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ENDING A MARRIAGE
Various procedures may be used to end a marriage that breaks down, including annulment, separation and dissolution.
Annulment is a court-ordered dissolution of an invalid marriage. Technically called a "Decree of Invalidity," it nullifies a marriage from its inception and is granted in situations where no valid marriage exists because of some legal defect.
A separation may be formalized with a legal contract, or a "Decree of Legal Separation," or both. A legal separation may be preferred to a dissolution for religious, economic or other reasons. A couple may decide to live apart while attempting to save a faltering relationship, or the separation may be an interim step toward termination of the marriage. There is no legal requirement for actual separation before dissolving a marriage.
Oral or written understandings concerning property disposition, arrangements for children, maintenance, or other agreements made while separated may become part of a dissolution proceeding.
If a marriage falls apart and is considered "irretrievably broken," one or both partners may seek a dissolution of the relationship. This court proceeding legally terminates a marriage, and makes provisions for the parenting of minor children, family support, and division of property and liabilities.
In Washington, a spouse does not have to prove wrongdoing to obtain a divorce (now legally called a "dissolution of marriage"). This no-fault system is intended to help spouses settle matters without unnecessary bitterness or resentment.
You need only to reside in Washington on the date that your petition for dissolution of marriage is filed.
Ending a marriage involves many legal considerations. Technically, an attorney is not required for the process, but a lawyer’s skill and experience can be helpful to a person contemplating separation or divorce.
To start a dissolution proceeding, one spouse (called the "petitioner") must file with the court a summons and "petition" for dissolution of marriage.
This document is then served on the other spouse (known as the "respondent"), usually by having copies delivered to him or her.
The purpose of the summons is to command the responding spouse to reply to the petition. Basic facts about the marriage are contained in the petition, which also specifies what the petitioning spouse wants in the way of a parenting plan, property division and support.
All issues must be settled in order to finish a case. If terms cannot be negotiated between spouses, a trial will be held to decide any disputes. If spouses agree on a settlement and no aspect of the dissolution is contested, the case does not have to go to trial.
The final stage occurs when the court signs a "Decree of Dissolution of Marriage." Settlements negotiated between spouses are presented in writing for approval by the court and signature by the judge. If the case requires a trial, the judge’s decision is recorded in writing and signed by the judge who conducts the trial. A marriage is not dissolved until the judge signs the decree.
The waiting period for a dissolution of marriage in Washington state is three months (90 days). This means the summons and petition must be filed with the court and served upon the other spouse for more than 90 days before the judge signs the decree. This is a minimum period and is intended to allow time for a reconciliation between the parties. The process could take much longer if any aspect of a dissolution is contested and the parties have difficulty reaching an agreement.
At the wife’s request, her maiden name or a former name can be restored as part of the dissolution decree. The request should be included in the petition.
Washington law requires a parenting plan in any proceeding for annulment, legal separation or marital dissolution where minor children are involved. The terms "child custody" and "visitation" are no longer used in Washington dissolution law. Instead, the parents by agreement (or the court in the event of a dispute) must develop a parenting plan.
The court considers the best interests of the children in determining how to provide for the children. Every parenting plan must contain at least the following elements:
* a schedule for residential care;
* allocation of responsibility for parental decision
* provisions for the resolution of future disputes
between the parents with respect to parenting
Both parents have a duty to support their children. Child support is based on the Washington Child Support Schedule which takes into consideration the total cost of providing a home for the children and of taking care of them in all ways, and for each parent’s respective share of that cost, in accord with their incomes.
Spousal maintenance may be awarded where there is need on the part of one spouse and ability to pay by the other.
Once called "alimony," spousal support is now referred to as "maintenance." It will not be awarded or withheld as punishment for marital misconduct. The duration and amount depend upon the facts and circumstances of each case.
DIVISION OF PROPERTY
There is no fixed method for determining how property should be divided. In Washington, all assets are available for distribution.
If the husband and wife negotiate an agreement, the court will probably approve it. If no settlement is reached, the court will decide how to divide the property. Property settlement agreements are binding and generally cannot be modified.
DIVISION OF BILLS AND DEBTS
All liabilities must also be divided when dissolving a marriage. Consideration is given to the type of debt and the circumstances under which it arose.
SERVICE OF AN ATTORNEY
Washington law does not require that the services of an attorney be used in dissolution proceedings. Your attorney can advise you of your legal rights and obligations, can help reach settlement on disputes, and can represent you in enforcing your rights.
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