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Family Law

Family law includes divorce, legal separation, residential schedules, parentage (paternity), modifications of parenting plans and child support orders.

Divorce and legal separation are similar actions. They both deal with dividing the property, both real (land) and personal, and debts acquired by the parties. Also, if there are children involved, both actions will result in creating a parenting plan and child support orders. Maintenance or alimony (support of a spouse) will be addressed in both actions as will whether one party pays a portion of the other party's attorney fees. In a divorce action the marriage will be dissolved but in a legal separation action the parties remain married, but after 6 months either party can request that the legal separation decree be converted into a divorce decree.

If you are thinking about divorce or legal separation, it is best to create a list of all the property you own. You should consider the value of each of your assets and support that valuation as best you can. For example, obtaining a copy of Kelly Blue Book estimates for value of vehicles or obtaining an appraisal of a home. Don't forget assets like season tickets for sports teams like the Mariners or Seahawks, retirement benefits for either or both spouses, investment accounts or vacation properties or time shares.

You should also come up with a list of debts and put a value on those debts. This can easily be done by simply making a copy of the most recent bill or statement.

Even if you are thinking about handling your case yourself (acting pro se) you should at least consider seeing a lawyer to discuss any issues or questions you may have. Paying for a consultation at the beginning can save lots of money later on by addressing issues which you may not have thought of or you have questions you can't find the answers to.

Frequently Asked Questions About Divorce

Do I need a lawyer?
You have a right to represent yourself in any legal action. However, it is not always wise to do so, and the more complex your case the less advantageous it is to represent yourself. While some aspects of the case may appear to be simple, oftentimes you can overlook subtle issues and by doing so put yourself at a disadvantage. One way to think of about whether you need a lawyer is to think about the engine in your car. If you can tune up the engine in your car, you don’t need a mechanic to do it. However, if you don’t know the first thing about car engines, you would be well advised to hire a mechanic to tune it up. The same can be said for fling a divorce action. If you have no idea how to go about filing a divorce, it is probably a good idea to retain an attorney.

I have filed the divorce action. Now what?
Once you have filed a divorce action in King County, you are given a case schedule which sets forth certain deadlines including providing you with a trial date. However, nothing happens immediately after you file the divorce action unless you take steps to bring a motion before the court to resolve some issues on a temporary basis. These issues typically are who the primary parent will be until the divorce trial or settlement, who pays child support and how much, who lives in the home pending the trial, who gets to use certain property and does your spouse have to pay any of your attorneys fees. These issues, and others, have to be handled in a motion for temporary relief. The motion for temporary relief is typically filed at the same time you filed the divorce case.

What is a divorce?
A divorce is the legal action to dissolve a marriage and to resolve who gets the property the parties have acquired over the years, either individually or as a community, as well as dividing the debts and determining who the primary parent of the children, if any, will be as well as providing residential time with the children for the non-primary parent. Other issues are also resolved including maintenance or alimony and whether one party pays the other party’s attorneys fees or a portion of those fees. Simply put, a divorce action resolves all the issues between the parties relative to property, debt and children.

How much does a dissolution cost?
The cost for a divorce varies greatly from attorney to attorney but also based on the complexity of the divorce. There is no maximum fee you can expect to pay.

How do we deal with parenting and visitation?
The parties must agree on a parenting plan or the court will impose a parenting plan on the parties. A parenting plan provides each party with a schedule which determines where the children will be at any time during the year. The person who has the children with him or her the majority of the time is typically called the primary parent. Washington courts no longer use the term “custody” but now use the phrase “primary parent” in lieu of custody.