How to Get Divorced in Washington State Without Spending Your Life Savings
Divorce is expensive, but there are things you can do to keep the cost down. In this guide I am going to set out some tips on how to get divorced in Washington State (technically called a Dissolution of Marriage) without putting yourself on the street.
Work With Your SpouseI know, you're getting divorced for a reason and working with your spouse is not as easy as it sounds, but you're going to have to if you want to keep things from getting too pricey. There are only two ways to resolve a divorce case: by agreement, or at trial. If you take it to trial it will probably take a year or longer (depending on your county) and be ruinously expensive. But, if you can speak with your spouse and come to an agreement, then the divorce can be finished in as little as ninety days and you can save yourself a tremendous amount of money, stress, and time.
There is a wrinkle anyone trying to achieve an uncontested divorce needs to be aware of. You cannot just agree to an amount of child support. In most other areas of a divorce the court will just sign off on an agreement of the parties (within reason), but Washington State requires child support to be calculated based on both spouses' income. There can be deviations and exceptions to the number the calculation supplies, but you should probably speak to an attorney to see if you qualify for them. Those issues can be very technical.
Avoid Unnecessary ConflictSo you and your spouse don't see eye to eye on too many things. You are going to have to have a contested divorce and argue those issues out. There are still things you can do to keep your costs down.
Pointless, sometimes spiteful fights are the things that really drain bank accounts in divorces. I have seen people spend thousands of dollars in attorney fees fighting over furniture worth a few hundred dollars at best. If you have an attorney on your case, the attorney is most likely being paid by the hour. A good attorney will try to use that time as efficiently as possible, to make real progress for you in your case, but you need to think about what you are asking your attorney to do. It can be easy to focus on the issue in front of you and forget that you just asked someone you are paying hundreds of dollars an hour to spend time on an issue that bothered you, but does not move your case forward.
There are always a host of temporary issues that come up during the divorce itself. Things like who is going to live in the family home and what am I going to do about the nasty text messages my spouse is sending me. These are real and legitimate issues, and everyone has to deal with some of them, but you need to avoid getting bogged down with temporary concerns. The goal is to finish the process and get out. Whether you have an attorney or not, you can keep the expense of divorce down by focusing on the issues that will move the case forward: 1) a Parenting Plan, 2) Child Support, 3) Dividing your Expensive Property, and 4) Spousal Support.
Your Expenses Just Went Up, Be ReadyWhile you're married, you and your spouse had both of your incomes going toward one household. One mortgage or rent with one set of utilities and one grocery bill. Then you decide to get divorced, someone moves out, and now you have two households to support on the same income. Two mortgages/rents with two sets of utilities and two grocery bills. If you bring in more income than your spouse, there is a good chance the court will order you to pay more of the bills, including bills for things your spouse is using. Even without adding in the cost of attorney fees, the added expense drives a lot of people into debt.
The best way you can avoid this is to take an honest look at your expenses before you separate and decide whether you have to downsize. If your spouse will agree, you might put the family home up for sale early in the case and split the equity, or use it to pay off debts. The same is true for boats or third cars. Get written agreement from your spouse before selling anything or shutting off services like phones. Doing it on your own can be a violation of an automatic court order in some counties (if the case has been filed), and even if it isn't, it could give the court a bad impression of you.
Get Some AdviceThis one is counter-intuitive. Everyone knows hiring an attorney is expensive and I won't lie to you and try to tell you it isn't. You are always better off with an experienced divorce attorney, but most people have to make a cost/benefit analysis. How much do they need an attorney weighed against how much it will cost.
What I am trying to tell you here is that, even if you can't afford to hire an attorney to represent you for your entire case, you should at least meet with one. Many attorneys will offer to meet with you for an hour for a few hundred dollars (it varies from office to office). You can bring questions, ask them to review your documents, and get good advice on whether the way you are approaching your case makes sense, or if you're fighting a losing battle.
This is still money out of your pocket, of course, but getting good advice about how to approach the case early on can save you a lot more money down the road. There are costs you may be able to avoid, and if you know how to file your case correctly you may be able to cut down on the number of hearings you have to attend, which means cutting down on the amount of work you miss.
There are a lot of pitfalls in legal system. You can save yourself a lot of time, money, and headaches by talking to an attorney in your county who knows how to avoid them.
I hope everyone reading this manages to sort out their legal issues as quickly and inexpensively as possible. Best wishes.