by Samuel K. Darling, Genesis Divorce & Family Law Attorney

12 Surprising Divorce Laws & Facts from Washington State

Curious about divorce laws in Washington? Here are 12 that might surprise you. If you’d rather read than watch the video, scroll down.

1) Adultery Doesn’t Matter

Look like a child if argue adultery in a Washington divorce
Don’t bring up adultery in court

The first surprising law: adultery really doesn’t matter when determining who should have custody of the children, whether to award spousal maintenance (alimony), or division of property. Washington is a no-fault state. Many litigants who don’t have an experienced attorney get caught off-guard by this. They commonly bring up the other side’s infidelity when trying to argue for various types of relief in court. Unfortunately for them, this tends to upset the judge rather than help.

Adultery CAN be relevant in a divorce case, but rarely. The exception is an argument for “waste”, when one of the parties spent large amounts of money on an affair and the innocent party seeks reimbursement for half of the wasteful spending.

2) Who Has Kids Most During Separation Wins Custody

If the parties informally separate before receiving a court-ordered parenting plan, whoever had the children most during the informal separation will almost certainly win custody. This often applies when a chivalrous husband decides to move out of the home as the parties begin to break up. Being the chivalrous one, he leaves the children in the family home with the wife. The court will often assume that that informal period of separation speaks louder than anyone’s words in a subsequent argument about who should receive custody. The person who had the kids most during the separation – the mom in this instance – is almost certainly going to win primary care of the children in a custody battle.

For more, read our firm’s article on how to win custody.

3) Pets are Just Property

Pets Are Property?! Bah

A judge will usually treat pets as property rather than perform a custody analysis. That seems wrong to many people who have pets, but the law’s the law. If you’d like to learn about the basics of Washington’s property division laws and norms, we have an article on the subject. We also have a much more in-depth article on the specifics of Washington’s community property laws.

4) Okay to Evade Someone Serving Divorce Documents

Surprising law number four: evading Service of Process isn’t against any rules or laws. In other words, if someone is trying to serve divorce papers upon the other spouse, it’s okay for the spouse who’s being served to try to hide, run away, or otherwise avoid being served with the divorce documents. There’s no rule saying that you can’t try to avoid initial Service of Process.

That said, you might not look good in the courts eyes if you’re evading Service of Process; and chances are, you’ll eventually get served anyway. Our firm advises clients to cooperate.

5) Can Use Trickery to Serve Divorce Documents

You can trick someone to serve him or her with documents in a case. Let’s say you want to serve someone who isn’t opening the door or maybe the person is trying to hide in a different state or community, you can use trickery to make the person answer the door or admit where they are.

Law doesn't prohibit you from tricking someone in an effort to serve him or her
Can Trick to Serve

There’s an especially common trick employed by professional process servers. They will go to the location of the person who is to be served and pretend to be delivering a parcel, maybe for Amazon or some other delivery service. Usually the process server has a box, wrapped just like something that’s been sent in the mail, and they’ll say that they have a delivery. When the person who’s to be served opens the door, they serve the legal documents.

A word of warning: if you’re going to serve someone through trickery, do NOT impersonate a police officer or a fireman. That would be illegal.

6) WA Will Divorce People Married by Common Law

Washington will recognize common law marriage in some instances. For those who aren’t aware, common law marriage is when parties live together like a married couple for a very long time and the rules of the state will treat them as if they are married even if they never went through the actual marriage process. Washington is not a common law marriage state. But Washington will recognize a common-law marriage that occurred in a common-law marriage state.

For instance, lets assume parties live together like a married couple for 20 years in Montana, which is a common-law marriage state. Washington would recognize that couple as being married for purposes of getting divorce in Washington. If however, the parties were living together like a married couple in WASHINGTON for those 20 years, they would not be treated as common-law married.

7) Washington’s Version of Common Law Marriage: Committed Intimate Relationship

Washington has a corollary to common-law marriage. If a couple lives in Washington for years as if they were married, we deem them to have a committed intimate relationship. Washington will allow them to dissolve the relationship and divide their property almost as if the parties had been married.

There is a significant difference between a regular divorce and a committed intimate relationship that’s being dissolved. That large difference is spousal maintenance (alimony). Judges in Washington will not award maintenance in the case of a dissolution of a committed intimate relationship.

8) Divorce Usually Takes a Year

Surprising law or fact number eight: it takes almost a full year for the average person to get divorced in Washington State. It’s a long process, a lot longer than most people think.

9) 91 Days Is the Fastest You Can Get Divorced

The fastest a person can get divorced in Washington is 91 days. That’s true even if the parties agree to get divorced and agree on all the aspects of the divorce, such as who gets the kids and what property, how much child support should be, etc. Washington will not allow them to get divorced any faster than 91 days no matter what. Washington has what’s called a 90-day cooling-off period to make sure the parties truly want to be done with each other.

Divorce laws require people to "cool off" for 90 days before being granted a divorce

10) You Can Be Done In Less Than 90 Days If You Don’t Call It a Divorce

You can essentially get divorced in Washington almost immediately, without having to wait for the 90-day cooling-off period. That is if you call your divorce a “legal separation“. You can get a legal separation often the same day you petition if the parties agree on the terms.

11) Legal Separation Almost Same as Divorce

In Washington, a legal separation is essentially the same as a divorce. It’s just a difference in terminology for most intents and purposes.

Admittedly, there are some differences, and some of those differences can be significant for some people. Most notably, if you have a legal separation, you can’t get married to someone until you convert your legal separation to a divorce.

But in most other respects a divorce and a legal separation are the same: the same substantive laws, the same procedures, the very same kind of trial at the end of the case, and the very same kinds of documents and relief. You get a decree, a division of all the parties’ property, a parenting plan, a child support order, and potentially spousal maintenance (alimony). If you’d like to learn more about the differences between legal separation and divorce, we have another article on the subject.

12) Can “Impute” People with $ They Don’t Have

The 12th and final surprising law on our list: Washington allows judges to impute a party who is voluntarily unemployed or underemployed. This is for purposes of child support calculations, and sometimes for purposes of maintenance calculations and property division. “Imputation” means the court treats a party as if he or she has income, even when the party doesn’t truly have it. The most common example of imputation occurs when someone quits his or her job to make it look as if he or she is penniless and unable to pay child support. The court will deem that party as having the income he or she would have had, had he or she not quit.

Now that you’ve heard about imputation, you might say it makes perfect sense. But there are some very surprising ways courts have applied this doctrine.

Washington's divorce laws impute someone who goes back to school
Will impute someone who goes back to school

For example, the courts have said that if a person goes back to school to get a degree, that person should be imputed even if he or she is doing it for purposes of making a better life for the parties’ child.

Another interesting imputation example, the law says that if a party voluntarily reduces his or her hours in order to care for the children at home, he or she should still be imputed.

For More Info

So that’s it, all twelve of the surprising laws on our list.

Our firm believes in free access to information, and we have numerous articles, guides, and videos on our website regarding most divorce topics. If you would like to read or see those, don’t hesitate to visit the resources section of our website.

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