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Family law is one of the most complicated and misunderstood parts of our legal system. Every day in court, judges must inform and educate people who are trying to get divorced, modify their custody arrangements or relocate to another state. It’s a frustrating process for everyone, full of heartache and fear.
You need to understand your rights and be able to have confidence in your future. So often, a bitter and angry spouse can make all sorts of claims that sound scary and are meant to intimidate their partner into giving them what they want. Things like, “You’ll never see the children,” or “This is all my money, and if you leave, you leave with nothing.”
In this article, we’re going to highlight the seven most popular myths and questions that abound in Clark County Washington family court. Recognize there are many more misconceptions and you likely have some of your own. Your best decision is to hire an attorney who can navigate these complicated waters for you. We have both male and female divorce attorneys. Contact us and let’s talk. We’d like to help you create a brighter future for you and your family.
In this day and time, we marry for love, but we divorce for many reasons. By the time we call it quits, we are angry, disillusioned, and frightened. These powerful emotions can bring out the worst in each of us and lead us to make bad decisions. It doesn’t help that our legal system leans toward an adversarial mindset.
However, the truth is, divorce does NOT have to be a battle. During the last thirty years, studies have proven that couples who can separate without high conflict and fighting, have much better outcomes in the area of mental health, financial well-being and parenting. So how do we avoid the trap of conflict?
The simple answer is finding the right attorney and method of ending the relationship and building a brighter future. The right attorney, preferably a local one within driving distance of the Evergreen, understands that fighting for the sake of fighting doesn’t help anyone.
Yes, it’s true that sometimes you need a strong advocate who can push back against a bully. However, the best tactic divorce lawyers can employ is to convince the other side it’s not worth the fight. The more you fight, the more your money ends up in your attorney’s pocket, and down the road, when the dust has settled, you’ll be shaking your head that you fought over things that didn’t matter.
There are at least two incredibly effective ways to divorce that don’t follow the traditional path of fighting it out.
Before you dismiss the idea, know this: mediation puts the control in your hands, not a judge who doesn’t know you and has to make life-impacting decisions with very little information. While judges do their best, couples who choose to mediate, report that they are happier than those who let a judge make decisions. Even if you can’t mediate all issues, it makes sense to sit down and work out as many things as you can. Additionally, you can still have a local attorney that works with clients in Evergreen help you with your mediation, so you can be assured to achieve a fair resolution.
This is another empowering way to disentangle a relationship. In a traditional divorce, spouses will “lawyer up” and then work to get the best advantage for themselves. Collaborative law is best defined as each spouse chooses a collaboratively trained attorney and the parties meet with their attorneys and share financial information, work schedules, future goals, and parenting roles. All the information is shared for the benefit of everyone.
Sometimes an expert might be brought in to help, such as a real estate agent, financial investment broker, or even a therapist. Everyone works together until all the issues are agreed. The biggest winner in this situation? Children! One rule that helps this work is if the process breaks down, neither attorney may represent you in court and both parties must find new attorneys and start all over. Again, some of the best stories of healing, and good co-parenting relationships come from couples using collaborative law.
The choice is yours: Fight or Don’t Fight, but the results are in: couples who avoid as much conflict as possible, have fewer regrets and are happier with the outcomes.
There was a time when Mothers almost always got custody of the children in a divorce. Those were the days when the majority of mothers didn’t work outside the home as they were the primary caregivers of children. Household and family duties were divided by gender. Fathers went off to work, mothers took care of the home and had supper on the table each evening.
In the 1960s, the standard parenting plan in a divorce gave mothers primary custody and fathers received every other weekend, and if they were lucky, a Wednesday evening visit with their child. Unfortunately, by the late 1980s, numerous studies showed that this plan also called the “Dad plan,” was an undeniable failure. Fathers became “Disneyland Dads,” with no responsibility to ensure the kids went to school, did their homework, went to soccer or made it to the dentist. As a result, the bond and attachment suffered between Father and children and many fathers stopped paying child support.
Today, most mothers are working outside the home, and household duties are more equitably divided. Fathers are taking a much more active role in their children’s lives, and divorce doesn’t have to change that. More and more studies are being done that are highlighting the importance of a father’s relationship with their children.
The Association of Family and Conciliation Courts (AFCC), an international organization dedicated to education and support of professionals and families involved in the court system, states that children fare significantly better when they have a strong relationship with BOTH parents. In cases where one parent has been less involved in the day-to-day care of their children, but who wish to take a more active part, there are supporting parenting plans that can ramp up that parent’s time, allowing for a period of adjustment.
Judges, as well as most Washington state child custody lawyers, also see the benefit of shared parenting. Guardian ad Litems* and mental health professionals advocate for the creation of parenting plans that allow both parents to be as involved with their children as possible. RCW 26.09.187 states that “the court shall make residential provisions for each child, which encourage each parent to maintain a loving, stable and nurturing relationship with the child, consistent with the child’s developmental level and the family’s social and economic circumstances.”
* “When a person involved in a suit cannot adequately represent his or her interests, the court may appoint a guardian ad litem to protect the person’s interests. Courts most frequently appoint guardians ad litem in parents’ disputes over custody of their children.”
This is the number one myth that is thrown around when families divorce. While there are two states (Georgia and West Virginia) that allow a child over fourteen to choose which parent they live with, the majority of states do not. Here in Washington state, the judge may take into consideration the preferences of a child, however, there is no statute allowing a child this choice.
So why doesn’t a child get to pick? First and foremost is, that child is typically bonded and attached to both parents and to ask them to pick a parent is tantamount to abuse. Nothing good comes from this, as the child feels guilty for not choosing one parent and the parent who doesn’t get chosen feels rejected and often will distance themselves from their child, while the parent who was chosen may begin using this as a weapon.
Many teenagers would choose the parent who is most lenient with the least amount of rules and structure. That doesn’t make them a bad child; it’s a normal response. Of course, not every child would make the same choice, but the courts purposely avoid that possibility.
Washington state statute RCW 26.09.187 outlines the provisions the judge does take into consideration when creating a permanent parenting plan for divorcing parents (this also includes unmarried parents).
Most important is this:
After that, the following is then considered:
Every family is different, and the truth is, there’s no perfect plan for everyone. The best solution is for parents to work together to provide two homes that are stable, loving and supportive.
Finding out your spouse has cheated on you, can be one of the most devastating moments of your life. Feelings of betrayal, loss, and anger may be so overwhelming that logic and reason are hard to grasp. On learning of this dishonesty, you might even begin to wonder if there are more secrets and lies, and the lens through which you view your marriage may undergo dramatic change.
The harsh news is, when divorce is the path you choose in this situation, don’t be surprised when the court largely ignores your righteous indignation.
The sad news is that with the advent of no-fault divorces, the baby might have been thrown out with the bathwater. The courts are no longer invested in punishing cheating spouses. In the past, getting a divorce required proving a spouse’s “bad acts.” That could be mental cruelty, physical abuse, abandonment or even cheating.
However, now that anyone can divorce for any reason, the courts are more concerned with whether your marital estate (your assets) have been diverted to this extra-marital affair or whether this relationship prevents a person from being able to parent their children adequately.
It’s absolutely understandable for you to want to pour your heart out to the judge and point out every flaw of your cheating spouse so that they will receive significant consequences for their hurtful actions. However, unless that behavior has put your child at risk, or has depleted your financial assets, your pain will have very little to do with a Washington court’s decisions. This can be a hard pill to swallow.
While you may have the sympathy of the court, your best course of action is to check in with a therapist who can help you work through your anger and grief. It seems spectacularly unfair for the courts to demand that you be impeccable with your word, and not seek revenge by distorting the truth or being unreasonable in the divorce process, but the more that you can rise above, the easier this will be to put behind you.
In 1969 California became the first state to allow “No Fault Divorce,” making divorce, a whole lot easier to accomplish. Previously a husband or wife had to prove wrongdoing by their spouse: things like mental cruelty, adultery, abandonment or physical assault. Currently, in Washington state, a spouse can file and be granted a divorce strictly because they feel the marriage is “irretrievably broken.” No proof is necessary.
While no one can prevent you from obtaining a divorce, your spouse can certainly make things difficult and draw out the process. Getting divorced means, you must wade through mountains of detailed forms, written requirements, and timelines. At any of these points, you can be sent back to the drawing board by the courts for not following the rules.
For example, once you serve your spouse with initial documents, they have a specific number of days to respond to you and file their answers with the court. If you set your court date too soon, the judge will send you back to reset your hearing, requiring you to follow those rules.
If your divorce is contested, meaning you and your spouse do not agree on the division of your assets or a parenting plan or even the divorce itself, the courts will need more information, more forms and will require complicated steps you must follow. For example, it’s fairly common to see couples fight over the amount of their actual incomes. One spouse, looking for more financial support will over-estimate their spouse’s income, and the spouse looking to avoid giving financial support may underestimate their income.
This then becomes a lengthy process where each party must provide financial documents including tax statements and pay stubs.
If you are one of those people with a spouse who won’t agree to a divorce, your best option is to hire a qualified attorney from our Vancouver office with experience in Evergreen and Clark County. They know exactly how to navigate the complicated court system and will carry that burden for you. One of the great advantages of having an attorney represent you is they often can reduce the conflict between you and your spouse so that healing can begin for everyone.
Washington is one of nine community property states. (See the subheading below regarding Oregon). That means that the state considers that all property earned during a marriage belongs to both parties, regardless of who earned it or who made more money. But wait, it’s not that simple!
Generally, a spouse’s separate property consists of property they acquired or owned before the marriage or was gifted or inherited during the marriage. However, there are rules about that also, such as whether that money was ever put into a joint account or co-mingled in any way with money from a spouse.
Owning a business can complicate things further. If one spouse started a business before the marriage and that business has grown during the marriage, the parties will need to provide significant information as to what the business was worth before and what it’s worth now. Another issue that may impact the division of assets is whether a spouse attended college during the marriage that increased income or better-earning capacity.
Typically, the community property split is 50/50, but the court does have the discretion to award a greater percentage to the spouse who may not have the same earning capacity as their partner. There are various other factors that influence how things will be split up.
For example, a couple might have a house, two cars that are paid off and 401(k) accounts. One spouse may get to keep the house, while their partner keeps the 401(k) account and they each get their cars.
The process generally involves looking at the total value of all shared property and then equalizing who gets what. As each couple has unique situations and needs, so are the solutions regarding separating community property.
Oregon is not a community property state. It employs something known as equitable distribution. This is a judicial division of property rights and obligations between partners. It may be decided by agreement, via a property settlement, or by judicial decree.
Here’s a great definition of equitable distribution from Wikipedia:
In the event of a divorce, only marital property will be considered for property division and only those assets will be considered as marital property that has been acquired during the course of the particular marriage. Such assets may include marital home, bank accounts, investments (including stocks, bonds, and retirement savings) and even businesses established during the course of the marriage in question. In some states, educational degrees earned during the marriage may be considered marital property. In such states, a resolution of the divorce will often entail payment from the educated spouse to the other spouse a share of their expected future earnings that are due to a degree they earned during the divorce and may require the expertise of labor economists or other statistical and financial experts.
In Ferguson v. Ferguson, 639 So.2d 921 (Miss. 1994), the court described the equitable distribution of marital property at divorce as more fair, or equitable, than the separate property system. The court may consider such factors as “substantial contribution to the accumulation of the property, the market and emotional value of the assets, tax and other economic consequences of the distribution, the parties’ needs, and any other factor relevant to an equitable outcome.” Fairness is the prevailing guideline the court will use. Alimony payments, child support obligations, and all other property will be considered. Even non-tangible contributions such as a spouse’s domestic contributions to the household will be taken into account, whether that spouse has anything titled in their name or not. A spouse who has made non-tangible contributions may claim an equitable interest in the marital property at divorce.
The Uniform Marriage and Divorce Act §307 (UMDA §307) also allows for the equitable distribution of property and lists factors the court should consider, e.g. “the duration of the marriage, and prior marriage of either party, antenuptial agreement of the parties [which is the same as a prenuptial agreement or premarital agreement], the age, health, station, occupation, amount and sources of income, vocational skills, employability, estate, liabilities, and needs of each of the parties, custodial provisions…” etc. Marital misconduct is not a factor in the decision-making process.
Technically you don’t; it’s just not the wisest decision. Washington state does not require that you have representation in court. If you and your spouse agree on all issues such as the division of your assets, parenting plan, spousal support, retirement accounts and so on, you should be able to work jointly on filing the paperwork without assistance.
However, most couples do have disagreements on a variety of issues. Trying to adhere to the court’s rules and to be heard can be one of the most frustrating and fruitless efforts you will ever encounter. Hiring the right attorney means you are more likely to get a fair resolution, move through the divorce with more ease and less stress, and that any future problems with custody or divisions of assets are minimized.
Just like the medical profession, when you have a serious issue you need to see a specialist, you need to hire the best family law attorney working with clients in Evergreen, Washington when you are getting divorced. Why? Because they know divorce laws, and they keep up-to-date on any changes. They do this every day, and they know how all the rules and regulations are handled in Clark County.
There’s a lot of confusing and detailed paperwork, and a family law attorney with the proper experience knows how and when to file them. They also know how to get your needs met in front of the judge and with other attorneys. Your attorney will know what to expect in working with other attorneys and where there might be problems.
An affordable family law attorney from our Vancouver, Washington office can negotiate for you and your best interests. You can also trust them to help you stay calm and feel supported in a time when you may not be at your best, or able to handle all of the changes and stress of the divorce.
Hiring the right divorce attorneys with experience in Clark County will likely reduce conflict, not enhance it. That means you will get to move on with less damage and begin to heal sooner.
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“When you’re faced with a situation and you’re way out in left field not knowing what to do or where to go Anna Russo and the law office was absolutely awesome.
“Communication and knowing the best plan of action for my case was a priority for them. They made me feel like family and believed in my case wholeheartedly! Heritage Family Law is the best at what they do and I would trust no one else with the future of myself and my children.
“They made a stressful agonizing situation feel like a breeze. I could never repay Anna and the whole team for all of their hard work. Thank you ALL at Heritage Family Law.”
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“I have never had to have an attorney before my case, so going into this I had absolutely no idea what was going on, but Glenn and his staff made everything so much easier and I understood things a lot more. They were able to keep me very informed and let me know everything. I thank them for everything.”
“Glenn Gets A Five Star Review!”
“I highly recommend Glenn and his team of paralegals. They helped me and my family in an extremely stressful situation and resolved our issue in a timely manner. Glen answered all questions and put our minds at ease through the whole process and made us feel he truly cared. Extremely professional law firm.”
“Glenn is truly a great man, he worked tirelessly on my case. I am a 100% disabled combat veteran, which made my case harder. Glenn treated me as family and not just another client. They were truly a pleasure to work with and got me the best results possible in my case. I would recommend them to anyone, especially other veterans going through a divorce. Thanks to them I have more time with my daughter and for that, I am forever grateful.”
“Hard Working And VERY Knowledgeable!”
“I had them get an emergency restraining order for my daughter against her mom’s new fiancé; got done immediately. Now working on a parenting plan change for my daughter. Glenn is hard working and VERY knowledgeable! If you want an attorney on your side and is ALL about the well being of your children, Glenn Slate is the attorney you need! Definitely a proud father right now.”
Yes, absolutely. We know that sometimes you need someone to help in a crisis. Each day we reserve at least one appointment for emergencies. Don’t wait, give us a call now!
Just as every case and every family is unique, so are the fees to resolve their issues. At Heritage, we know how fast charges can add up, so from day one, we’ll provide you with a strategic case plan outlining what steps we plan to take and what you can expect financially for several weeks in advance and we’ll keep that plan updated regularly. On top of that, we work as a team, which enables us to deliver incredible value and keep our fees reasonable for our clients.
Yes, our attorneys are licensed in both Oregon and Washington. We also handle cases in Cowlitz County and Skamania County, among many others.
A divorce and transition coach is a trained professional who can support, guide and motivate you through the emotional turmoil and stresses of your family law case. Many of our clients have told us that working with the Divorce Coach made an incredible difference for them.
Our coach has extensive experience in helping clients find suitable housing, rethink or restart careers, find excellent daycare, create new budgets and many other practical things. They can also connect clients to pre-screened therapists for adults and children, exchange monitors, realtors, financial planners, etc. At Heritage Family Law, we will be there with you each step of the way.
Clark County has a family court facilitator that can be found on the 1st floor of the Superior Court House. Their website is at https://www.clark.wa.gov/clerk/family-court-facilitator. While they cannot give you legal advice, they can provide you with the correct forms and help you file. Additionally, you may contact NW Justice Project at 1-888-201-1014, to determine if you qualify for free legal services.