Family Law In Washington - An Overview

Posted over 4 years ago. Applies to Washington, 3 helpful votes



Divorce in Washington

In Washington, divorce is referred to as "dissolution." Washington is a no fault state, which means that spouses do not have to show any misconduct (such as cheating, etc...) to be granted a divorce. If one party wants a divorce, the divorce will be granted. Washington is also a "community property" state. This means that, in general, any property or income accumulated during a marriage is owned half by the husband and half by the wife. Any property which was accumulated before marriage, or during marriage by gift or inheritance, is generally the "separate property" of the spouse who accumulated the property, and the property is wholly owned by that spouse. Debts are also divided into "community debt" and "separate debt" in the same manner as property.


Child Custody and Support

Washington refers to child custody as a "parenting plan." A parenting plan is a comprehensive plan that addresses issues such as how much time the children will spend with each parent and how the parents will make decisions about raising their children. Child support is mandatory, whether the parents were married or not. The amount of child support is determined by a set schedule established in Washington law, which is based on the parents' incomes and the number of children. The presumptive amount can only be "deviated" from in certain limited situations. Child support orders also apportion the responsibility for the payment of medical insurance and health care bills.


Modification of a Current Parenting Plan

Current parenting plans may generally be modified only upon a showing of a "substantial change in circumstances." Several factors are involved in determining whether a substantial change in circumstances has occurred. There are also limited situations where a minor modification will be granted without a showing of a substantial change in circumstances.


Modification of a Current Child Support Order

Generally, child support orders may be modified once every 24 months if one or both parents' incomes have changed. A child support order that is over one year old may also be modified in certain limited situations, such as when the child's age category has changed, or when the current order works a "severe economic hardship" on a party. A child support order that has been in place for less than one year may only be changed only if there has been a "substantial change in circumstances."


What if We Aren't Married?

There is no "common law" marriage in Washington. This means that if you were not legally married, you are not married to your partner no matter how much time you were together. If a court determines you were in a "committed intimate relationship" you may be entitled to some of the property accumulated during your relationship. If you were never married but you and your partner are "state registered domestic partners" then your separation will be treated like you were married. As in marriage, you and your partner have community property rights, and your property and debts will be before the court for a "fair and equitable" distribution. If you have children with a person and are not married, you are still entitled to petition the court for a parenting plan and child support. This process is essentially identical to the process for married parents.


Non-Parental Custody

Non-parental custody actions are complex and often very emotional. If you are not a parent but you would like to obtain custody of a child you may do so by filing a "non-parental custody action." A non-parental custody action may only be brought before the court if you can show that both of the child's parents are not suitable parents. The court will determine whether or not to award custody to a non-parent based on the best interests of the child.



There are several different contracts that married persons and state registered domestic partners may choose to enter into. The most well known type of contract is a prenuptial agreement, which address issues such as property and debt distribution in the event of a future divorce. Community property agreements are another common contract. A community property agreement is usually drafted as part of a comprehensive estate plan, and acts to convert separate property into community property. Another common type of marriage contract is a separation agreement. These contracts are drafted as part of a divorce, and address issues such as spousal support, division of property and debts, the parenting plan, and child support.


An attorney can help you

These descriptions are only an overivew of the law in Washingotn, and there are many exceptions to the standard rules. A family law attorney can help you determine how to proceed in your case, and can provide specific guidance and legal counsel for your situation.

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Related Topics

Legal separation and divorce

A legal separation and a divorce are different because a separation does not end the marriage. Spouses live apart and remain married.

Modification of custody

The party seeking a modification of custody must show that conditions have substantially changed or that the other parent has failed to comply.

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