed to consider facts that have arisen since the entry of the previous parenting plan, or facts that were unknown at the time the previous parenting plan was entered.
Is it easy to get a parenting plan modified?

A parenting plan will not be modified unless one of the following factors are present:

  • the parents agree to the modification;
  • the child has been integrated into the home of the moving party with the consent of the other parent in substantial deviation from the parenting plan;
  • the child’s present environment is detrimental to the child’s physical, mental or emotional health and the harm likely to be cause by a change of environment is outweighed by the advantage of a change to the child; or
  • the non-moving party has been found in contempt of court at least twice within three years because that parent failed to comply with the residential provisions in the parenting plan, or the parent has been convicted of custodial interference.
How do parenting plan modifications proceed?
The party requesting the change files a petition to modify the parenting plan. The other party has an opportunity to answer. An adequate cause hearing must be held to determine whether or not there are grounds on which to proceed. Adequate cause is necessary to prevent children from being moved around unnecessarily. Typically, the adequate cause hearing is done on written affidavits only. If the Court determines that there is adequate cause, the moving party may seek temporary orders and proceed to set a hearing for the actual modification of the parenting plan. If no adequate cause is found, the petition for modification will be dismissed.
Do all adjustments to the parenting plan require that this type of modification be done?

No. Sometimes, parents need to adjust the schedule in a relatively minor way, or need to change the dispute resolution paragraph. This is deemed to be a “minor modification” when the request is not to change the residence the child is scheduled to reside in the majority of the time and if it:

  1. does not exceed twenty-four full days in a calendar year or five full days in a calendar month; or
  2. is based on a change of residence or an involuntary change in work schedule by a parent which makes the current plan impractical.

In minor modifications, the moving party must demonstrate that there is a substantial change in the circumstances of the child or of either party, rather than the other party – as is required in a “major modification” discussed above. The factors outlined above regarding when a parenting plan will be modified to not apply to minor modifications.

When can child support be modified?
Child Support can be modified at any time upon a showing of a substantial change in circumstances. This often equates to an increase or decrease in income of one of the parties. Many modifications are done because the old order works a severe economic hardship on a party or the child, the child has changed age categories, or there is a need to extend support beyond the child reaching the age of 18. Many other orders are modified every 2 years because of income changes.
How does the modification proceeding work?
The person requesting the change files a Petition for Support Modification and other required documentation. This documentation is served on the other party. Proof of service must be filed with the clerk of the Court. The responding party will have 20 days to respond if served in the State. If served out of State, they will have 60 days to respond. If they do not respond, you can obtain a default judgment and default order. If they do respond, a hearing will be set to determine whether or not the child support amount should be changed. Documentation evidencing incomes, such as tax returns, pay stubs, W-2’s shall be exchanged and provided to the Court. The Court will review this documentation and set support accordingly.
Who is entitled to receive maintenance?
Either spouse may be entitled to support, without consideration of marital misconduct, in an amount and duration of time that the Court deems just.

Dissolution of Marriage: Child Support and Custody

Who will the children live with?
A Parenting Plan will be entered by the Court to cover where and with whom the children should primarily reside, and visitation with the other party. If the parties cannot agree on placement, the Court may appoint a Guardian Ad Litem to conduct an investigation and report back to the Court regarding placement. The Court may also order an investigation/evaluation by Family Court Services. The Court will make its decision based on its review of all of this information and considering the “best interests” of the children.
At what age can a child decide which parent they would like to live with?
There is no set age at which a child would be deemed able to make such a decision. The older the child, the more input/weight such statements would be given, depending on the circumstances. The child may prefer one parent over the other because the preferred parent allows the child to do whatever they want to do. That is not always in the child’s best interest. Typically, a child’s preferences will be considered by the Court if voiced to a Guardian Ad Litem or other professional that is working with the child.
Do I have to pay child support?
Every parent has a duty to financially support their children. Child support is set according to the combined monthly net incomes of the parents, and the number of children involved, as well as the ages of the children. Each party will be required to provide information documenting their income, and the support schedule will be consulted. The amount of child support can also depend on day care expenses, health care expenses, educational expenses and other factors.
What if I don’t have a job?
Even if you have lost your job through no fault of your own, the duty of financial support remains. The statutory minimum for child support is $25 per month per child. The Court may set support at that level for a while to allow you to become re-employed. On the other hand, if the Court finds that you have voluntarily left your job, the Court may impute income to you in setting the child support amount. The figure used depends upon your age and sex and is based on the US Bureau of Census Median Income figures.
Is child support required for my college student?
The Court has the ability to order a parent to pay post secondary educational support for a child who is over the age of 18 and dependent. In deciding whether or not to do so, the Court considers a variety of factors. This would include things such as the age of the child, the needs of the child, what the parent’s expected for the child’s college education when they were together, the child’s aptitude and ability, the type of schooling the child is planning on obtaining, the parents resources and level of education, and others. If you have an order of child support that does not address post secondary educational support, you may want to file a petition for support modification to request this type of support. You will also want to check the language in your order as many orders were drafted with language which required a parent seeking this type of support to do so prior to the expiration of the regular support – which usually stated that child support be paid until the child turns 18 or graduates high school, whichever occurs last. Failure to initiate the request for post secondary education before this deadline may prohibit you from doing so.

Dissolution of Marriage: Cohabitation

Can the Courts recognize non-marital relationships and make awards to the parties?
Yes. The court can determine that there is a meretricious relationship and make a just and equitable distribution of the property accumulated during the relationship. A meretricious relationship is defined as a stable, marital-like relationship, where the parties live together knowing that there is no marriage. The Court will consider whether or not the parties continuously lived together, the length of the relationship, the purpose of the relationship, whether or not the parties combined their resources, and what the intent of the parties was.
Can the Court use this theory to divide assets in a same-sex relationship?
This is a growing area of the law. You will want to check with an attorney regarding recent developments and possible theories of recovery.

Dissolution of Marriage: Modifications

When can the Court modify a parenting plan?
There is a strong preference for keeping continuity and stability for children. The Court must find that a substantial change has occurred in the circumstances of the child or in the party that is not seeking the modification. The Court must also find that the modification is necessary to serve the best interests of the child. The Court is only allowed to consider facts that have arisen since the entry of the previous parenting plan, or facts that were unknown at the time the previous parenting plan was entered.
Is it easy to get a parenting plan modified?

A parenting plan will not be modified unless one of the following factors are present:

  • the parents agree to the modification;
  • the child has been integrated into the home of the moving party with the consent of the other parent in substantial deviation from the parenting plan;
  • the child’s present environment is detrimental to the child’s physical, mental or emotional health and the harm likely to be cause by a change of environment is outweighed by the advantage of a change to the child; or
  • the non-moving party has been found in contempt of court at least twice within three years because that parent failed to comply with the residential provisions in the parenting plan, or the parent has been convicted of custodial interference.
How do parenting plan modifications proceed?
The party requesting the change files a petition to modify the parenting plan. The other party has an opportunity to answer. An adequate cause hearing must be held to determine whether or not there are grounds on which to proceed. Adequate cause is necessary to prevent children from being moved around unnecessarily. Typically, the adequate cause hearing is done on written affidavits only. If the Court determines that there is adequate cause, the moving party may seek temporary orders and proceed to set a hearing for the actual modification of the parenting plan. If no adequate cause is found, the petition for modification will be dismissed.
Do all adjustments to the parenting plan require that this type of modification be done?

No. Sometimes, parents need to adjust the schedule in a relatively minor way, or need to change the dispute resolution paragraph. This is deemed to be a “minor modification” when the request is not to change the residence the child is scheduled to reside in the majority of the time and if it:

  1. does not exceed twenty-four full days in a calendar year or five full days in a calendar month; or
  2. is based on a change of residence or an involuntary change in work schedule by a parent which makes the current plan impractical.

In minor modifications, the moving party must demonstrate that there is a substantial change in the circumstances of the child or of either party, rather than the other party – as is required in a “major modification” discussed above. The factors outlined above regarding when a parenting plan will be modified to not apply to minor modifications.

When can child support be modified?
Child Support can be modified at any time upon a showing of a substantial change in circumstances. This often equates to an increase or decrease in income of one of the parties. Many modifications are done because the old order works a severe economic hardship on a party or the child, the child has changed age categories, or there is a need to extend support beyond the child reaching the age of 18. Many other orders are modified every 2 years because of income changes.
How does the modification proceeding work?
The person requesting the change files a Petition for Support Modification and other required documentation. This documentation is served on the other party. Proof of service must be filed with the clerk of the Court. The responding party will have 20 days to respond if served in the State. If served out of State, they will have 60 days to respond. If they do not respond, you can obtain a default judgment and default order. If they do respond, a hearing will be set to determine whether or not the child support amount should be changed. Documentation evidencing incomes, such as tax returns, pay stubs, W-2’s shall be exchanged and provided to the Court. The Court will review this documentation and set support accordingly.

Dissolution of Marriage: Spousal Support/Maintenance

Who is entitled to receive maintenance?
Either spouse may be entitled to support, without consideration of marital misconduct, in an amount and duration of time that the Court deems just.
How does the Court decide who will receive maintenance?
Maintenance is decided on a case by case basis. In making the determination as to whether or not maintenance should be given, the Court looks primarily at whether or not the party requesting the support actually needs it, and whether or not the person being asked to pay support has the ability to do so. When considering whether or not there is a need, the Court may consider whether or not the party requesting maintenance has the ability to independently meet his or her needs, taking into consideration the receipt of child support payments for a child living with that party; the time it would take for the person requesting maintenance to acquire education or training that would enable him or her to find appropriate employment; the standard of living established during the marriage; the duration of the marriage, and the age, physical and emotional condition, as well as the financial obligations of the party seeking maintenance. When considering whether or not the other party has the ability to pay, the Court may consider whether or not that party can meet his or her needs and financial obligations while at the same time meeting those of the requesting party.
If the Court orders temporary maintenance, does that mean it will be permanent?
No. Each case is different. Some situations would only require that maintenance be paid during the pendency of the proceeding. Others would warrant that maintenance continue for months or years past the finalization of the dissolution proceeding. Some cases may require the payment of maintenance until the death or remarriage of the party receiving maintenance.
If maintenance is awarded past the entry of the Decree of Dissolution, can it be modified?
This depends greatly on what the Decree states. Maintenance can be non-modifiable if specifically set forth as such. If not specified, maintenance may be modified upon a showing of substantial change in circumstance.

Paternity

Who can bring a paternity action?

A paternity action can actually be brought by the child, the mother, a man who believes he is the father, the child’s guardian, the child’s personal representative, the State of Washington or any other interested party.

What situations cause paternity actions to be brought?

Paternity cases are usually filed due to other related issues. One typical situation is that of a woman seeking child support for a child, who needs to establish that a certain man is the father of the child so that child support can be ordered. Another common situation is that of a man being denied access to a child that he believes is his, and he wants to establish paternity so that the Court can order visitation/primary residential placement.

How is paternity established?

Paternity is established through genetic testing through blood or saliva. The test results usually take a few weeks and will typically confirm that the person is the parent by greater than 99% probability, or will exclude the person as the parent of the child.

What happens after the test results are received?

If the test results indicate that there is a parent/child relationship, then the Court will enter an order establishing the parent/child relationship, and child support will be set, as well as visitation with the child. State law previously required a guardian ad litem to be appointed in every paternity case. This has recently been changed. A guardian ad litem may still be appointed in cases where the Court deems their input necessary.

Contact Us

If we can be of service to you, please call us at (360) 718-2235 or click here and one of our attorneys will contact you promptly.