Do I really need an attorney?
It’s true that individuals can legally separate on their own, but even with a collaborative effort we highly recommend attorney assistance. Just like divorces, separations can get complicated in a hurry, and some mistakes are only apparent years after the fact. Mishandling a legal separation could prevent the sale of real estate, impact your ability to parent your children, keep the parties from properly dividing retirement/investment accounts, or prevent heirs from receiving property. Hiring an attorney to oversee the paperwork can save everyone a lot of time and effort later down the line.
It is completely normal for clients to come to an attorney with feelings of shame or guilt – as if by seeking stability and professional advice they are doing something wrong. This couldn’t be farther from the truth.
One of us doesn’t want a legal separation. Does this change anything?
Like all states in the union, Washington is a “No-Fault” state. If one spouse wants to separate, they will get to no matter the thoughts of the other party. In the same vein, the court does not ask why each party is separating. Infidelity (or similar) is generally not a legal factor in the separation process.
I have a religious marriage agreement or marriage contract. Is it enforceable in Washington court?
This will vary based on the specific terms of your religious agreement and your objectives. Get in touch with our team and share your concerns for more information.
I want to get separated quickly! How can this be accomplished?
You are in luck! If you and your spouse agree on the specific terms of your legal separation, there is no minimum wait time. This usually means that the spouses can be done with the entire process in only the time it takes for the court to process the paperwork. If your spouse does not agree, however, this may take awhile.
How expensive is a legal separation? What kind of attorney fees can I expect?
Like in a divorce, this will vary greatly between spouses. Every family is different, and many costs are primarily driven by your goals and how the other party reacts to them. This makes predicting costs notoriously difficult. What might take a few thousands for one might take tens of thousands for another.
My spouse and I have children. How does this impact the process?
Child custody and support is its own animal in parallel to the legal separation process. Not all people separating have kids, and not all people with kids are ever married, so we put the answers to your child-related questions on our child custody and support page.
How is property divided in a legal separation?
Washington is a community property state. The court decides if property is considered separate or community, but barring a few exceptions, most property acquired during a marriage is considered community and is subject to a “fair and equitable division”. The court has wide discretion to property each spouse has an interest in.
My spouse is closing accounts and hiding money from me. What can be done?
Many counties will issue a financial restraining order as an automatic part of the separation process. This order will stop both parties from making any financial decisions outside of the normal scope of business. This generally would prevent spouses from doing things like closing credit cards, liquidating accounts, selling real estate, dropping insurance, etc. Before that restraining order is served on the other party, however, you have limited recourse to retrieve funds if they are moved before the process starts. This is why it is so important to move quickly, quietly, and with processional assistance if you have concerns.
I depended on my spouse’s income to make ends meet in a shared household. Now that I am suddenly out on my own, how can I survive while the legal separation process proceeds?
Depending on the circumstances, you may be able to claim temporary support through a temporary order motion at the start of the legal separation process. Temporary orders only last if the case is pending, the intent is to temporarily ensure one spouse is not left destitute if proceedings take a long time. Circumstances vary between couples so please reach out if you want more tailored advice.
Am I entitled to any spousal support?
Spousal support (alimony) is not granted as often as it used to be in Washington State. Each spouse is generally expected to account for their own care and financial needs. When the court does order spousal support it is done in relatively narrow circumstances – like if the marriage was extremely long, or if one spouse has been out of the workforce for decades. Even then, spousal support is usually only granted for enough time for the dependent spouse to find their feet, find a job, or go back to school. There are exceptions, so get in touch if you have questions about your individual circumstance.
I am in a same-sex or religious marriage. Does this change anything about the legal process?
Thankfully, Washington does not care about the sexual orientation, religion, or ethnicity of the separating parties – the process of legal separation is the same for everyone. Our team is proud to work with clients of all backgrounds. If you have religious considerations or pronoun preferences, please alert your onboarding team. We will be happy to assist you further.
My partner and I were never legally married, but we cohabitated exclusively for years. Now that we are separating, am I entitled to any property?
Some couples who were never married can claim that they were in a Committed Intimate Relationship (CIR). Courts have defined a CIR as a “stable, marital-like relationship where both parties cohabit with knowledge that a lawful marriage between them does not exist”. If you are in a CIR, you may be entitled to divide property acquired during your relationship. Note that CIR couples can never receive spousal maintenance.
My spouse and I had a pre or post nuptial agreement. How does this impact the process?
Some couples choose to enter into private agreements. These agreements can cover a variety of topics, including finances, property divisions, dispute resolution, and spousal maintenance. How your agreement might impact your divorce will depend on its language, and under what circumstances the agreement was drafted.
Keep in mind that courts do not generally enforce provisions of nuptial agreements that address parenting and custody of children. The court reasons that parties cannot possibly know what arrangement will be in the best interest of the children years or decades ahead of time. You will likely need to navigate the custody system along with everyone else.
My spouse is hiding and is trying to avoid service. What can be done?
This is frustrating, but don’t fret. Our office has extensive experience with dealing with belligerent and uncooperative partners. Whether they hide in another state or overseas, we have tools not available to the public to track them down and serve them. If needed, we can also request that the court permit service by mail to the last known address, or service by publication in a journal of general circulation.
I have another question that wasn’t addressed here. Where can I go for more information?
Above are many of the most common divorce related questions, but there is more you probably want to know. Our office offers consultations and case evaluations with an experienced attorney so we can get to know you and your objectives better. Get in touch and we will be happy to answer your questions.