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Can I still contact my wife if I have not been served, despite her lawyer's demands otherwise?

Seattle, WA |

My wife broke off contact last week and directed me to talk to her lawyer. As far as I know, no dissolution papers or any other court orders have been filed. I have not been served with anything. In the mean time, I have sent my wife two emails asking to see our children. I knew she would ignore/refuse, but I wanted to have documentation that I am trying to see the children (ie, not 'abandoning' them). Her lawyer is telling me not to have contact with my wife. I replied that without a court order, I am not barred from contacting her (or our 3 children). Am I right? I certainly have not been threatening or harassing in my communications.

Thank you.

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Attorney answers 3

Best Answer
Posted

Instead of continuing actions that seems to be futile at best (she is not letting you see your kids) and could really backfire at worst (your wife claiming harassment or feeling threatened--whether or not you feel you are coming across this way--may prompt her attorney to file a restraining order that might keep you from seeing your kids by court order), why not be proactive? You can file for dissolution and request temporary orders, including a parenting plan that reflects the status quo for what parenting arrangements have been instead of whatever is happening in the immediate conflict. Without a court order you are not prohibited from contacting her, but without a court order she has no obligation to provide you with parenting time, so continuing to ask her when she has told you not to doesn't seem like it will bring about any positive result for you. Talk with an attorney as soon as possible, but you can also start the process on your own if necessary.

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Asker

Posted

Thank you. Yes, I have not contacted her again, except to CC her in my replies to her lawyer in which her lawyer has also CC'd her on. I just wanted to have some proof that I made efforts to see the children, balanced against not being harrassing or threatening. Dinged if I do, Dinged if I don't, know what I mean? (smile). Thank you again.

Kate M Forrest

Kate M Forrest

Posted

I know it can be incredibly frustrating--the system can be counterintuitive and often feel unfair. Your heart was in the right place, and generally it is good to keep track of your efforts to be a good parent (for instance, if you did have a parenting plan and she wasn't letting you see the kids, having records of your calls and e-mails would be good evidence for a contempt motion), but right now without a court order, her having an attorney and you not, you're behind the 8 ball. Many attorneys offer free initial consultations, there are great legal clinics through KCBA, the family law facilitator at the courthouse...sorry I'm on my phone and don't have the links on hand, but if you call 211 they can connect you with legal resources, or visit washingtonlawhelp.org to read about how to tackle this on your own--however you decide to approach it, the sooner you act the better. Good luck!

Posted

I agree with the previous attorney's response. I would just add that I have seen criminal charges being filed by the prosecutor when a person repeatedly attempts to contact his/her estranged spouse by telephone. There can be constitutional defenses to some harassment charges, but if somebody tells you that they do not want to talk to you--and yet you keep on calling or attempting to contact them--then you could be charged with a crime. Note that being charged is different from being convicted, but what you are describing gets you into a grey area at least.

Here is a link to the Seattle City Code to the following:

Harassment: http://clerk.ci.seattle.wa.us/~scripts/nph-brs.exe?d=CODE&s1=12A.06.040.snum.&Sect5=CODE&Sect6=HITOFF&l=20&p=1&u=/~public/code1.htm&r=1&f=G

Telephone harassment: http://clerk.ci.seattle.wa.us/~scripts/nph-brs.exe?d=CODE&s1=12A.06.100.snum.&Sect5=CODE&Sect6=HITOFF&l=20&p=1&u=/~public/code1.htm&r=1&f=G

And here is a link to the State code for

Harassment: http://apps.leg.wa.gov/rcw/default.aspx?cite=9A.46.020

None of these statutes require a court order prior to a criminal charge being filed, and in some cases, they do not require an actual threat. "Harassment" can be just the act of repeated, unwanted contact. Be careful.

You should contact an attorney to assist in resolving the issues.

Asker

Posted

I appreciate the links and opinion. The statues seem to really stress the factors of maliciousness, 'substantial' harm to mental health or safety, or physical situations. In my case, it was literally "I would like to see the boys tomorrow, please let me know what times work for you". Based on your looser interpretation, would one party emailing 'i love you' to another party every day, despite requests not to, constitute criminal harassment? Again, I do appreciate the feedback, thank you.

Kenan Lee Isitt

Kenan Lee Isitt

Posted

I doubt that a prosecutor would file charges for a few initial statements, but your hypothetical 'i love you' message every day is certainly closer to the line, and gets closer with every day. I really hate to say it, because I am sure that your thoughts are well intended, but the safest response is to comply with the request to avoid any contact except through the attorney. This might avoid the eventuality of an actual court order from your wife's attorney, as well. Please feel free to contact me directly at kenan.isitt@cgilaw.com if you would like. I provide free consultations, and would be happy to discuss your situation further.

Asker

Posted

Could this not be turned around? Without any legal orders or papers filed/served, could I not tell her lawyer to stop contacting me? I'm not going to do that, I'm just curious from a hypothetical standpoint.

Kenan Lee Isitt

Kenan Lee Isitt

Posted

Yes, you could, but in any case legal paperwork can still be sent to you. If your wife has an attorney, she can insist that you serve all paperwork on the attorney.

Posted

If it is true that no court order is entered, you probably are not breaking any law by contacting your wife. However, you do run a risk that (a) an order has been entered, and (b) law enforcement may take aggressive action even though the order has not been served. In addition, if the attorney says that you were notified informally, in certain circumstances you might be held in contempt or worse. Finally, if you continue to contact her she and her attorney may use that contact to claim harassment or stalking and get a no contact order. Bottom line: see an attorney before you get yourself into trouble. See my AVVO Legal Guides on divorce, domestic violence, harassment and contempt for more information about the legal issues raised by your inquiry. To find my Legal Guides, go the AVVO website at www.AVVO.com; click on “Find a Lawyer”; get to my AVVO home page by clicking on my name or photo; when you get to my AVVO home page scroll down to "Contributions" and then click "Legal Guides." You will get a list of the 29 Legal Guides I have published on AVVO. Scroll down this list and select the topics that are relevant to your question. You may also want to schedule a free ½ hour consultation with me by calling my office at 253-815-8440.

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