Here’s what you need to know about
Washington divorce and family law
“How much will it cost?” is certainly one of the first questions people ask attorneys when considering divorce. According to Forbes in 2022, “The median cost of a divorce in the U.S. is $7,000, while the average is between $15,000 and $20,000.” Now bear in mind, those figures include both contested and uncontested divorces.
The cost of your divorce may, of course, be quite different from these figures. If your divorce is uncontested, you may end up paying significantly less.
If yours is a complex divorce where you and your wife have substantial property and disagree about everything from the division of that property to child custody, you could be looking at well beyond $100,000. This is extremely rare.
There are a lot of factors at play. Some of the most important:
- Whether the divorce is contested or uncontested
- Whether the couple has children. That will mean determining child support, child custody, and visitation
- Whether a spouse is seeking spousal support
- The extent of the couple’s assets, particularly in a contested divorce. Is there a lot of property? Will it need to be evaluated by experts as in the case of fine art collections? Are there retirement accounts such as 401(k)s, IRAs, or pensions? Is there any real estate?
Other factors include:
- Future earnings potential
- Length of the marriage
- Whether or not either of you owns a business
The more complex your situation, the more attorney fees. Most divorce attorneys in Washington state charge hourly fees for anything beyond the simplest of divorces. Some may charge a flat fee for an uncontested divorce, particularly if it does not involve children, assets, or spousal support.
Contested or uncontested divorce is the greatest factor affecting costs
An uncontested divorce is one in which the parties agree to everything: property division, debt payment responsibility, spousal support, child support, and parenting plans that cover child custody and child visitation.
If both parties want a divorce but do not agree on one of these things, and cannot reach an agreement through mediation, they must still go to trial. So, if there is even one major issue upon which spouses do not agree, the divorce is considered contested.
If your case is contested and goes to trial, it will be several times more expensive than if you can work out your issues together or even through mediation. If you and your spouse can agree on all the major issues, you are both going to save a significant amount of money. Many cases are initially contested, but these issues are satisfied through negotiation, avoiding trial.
If your divorce is contested, costs may include:
- Attorney fees (usually higher for time spent in litigation)
- Expert witnesses
- Filing fees
- Additional fees
o Process servers to serve the complaint and motions
o Court reporter and transcripts
o Mediator fees if you go to mediation
The highest of these will usually be attorney fees. The more you and your wife can agree on issues, the more time you will save your attorneys in negotiation and court time. So, every time the two of you reach an agreement, you have reduced your attorney fees. The attorney’s job is to help you reach a settlement.
Expert witnesses may be called to prepare reports and testify before the court for a variety of reasons. Expert evaluation and court testimony may often cost thousands of dollars. The types of experts that may be called varies, but some common ones include:
- Real estate or home appraiser
- Personal property appraiser
- Forensic accountant
- Financial planner
- Vocational evaluator (assesses a party’s ability to earn income)
- Guardian ad litem
If you have been married for only a short time, have no assets, no children, and no issue of spousal support, a DIY uncontested divorce may serve you well. If there is nothing to lose or gain, it makes sense to save some money.
But if your situation is more complex than that, it is well worth the cost of an attorney to ensure property division is fair and that arrangements for spousal support, child support, Parenting Plan, and visitation do not come back to bite you down the line.
Mistakes can end up costing you a lot not just in money but in peace of mind and relationships with your children. At the very least, you should consult with a Washington state divorce attorney at the beginning of the process so they can alert you to potential pitfalls.
In most cases, each spouse pays their own attorney fees and costs. However, it is not uncommon for a court to order the financially stronger spouse to pay the Washington state divorce attorney fees and costs incurred by the other under Washington state statute RCW 26.09.140.
The judge will consider the income of each spouse, their financial obligations, and their assets. For example, if one spouse cannot afford to proceed with the divorce without help and the other is well-fixed, the court may remedy the situation by awarding reasonable attorney fees and costs to the spouse who needs it.
Many people believe that a couple must get a decree of legal separation before they can divorce. This is incorrect.
So, what’s the purpose of legal separation?
People may have a variety of reasons for seeking legal separation rather than divorce. Some may have social or religious reasons. Others may have more pragmatic reasons such as staying on a spouse’s health insurance coverage.
Or perhaps the couple is just not yet certain whether they want to legally end their marriage.
Both spouses must agree to a legal separation. If one wants legal separation and the other wants a divorce, the court is going to grant a divorce.
Differences between legal separation and divorce
- Remarriage: The primary difference between legal separation and divorce is at the end of it, those who get a decree of legal separation may not remarry. You and your wife would still technically be married. Those who are granted a divorce decree may remarry because a decree of dissolution of divorce completely dissolves the legal relationship between the spouses.
- Health Insurance: Those who are legally separated may remain on their spouse’s company-sponsored health insurance. This is a powerful incentive for many.
Similarities in legal separation and divorce
- Same major issues: All the major issues that are decided when a couple divorces are also addressed when a couple legally separates. These include division of property, child custody, child visitation, child support, and spousal maintenance.
- Same legal standard: Because both divorce and legal separation are governed by the same statute, Chapter 26.09 RCW, the same legal standards apply to both procedures. There is no legal leverage for either party in filing for one over the other.
- Same process: To get either a divorce or a legal separation, you must go through pretty much the same procedure. You present mostly the same documents to the court and you must present the same evidence. You even pay the same filing fees and use the same forms.
Right to conversion
Because all major issues are settled before you can get a legal separation, should either one of you want to unilaterally convert the legal separation to a divorce, you have that right. You do not normally need the permission of the other spouse.
There are two caveats:
1) You must wait at least six months after a decree of legal separation to request the court to convert it to a divorce.
2) You are barred from unilaterally seeking to convert your legal separation to a divorce if you and your wife signed a written agreement barring this. This might be the case if the reason you didn’t seek a divorce from the beginning was so one of you could stay on the other’s health insurance.
Assuming the above two caveats are not in play, it will take about two weeks in Washington state to convert your legal separation to a divorce. There is so little to it that there isn’t even a filing fee.
At the end of that two weeks, the court will issue an order stating your decree of legal separation has been changed to a decree of dissolution of marriage. All the issues you worked out for your legal separation can remain in place.
There need be no revisiting property division, spousal maintenance, child custody child visitation, or child support.
Divorce Lawyers for Men are Washington state divorce attorneys dedicated to getting men their legal rights in a divorce. You deserve a fair hearing regarding division of property, spousal support, child support, child custody, and child visitation.
Though laws are fairer than they were in the past, fathers can still face judges with outdated beliefs. For example, Washington state law now favors joint child custody. But if a judge decides to grant sole custody to one parent, that parent is still more likely to be the mother.
At Divorce Lawyers for Men, we reject all presumptions about where the children should live. We hold the court to the standards set by Washington state law rather than the personal beliefs of the judge.
Another area where men often face problems is visitation. If your children’s mother wants you to only have visitation every other weekend, we stand ready to fight for your right to maintain a strong bond with your children. And that requires enough time with them.
At Divorce Lawyers for Men, we will not let you suffer unfair division of property or pay unjust spousal support. We will ensure you are treated fairly from the beginning of the process until your divorce is finalized.
This is the road traveled in a typical dissolution of marriage.
1. Determine jurisdiction
Determines in which state and county court you can file for a divorce. It is usually the county in which one of the parties resides.
2. Identify the parties
The parties to the divorce are the Petitioner and the Respondent.
2a. The petitioner
The party who starts the divorce by filing and serving the Petition for Dissolution of Marriage.
2b. The respondent
The other spouse who was served with the Petition and files a Response.
3. Serve documents
Service is a required step in the litigation process. This is when you give the other party a copy of the documents filed in the court. This can be done by a professional process server or an uninterested third party. Additionally, service can be accomplished by having the other party sign an acceptance of service.
4. File a response
The document stating what the Respondent wants in the divorce.
5. Establish temporary orders
If there is no agreement, you will file a motion with the court requesting a Temporary Order to establish a parenting plan, visitation, child support, spousal support (alimony), possession of property, and payment of bills.
6. Attend required parent education classes
All divorcing parents of minor children must attend a parenting education course within 60 days of the service of the petition.
7. Discovery phase
This phase is several legal processes by which you both obtain information from, and provide information to, your spouse about issues raised.
8. Participate in mediation
A formal negotiation to resolve the disputed issues in the divorce with the assistance of a professional mediator before going to trial. This is required in some counties if there are minor children.
9. Move forward with the trial
If you are unable to resolve all issues in your divorce, you will have to go to trial and have a judge decide the issues for you.
10. Arrive at a settlement
If you and your spouse resolve all issues before trial, you can settle your case. You will present a written settlement agreement to the court. If approved, your divorce will be finalized without a trial.
Washington state has a mandatory 90-day waiting period before your divorce can be finalized even if it is uncontested.
However, if your divorce is contested, you are probably looking at six to 12 months. It all depends on the issues being contested and just how unwilling the spouses are to work toward agreement on the issues.
If you have children, it is mandatory under Washington state law that the judge approve a parenting plan before you can get divorced.
A parenting plan in Washington state is a court order that establishes child custody, child visitation, decision-making authority, and a method for future dispute resolution when both parents are not living in the same household regardless of their marital status.
Decree of dissolution of marriage
A decree of dissolution of marriage legally ends the marriage and your relationship with your spouse. It divides your assets, declares who pays debts, and orders spousal maintenance if any. If a spouse is changing their name, that will be included. If there are children, the court will enter the parenting plan and an order for child support.
Why choose Divorce Lawyers for Men
In the eyes of the court, divorce is a technical procedure that terminates the current legal relationship of the parties. Compared to your emotional state, the legal process for a Washington State divorce may seem dry and uncaring, and the numerous steps likely appear complex and confusing.
Having a knowledgeable and understanding Washington state divorce attorney will make all the difference.
As your ally in the divorce procedure, your attorney will guide you through the legal steps. Even when emotions are running high, your lawyer will make it easier to keep a clear head and make tough decisions.
To have someone on your side in your divorce, call us today at (360) 866-7393. Divorce Lawyers for Men™ attorneys will listen to you, explain the legal process to you, and work with you to develop a game plan to achieve your goals.