‘Tis the Season for ... Divorce?– Posted by Miriam R. Gordon
Interestingly, divorce filings peak in Washington State in the months of March and August—as revealed in a recent University of Washington study. Sociology professor Julie Brines and doctoral candidate Brian Serafini researched divorce filings in Washington State to investigate the effects of recession on marital stability. The pair looked through court records over a 14-year period and found a spike in filings in March and August of each year. Brines stated that this finding follows a “domestic ritual” calendar. People may attempt to give their marriage that “one last try” with a summer trip or holiday vacation, or want to wait until a certain event is over before breaking the news to the family. The study did not take into consideration the actual date of separation of the parties (many times partners will move into separate residences before they file for dissolution) or whether either party consulted an attorney and decided to wait to file. A synopsis of the study can be found here: http://www.washington.edu/news/2016/08/21/is-divorce-seasonal-uw-research-shows-biannual-spike-in-divorce-filings/.
Does the date or timing of filing for divorce matter? One issue Washington courts consider in a dissolution action is the date of separation. This can be defined as the date you and your spouse separate finances, move into separate residences, or file for divorce. The court may also look at when your marriage became “defunct.” A marriage is defunct when both parties acquiesce to a separation or accept the futility of hope for a normal marital relationship. Seizer v. Sessions, 132 Wn.2d 642, 940 P.2d 261 (1997); see also In re Marriage of Nuss, 65 Wn. App. 334, 828 P.2d 627 (1992). There are multiple factors that serve as evidence of a defunct marriage that are analyzed by the court, including whether both parties have demonstrated a marriage is over. The date of separation is also often used by the court to determine the value of community assets and liabilities. The length of marriage is a factor when establishing the duration of spousal maintenance, if applicable, making the date of separation an important marker for maintenance cases. RCW 26.09.090. Income earned after the determined date of separation is characterized as separate property. RCW 26.09.140. However, there are specific rules regarding stock and bonuses. In re Marriage of Short, 125 Wn.2d 865, 890 P.2d 12 (1995). While the Brines and Serafini study identified peak months for divorce filings, the actual date of separation, rather than simply the date of filing, is impactful on the division of property and any maintenance award. While the month a divorce is filed is of no legal consequence, the date of separation can be critically important.
If you are considering a divorce, please contact Miriam Gordon or any of the other family law attorneys at Lasher Holzapfel Sperry & Ebberson, PLLC to set an appointment to discuss separation, timing, and the many other factors to consider in the dissolution process.