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Top Divorce Myths in Washington State

Lake Diablo in Washington State
Posted on November 9, 2023 by Christina Smith

As a divorce attorney, I’ve noticed that there are a few widely held false beliefs regarding divorce laws in Washington state. Here are the most common and potentially the most dangerous for those headed for a divorce:

  1. Washington is a 50/50 State

This is false! Washington is a “community property” state but this does not mean that assets are split 50/50.  I’ve even seen websites that include this false information. Washington divides the assets and liabilities of the divorcing spouses on a “fair and equitable” basis after considering “all relevant factors.” And, yes, that can be as murky as it sounds.

  1. I Can Choose Mediation or Trial

This one is a little more nuanced.  State law does not require mediation for divorcing spouses, but it is encouraged. But King County (where Seattle is located) and some other counties require parties to engage in alternative dispute resolution before proceeding to trial in divorce cases. Mediation is the most common form of alternative dispute resolution in this context. The requirement can be waived for reasons such as domestic violence. But most Washington divorces will likely be resolved through mediation. So, at least if you live in King County, you must attempt to resolve your case in mediation before heading to trial.

  1. I’m Going to Get Sole Custody of the Kids

It is very rare for one parent to get sole custody of the children in Washington state. Washington law refers to parenting time and decision-making rather than custody.  The “primary parent” is a term that is used to describe the parent who has the children over 50% of the time. But that does not mean that the other parent does not have custody of the children, as that term is widely used. Both parents typically have custody, and their specific residential schedule is detailed in a Parenting Plan.  If you are considering a divorce and have children, it is helpful to look at a Parenting Plan form to see how the court will view these decisions. Washington Court forms can be found online at (www.courts.wa.gov/forms/).

  1. My Spouse Cheated So I Will Have An Advantage in Our Divorce

Washington is considered a no-fault state. This means that neither spouse must prove the wrongdoing of the other to obtain a divorce.  Adultery usually doesn’t matter much in a divorce when dividing assets and deciding on parenting issues.  In rare occasions, a spouse could be found to have engaged in “waste” if large amounts of money were spent on a girlfriend/boyfriend and they could be required to reimburse the community. The relevant term here is “large amounts” and it must be well documented. But adultery doesn’t usually impact the parenting plan.

  1. Washington Does Not Have Common Law Marriage

Washington’s version of common law marriage is a Committed Intimate Relationship (CIR). A CIR case is almost identical to a divorce with the exception that the court will not award spousal maintenance and separate property is not available for distribution.

If you are considering divorce and have questions about these, or other issues, the Family Law attorneys at Lasher are available to help.