Washington State Family Law

Family Law in Washington State

Family Law

Family Law in Washington State covers a wide spectrum of legal aspects regarding both making and breaking up families. Most marriages recognized in Washington begin with a religious or civil ceremony. A legal relationship is also recognized by the state for those unmarried couples "cohabiting" in a situation similar to marriage designated by Washington as a "Meretricious Relationship."

What Constitutes a Meretricious Relationship?

There isn't a legal formula to describe this relationship. The court usually reviews a list of relevant facts:

  • The length of continuous cohabitation
  • The total timeframe of the relationship
  • The purpose for the couple being together
  • Whether the couple has joined services and resources for joint projects, and
  • What the parties' intent was in the above situations
  • After the court has determined that the relationship qualifies as meretricious, it can decide how to address the issues raised by the couple. The duties and rights of cohabiting couples are very similar to married couples in today's courts. Each has a duty to support their children, has property ownership rights, and responsibilities for debts and liabilities.

    When the relationship between cohabitants ends, the same issues arise that are seen in a regular divorce. Property assets must be divided; debts incurred during the time together must be paid; child custody and child support issues may be negotiated between the couple. However, if they can't agree the questioned aspects can be taken to court.

    A home may have been purchased by the couple requiring mortgage and property tax payments for years. This is usually the biggest asset the couple has. It often represents the only source of retirement income for them. Each party should share in what had been accumulated during their years together. Washington State provides a three-step process:

  • Determine that a "meretricious" relationship actually existed
  • Establish each party's interest in the property acquired during their relationship, and
  • Ensure that the distribution of the property is equitable and just
  • In cohabitation, alimony or maintenance payments cannot be ordered to be paid to an ex-partner. If the unmarried couple chooses to make a contract for continued support, the courts can uphold a valid agreement.

    All parents have a legal duty to care for their children. This includes providing custody arrangements and monetary support. The courts will consider the best interests of the children and decide child-related issues based on the Washington State laws.

    Same-Sex Couples

    In 2012, Governor Christine Gregoire signed a bill providing equality for same-sex marriage. Now the laws that apply to meretricious relationships include all couples in such situations whether a man and woman, two men or two women. This new area of the law will be refined through future cases.

    Laws Dealing With Traditional Families

    The only basis needed for filing for divorce in Washington—a no-fault state—is a statement by one of the partners that the marriage is irretrievably broken. One of the spouses must be a resident of the state to file for divorce in Washington. The time-frame established within the judiciary is at least 90 days from the date the papers are filed with the court until a final judgment is entered.

    Washington State recognizes community property laws. Any property acquired by the couple will be divided equally between the spouses when they divorce. Property owned personally by each spouse before the marriage may be kept by that individual. Anything received as a gift or inheritance also belongs to the individual who received it. The couple can come to an agreement by themselves in which case their property doesn't need to be divided equally by the court.

    Both partners have the right to request spousal support: alimony. Each party's financial resources will be considered by the court when making its decision. The standard of living provided during the marriage, the emotional and physical condition of each individual, and the amount of training needed to make the spouse seeking support become self-supporting are also taken into consideration. A lump sum payment or specific amounts over a set timeframe can be ordered by the court.

    In child custody actions, Washington courts take into consideration the parenting plan and then consider what is in the children's best interests. Requirements of any child custody action include providing for the child's physical and emotional wellness, minimizing exposure to conflicts between the parents which may be harmful to the child. Any plan proposed would include each parent's responsibility and authority over the children. A residential schedule and provisions for the parents' settling of future agreements may also be included in the court documents.

    Parents have the right to ask for changes in the parenting plan that might be improve the child's situation. A petition for modification must be provided if either parent wants to move elsewhere or some other major change in their situation. The effect that the move would have on the child/children, would be taken into consideration by the court and that decision would replace the initial parenting plan.

    Family Law is an interesting legal area since it covers everything that affects the family throughout its life. Family Lawyer The has to be knowledgeable in a wide variety of legal aspects in order to assist his/her client through the difficulties that can come with family situations and the law.