We welcome you and intend to provide you with professional and efficient services. Family Law includes Adoption; Child Custody; Child Support; Divorce/Dissolution of Marriage, Domestic Partnerships or Committed Intimate Relationships; Modification of Custody and/or Support; Nonparental Custody; Parenting Plans; Paternity; Property and Debt Division; Relocation; and Spousal Maintenance (Alimony).
In this section our focus is on Dissolution of Marriage and Domestic Partnerships. For information about family law Everett, WA, please "click" on the "Services" button or contact us at 425-259-2755 or email us
OVERVIEW OF THE DISSOLUTION PROCESS
Thank you for your interest in our office and our legal services. It is our goal to provide you with professional and efficient legal services. In order to make you more fully aware of the future course of your dissolution, it is important that you have full and complete information regarding the process through which your case will continue until its final conclusion.
Disclaimer: The following overview of the dissolution process is intended for information only and is not intended as a substitute for meeting personally with Gregory L. Davies and getting legal advice regarding your specific matter.
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A dissolution can be complex and confusing. Whether you decide to process your dissolution yourself or hire our office to work with you, there is no substitute for proper legal advice to ensure your dissolution is properly prepared, filed, negotiated, and finalized.
What is a Dissolution:
A dissolution is a legal proceeding in which a marriage or domestic partnership is dissolved, children of that relationship are provided for both physically and financially, the financial relationship between the parties is dealt with as are property and debts. There is a minimum mandatory 90 day waiting period to finalize a dissolution.
If you and your spouse can reach an agreement as to all of the issues (property division, debt allocation, maintenance, child support, parenting plan), the dissolution can be finalized after the mandatory ninety (90) day waiting period. Our current attorney's fees for a non-contested dissolution are listed in "Services" under "Fees."
If any issue is unresolved and is contested by your spouse, a trial before a Superior Court Judge becomes necessary. Currently, trial dates are scheduled approximately 4 months from the date of setting. If neither party requests a trial date, the case may continue for at least one year and the parties are subject to any temporary restraining or other orders that may have been obtained (support, parenting plans, use and possession of property, payment of debts) so long as the case is not dismissed or the parties reconcile.
What is a Legal Separation:
A legal separation is a separate and distinct legal proceeding in which a marriage is not dissolved, the parties remain legally married, but the parties live separate and apart and the children of that relationship are provided for both physically and financially, the financial relationship between the parties is dealt with as are the division of property and debts. There is no mandatory waiting period to finalize a legal separation.
Starting/Filing a Dissolution or Legal Separation:
Washington State has adopted pattern dissolution forms that are required to be used in dissolution proceedings. The pattern forms can be found online or purchased from the Snohomish County Superior Court Clerk. If you choose to prepare your own dissolution you will need to obtain the proper forms. Please refer to our website in “Services” under “Resources” for links to the Washington State forms website and the Snohomish County Superior Court Clerk’s website.
If you choose to hire our office to assist you with your dissolution our office will provide the appropriate pattern forms.
To start a case the appropriate initial Summons and Petition and other documents must be filed with the Snohomish County Superior Court Clerk located in the Snohomish County Superior Courthouse in Everett, Washington.
Current Filing Fee:
The current filing fee is $314.00. If you are on a limited income you may be able to apply to the court to either waive the filing fee or postpone the payment of the filing fee.
Washington State is a no-fault dissolution state, which means the court does not concern itself with the reasons why the relationship did not work out. A party’s conduct and lifestyle has no bearing on issues related to a dissolution. Generally speaking, issues arising within a dissolution are considered by the court without regard to marital misconduct. However, an exception may be a contested parenting plan which is discussed more fully below.
There are two ways to finalize a dissolution or for that matter any litigation: (1) the parties reach an agreement on all issues and therefore settle the case or (2) if there is no agreement on all issues a judge will decide the disputed issues at a trial.
It will take anywhere from approximately 91 days to 4 to 5 months to finalize a dissolution.
Generally, in contested cases, temporary orders are entered by the court for appropriate pretrial issues to include, but not limited to, mutual restraining orders, appointment of a guardian ad litem, various appropriate evaluations, a temporary parenting plan for the children, temporary child support, temporary spousal support or maintenance, temporary use of property, temporary payment of liabilities and temporary attorney’s fees and costs. These temporary orders remain in place until the court signs final dissolution documents.
The first court hearing, at which we will usually argue your case, is called a Show Cause Hearing. This hearing, held before a Family Law Court Commissioner, is generally held within two to three weeks after the case has started. The purpose of a show cause hearing is to secure temporary restraining orders, whenever necessary, as well as protective orders concerning the temporary use and possession of personal property and real estate, payment of community debts, performance of parenting functions, child support and, when appropriate, payment of maintenance and attorney's fees.
Any temporary orders issued by the court are reduced to written form, signed by the Court Commissioner, and filed in the courthouse. Copies of restraining orders as to domestic violence are also filed with the Snohomish County Sheriff's Office and stored in a police computer, so as to make police agencies more responsive to request for protection if there is a violation.
You will receive a copy of any temporary court order in your case.
It is your responsibility to:
(1.) Read and understand the terms of the order;
(2.) Comply with each and every order directed at you;
(3.) Communicate to your attorney any violations of the court order, whether by you or your spouse.
Sanctions for violation of court orders may include a jail sentence, fines, and the requirement to pay the innocent party's attorney's fees and court costs.
Both parties are required, by court rule, to provide full and complete disclosure of information to the court and the other party. The information may include providing copies of documents and other records in your possession or control or available to you. Typically, you will be requested to produce all bank records, including your personal check registers and bank statements showing all deposits, payroll stubs, income tax returns, W-2 statements, records of interest earned and dividends received. This list is not exhaustive and there may be other documents and records that would need to be disclosed.
Records not under your control may be obtained by either you or your spouse by the use of subpoenas, depositions, interrogatories, and requests for production of documents.
Agreement, Settlement or Mandatory Mediation:
Agreement or settlement is the preferred way to resolve a dissolution. Parties have more control over the final outcome, it is generally less expensive and quicker to reach an agreement or settlement. If the dissolution proceeds to trial the parties have lost control over the outcome and the expenses are greater. Parties may reach an agreement or settlement between themselves; parties may reach an agreement or settlement with the assistance of attorneys; or parties will be required to attend a mandatory mediation session with a neutral third-party mediator to try to reach an agreement or settlement.
If the parties have not reached an agreement or settlement either on their own or with the assistance of their attorneys, they are then required to attend mandatory mediation as a precondition for trial. Professional mediators generally charge between $250.00 to $300.00 per hour. Parties generally split this fee equally. Mediators expect to be paid before or at the mediation session. Parties engaging in mediation are expected to participate in good faith and make a reasonable effort to reach an agreement or settlement on any disputed issues. Parties are not required to reach an agreement or settlement and mediators have no authority to impose any decision on the parties regarding disputed issues.
Mediation sessions are confidential and neither party may disclose any discussions engaged in at mediation in any court proceeding. Mediators cannot be called as witnesses.
A trial will be necessary to resolve and finalize a dissolution if the parties are not successful in reaching an agreement or settlement. In Snohomish County a trial is assigned generally 4 to 5 months out and there is no pre-assignment of a judge for the dissolution. A dissolution only goes to trial if the parties have engaged in mandatory mediation but were not successful.
At trial a judge will listen to both sides testify and present evidence regarding their respective positions and at the conclusion of the trial will render a decision detailing how the children of that relationship are provided for both physically and financially, the financial relationship between the parties is dealt with as are property and debts.
The final dissolution documents are then prepared by either the parties or their attorneys and then presented to the court for approval. Once the final documents are approved the dissolution is final.
It is our general practice to obtain a trial date between thirty (30) to sixty (60) days after the case has begun. If you wish to have the finalization of your case delayed, please communicate that to our office within thirty (30) days.
Parenting Plan for Children:
A parenting plan is a legal document that concerns itself with the physical placement of the children with both parents. The issue of the physical placement of the children can be very complex, emotional and costly if the parties are at odds over what to do with the children.
A common misconception regarding children is that children can decide with whom they wish to live after they reach age 12 years or 14 years. Children under the age of 18 years do not have any right to choose with whom they wish to live. The parents may agree or, in the absence of an agreement, the court will decide with whom a child under the 18 years of age will reside.
Washington State has statutes and case law that deals with this issue. A judicial officer concerned with the physical placement of the children is required to consider certain factors in deciding how a parenting plan will deal with the physical placement of children. The statute directs a judicial officer to consider the following:
Limitations on Parents: A court will consider whether either one or both of the parents have any limitations that negatively impact the children or impair a parent’s ability to care for the children. This is an area in a dissolution where the concept of “no-fault” goes out the window. In contested parenting plan issues there is generally a lot of testimony and evidence presented to the court regarding the fault or misconduct of a parent.
Washington State statutes list the following limitations a court may consider:
(1) Willful abandonment that continues for an extended period of time or substantial refusal to perform parenting functions;
(2) Physical, sexual, or emotional abuse of a child;
(3) A history of acts of domestic violence or an assault or sexual assault that causes grievous bodily harm or fear of such harm; (4) The parent has been convicted as an adult of a statutorily defined sex offense;
(5) A parent’s neglect or substantial nonperformance of parenting functions;
(6) A long-term emotional or physical impairment which interferes with a parent’s ability to perform parenting functions;
(7) A long term impairment resulting from alcohol, drug or other substance abuse that interferes with a parent’s ability to perform parenting functions;
(8) The absence or substantial impairment of emotional ties between a parent and a child;
(9) The abusive use of conflict by the parent which creates the danger of serious damage to the child’s psychological development;
(10) A parent has withheld from the other parent access to the child for a protracted period of time without good cause; or
(11) Such other factors or conduct which the court expressly finds adverse to the best interests of the child.
Once the above limitations are examined the court then turns to additional factors to be considered.
The court shall make residential provisions for each child which encourage each parent to maintain a loving, stable, and nurturing relationship with the child, consistent with the child's developmental level and the family's social and economic circumstances. The child's residential schedule shall be consistent with RCW 26.09.191. Where the eleven (11) limitations listed in RCW 26.09.191 above are not applicable or do not completely effect the makeup of the child's residential schedule, the court shall consider the following additional factors:
(i) The relative strength, nature, and stability of the child's relationship with each parent;
(ii) The agreements of the parties, provided they were entered into knowingly and voluntarily;
(iii) Each parent's past and potential for future performance of parenting functions as defined in *RCW 26.09.004(3), including whether a parent has taken greater responsibility for performing parenting functions relating to the daily needs of the child;
* "Parenting functions" means those aspects of the parent-child relationship in which the parent makes decisions and performs functions necessary for the care and growth of the child. Parenting functions include:
(a) Maintaining a loving, stable, consistent, and nurturing relationship with the child;
(b) Attending to the daily needs of the child, such as feeding, clothing, physical care and grooming, supervision, health care, and day care, and engaging in other activities which are appropriate to the developmental level of the child and that are within the social and economic circumstances of the particular family;
(c) Attending to adequate education for the child, including remedial or other education essential to the best interests of the child;
(d) Assisting the child in developing and maintaining appropriate interpersonal relationships;
(e) Exercising appropriate judgment regarding the child's welfare, consistent with the child's developmental level and the family's social and economic circumstances; and
(f) Providing for the financial support of the child.
(iv) The emotional needs and developmental level of the child;
(v) The child's relationship with siblings and with other significant adults, as well as the child's involvement with his or her physical surroundings, school, or other significant activities;
(vi) The wishes of the parents and the wishes of a child who is sufficiently mature to express reasoned and independent preferences as to his or her residential schedule; and
(vii) Each parent's employment schedule, making accommodations consistent with those schedules.
Factor (i) shall be given the greatest weight.
The court requires all parents with minor children to participate in a mandatory parenting class. There is a fee for the class which is based upon a sliding scale tied to a parent’s income. Upon completion of the class, a Certificate of Completion is issued which must be filed with the court clerk.
Criminal Background Check:
Washington statutes require a criminal background check to be conducted on all adults who will be residing with minor children. These background checks are done by the court at no cost to the parties. These background checks are reviewed by the court at the time the final parenting plan is presented to the court for approval.
Guardian Ad Litem:
In contested cases involving minor children it may be appropriate for a guardian ad litem to be appointed. A guardian ad litem is a professional who represents the interests of the minor children. A guardian ad litem does an independent investigation of the circumstances surrounding the children and makes a report to the court regarding those circumstances along with recommendations for a parenting plan.
The cost of the guardian ad litem may be paid by Snohomish County if the parents’ income allows. However, in most dissolution cases the parents will be expected and required to pay the Guardian ad Litem fees.
Child Support: Washington statutes require parents to financially support their minor children. Parents cannot agree to waive child support except in certain narrow circumstances and only upon approval of the court.
A common misconception is that a parent who does not pay court ordered child support is not entitled to visitation. Child support and visitation are not dependent on each other. A parent who is not paying child support is still entitled to visitation.
Child support is based upon the income of both parents. If the parents are employed and working full-time, child support is generally easy to calculate. If one or both of the parents is working part-time, a court may use income based on full-time employment for a parent who is not working full-time for the purpose of child support calculation. Additionally, if a parent is “voluntarily unemployed or underemployed” a court may also use income based on full-time employment for such parent for the purpose of child support calculation. Examples of voluntary unemployment may include a mother who stays home to take care of children, a parent who is attending school full-time, or other such circumstances.
Once the income of both parents is calculated pursuant to statute, child support then is based upon child support schedules that have been adopted by the Washington State Legislature. A DSHS child support calculator online link is in our website in “Services” under “Resources.”
Each parent’s contribution to child support is based upon the child support schedule and the percentage of each parent’s income that goes into the total combined income of the parents.
Once child support is calculated by a court an Order of Child Support is entered by the court.
The reasonable and necessary cost of work related daycare for minor children is paid by both parties in the same percentage as their contribution to child support. This cost is in addition to child support.
The cost of reasonable extracurricular activities for minor children, if appropriate, is also paid by both parties in the same percentage as their contribution to child support. These costs are also in addition to child support.
A court generally will not require parents to contribute to a private school unless there is a history of the children attending a private school or the parents agree. The cost for private school is in addition to child support.
Both parents are financially responsible for the reasonable and necessary health care of the children. Both parents may be required to pay for healthcare insurance. All uninsured healthcare costs for minor children are paid for in the same percentage as each parent’s contribution to child support. These costs are in addition to child support.
Where Child Support Is Paid:
In most cases child support is paid to the Washington State Child Support Registry in Olympia. However, a court may direct that one parent pay their child support directly to the other parent.
The IRS tax exemptions for children may be allocated by the court between the parents.
Termination of Child Support:
In most cases child support terminates upon a child reaching the age of 18 years or graduation from high school, whichever occurs last.
Post High School Education Contribution:
In some cases parents may be required by the court to contribute to their children’s post high school education expenses; these expenses include, but are not limited to, tuition and books for college, vocational or technical education. There are a number of factors considered by the court in determining whether a parent will be required to contribute and to what extent.
Spousal Support or Maintenance:
A common misconception is that there is no alimony, spousal support or maintenance in Washington State. Depending on the parties’ financial circumstances, spousal support or maintenance may be appropriate.
Spousal support or maintenance is a legal tool that is used to provide reasonable assistance to a financially handicapped spouse by providing funds for training or retraining and/or maintaining a standard of living to result in an overall fair and equitable result. The amount and duration of spousal support or maintenance is determined by the court on a case-by-case basis.
Spousal support or maintenance is paid for a reasonable period of time in order to allow a spouse to acquire/improve his or her employment skills and return to the competitive employment market capable of generating reasonable income for him/herself in the future. A spouse is under an obligation to prepare him or herself so that he or she might become self-supporting. Washington courts generally do not award spouses support or maintenance for life. Nevertheless, spousal support or maintenance is awarded in such amounts and for such periods of time as the court deems just, without regard to marital misconduct, and after considering all relevant factors including but not limited to:
(1) The financial resources of the party seeking maintenance;
(2) The time necessary to acquire sufficient education or training to enable the party seeking maintenance to find meaningful employment;
(3) The standard of living the parties enjoyed during their marriage;
(4) The duration of the marriage;
(5) The age, physical, and emotional condition, as well as the financial obligations of the spouse seeking maintenance; and
(6) The ability of the spouse from whom maintenance is sought to meet his or her needs and financial obligations.
Division of Property and Liabilities:
A common misconception is that community property and liabilities must be divided equally. Parties’ property and liabilities are required to be divided by the court fairly and equitably. Parties are free to reach an agreement on how they divide their property and liabilities. However, if they are unable to do so a court will decide how property and debts are divided fairly and equitably. Generally, a court will start with a 50-50 division of property and liabilities and may make an unequal division of property and liabilities based upon the overall financial circumstances of the parties. The property of the parties consists of community property (generally property acquired during marriage) and separate property (generally property belonging to one party or the other). Additionally, property may consist of real estate; vehicles; bank accounts; life insurance; personal property - to include, but not limited to, furniture, appliances, electronics, antiques and musical instruments; investment accounts; pension/retirement accounts; businesses and professions. Some nontraditional property includes airline mileage plans and cell phone minutes plans.
Parties’ liabilities are those that are incurred during marriage regardless of whether the liabilities were joint or solely in the name of one or the other party.
Attorney’s Fees and Costs:
A court, in its discretion, may award attorney’s fees and costs to be paid by one party to the other party. A court will consider the respective incomes and resources of the parties and balance the needs of one party against the ability of the other spouse to pay attorney’s fees and costs of the other party.
A common misconception is that the party who wants the dissolution has to pay the attorney’s fees of the other party who does not want the dissolution.The awarding of attorney’s fees to one party or the other is based solely on need and ability to pay, not who wants a dissolution and who does not want a dissolution.
Our attorney’s fees are based on an hourly rate along with an estimate of the amount of time we believe it will take to finalize your dissolution. Our current fees are listed on our website in “Services” under “Fees.” Dissolutions that are resolved by agreement or settlement will cost less than dissolutions that are contested and must be resolved by a trial judge.
Note to Do-It-Yourselfers:
If you choose to do your own dissolution, we always recommend you have our office review your paperwork before you file it with the court. We do charge a minimal fee for this review or any other services you request. We also encourage you to consult with our office during the dissolution process as you feel the need. If, at any time, you feel overwhelmed with the dissolution process and doing it yourself we will be ready to take over your representation.
Our office keeps itemized billing records that are created at the same time as specific services provided for your case. This itemized billing statement is provided to you at the end of each month. You should review this billing statement carefully as it is not only a record of our time and charges for your case but also a record of our services provided.
Our office also prepares a written attorney fee agreement for each case. The agreement is signed by you and Gregory L. Davies. The original is kept in our client file and a copy is provided to you.
Thank you for your interest in our office and our legal services. If you have any questions concerning your dissolution (or any other legal matter), whether you hire our office work with you or you are processing your dissolution yourself, please contact our office to set up an appointment to meet with Gregory L. Davies.
To find our find out more about how our law firm can help you with your divorce or dissolution needs, contact Gregory L. Davies, Attorney at Law, in Everett, Washington. Call (425) 259-2755 or email us.