divorce and legal separation
As a married couple, you spend quite a bit of time building a life together, and when divorce happens, it leaves many pieces to pick up and resolve. At Strata Law Group, we are here to help you through the divorce process and help you understand your rights and obligations.
You will need to resolve all economic claims between you and your spouse. This can include the division of property – including debts incurred – during your marriage and, in some cases, the payment of alimony from one spouse to another.
To dissolve your marriage, we will need to identify and value marital assets and debts, determine the nature and extent of household incomes, and work closely with you to develop appropriate settlement options based on your circumstances.
During our initial consultation, we will provide you with an overall view of what to expect and the immediate next steps. Then, when you are ready, we will initiate the process by filing a summons and a petition for Dissolution of Marriage in Superior Court, usually in the county where either party resides. Washington State is a no fault state, meaning neither party is faulted for seeking a dissolution of the marriage, giving both parties equal rights to all marital property and the custody of any minor children.
Once the initial summons and the Petition for Dissolution of Marriage are filed, there is a mandatory 90 day waiting period before finalizing the Dissolution of Marriage action.
At Strata Law Group, we have extensive experience working with many divorcing couples on the issue of spousal support or alimony, and many times are able to come to a resolution outside of court. When court is necessary, we have successfully negotiated favorable settlements for our clients and their families.
Spousal support limits any unfair economic effects of a divorce by providing a continuing income to a non-wage-earning or lower-wage-earning spouse. The intention is to assist the financially-dependent spouse, not to punish the supporting spouse. Part of the justification for support is that one spouse may have chosen to not pursue or continue a career in order to care for the family. Another purpose may be to help a spouse continue the standard of living they had during the marriage.
Courts are only involved in spousal support if the divorcing couple cannot agree on the amount or length of payments (or the necessity of spousal support).
There is no formula for how spousal support is determined, however, the court will consider the following factors when determining the amount:
- The duration and standard of living during the marriage
- The requesting spouse’s age, physical and emotional condition, and financial obligations
- The requesting spouse’s financial resources, such as separate or community property
- The requesting spouse’s ability to self-support and the length of time the requesting spouse needs to become self-sufficient
- The other spouse’s ability to pay and still support him or herself
complex compensation structures
Not all income is simply salary plus bonus. There are many sectors, such as technology and finance, where the compensation structure tends to be more complicated. This can include stock options, restricted stock, and various other forms of deferred compensation.
At Strata Law Group, we have experience deciphering deferred compensation plans, determining what is income, an asset, or both, and how complex compensation structures affect spousal support payments.
A Parenting Plan is one of the more delicate steps in a divorce. When working with your spouse, it is important to keep the children’s needs and emotional state top of mind when outlining the best plan for your family moving forward.
A solid Parenting Plan answers the following questions:
- Where is the primary residence for the child(ren), and with which parent?
- How will the parents will make decisions regarding the children?
- What is the schedule around holidays, birthdays, and vacations?
- How will future disputes between the divorcing parents will be resolved?
It is important for both parents to come up with a plan that will create a stable and fulfilling environment. The Strata Law Group has worked through many different Parenting Plans, some with very sensitive issues, working with both parents to create a plan that will be acceptable to everyone and achieve the goals of the family.
In all divorces involving minor children, a child support plan is required to ensure the children are adequately cared for moving forward. Both parents are required to be participants in this plan. Many factors go into determining a child support plan, including the income earned by each parent, along with any deductions from income, such as retirement plans. Also taken into consideration is the size of the family, the ages of the children, and any extraordinary expenses, such as education, extracurricular activities, childcare and travel. An amount is then determined for each parent.
When working on a child support plan, it is important that parents agree on a goal when it comes to their children. At Strata Law Group, we work with families to ensure the goals are reasonable and attainable, and will not cause one parent or the other to face undue hardship or debt.
For the sake of the children, who are the most fragile, it is important for parents to come together and find a child support plan that will work for the entire family, without allowing emotions to take charge.
We have extensive experience working with families, negotiating the best possible parenting plans that will be acceptable to everyone.
One of the more complex issues in divorce revolves around property and debt distribution. Washington is a community property state, which means that any property acquired during the marriage, and sometimes property acquired outside of the marriage, is subject to distribution between both parties.
This does not mean the division of property is exactly a 50/50 ration for each spouse. Instead, it means both property and debt are divided “fair and equitably” amongst both parties in the divorce.
Community property includes more than just real estate, automobiles, and savings accounts, but also personal property (such as furniture, clothing, art, books, jewelry, and pets), retirement benefits, 401(k) plans, stock portfolios, and business partnerships. When determining the value of the community property, it is beneficial to involve a knowledgeable and experienced attorney, as well as the necessary experts (real estate, accounting, etc.), to ensure correct financial value and fair distribution amongst both spouses.
When we work with a divorcing couple on property and debt distribution, we strive to help the couple come to a resolution outside of a courtroom. If unable to reach an agreement, the courts get involved, and will determine how the property and debt is distributed. Keep in mind, the courts do not take into consideration any sentimental value attached to any items, but look at the bottom line value of each asset.
Our experience working with property and debt distribution allows us to attain an equitable distribution to both parties.
Not all division of property is straightforward. There are more complex cases involving businesses, stock options, and deferred compensation.
In the case of a business, when determining value, it is important to look at the involvement by both parties, whether a financial contribution or unpaid labor and time, as well as when the business was started or acquired (prior to or during the marriage).
For stock options and deferred compensation, there is consideration around the timing of receiving stock options and the types of stock issued. In some cases, distribution for deferred compensation earned during the marriage happens at a future date.
Our experience working with complex estates allows us to understand all the factors to include when determining fair and equitable distribution, and also the importance of including the appropriate experts.
Legal separation is a court order that allows couple to stay married but live separately. Sometimes a couple is not ready for divorce, but instead wants a legal separation. In this case, the couple receives a court order stating that, while they are still married, they can live apart and are not accountable for the others financial or legal issues incurred during that time.
A legal separation does take minor children into consideration and will include the necessary temporary arrangements for care, custody, and financial support. It also leaves the opportunity open for a couple to reconcile.
A legal separation is a good alternative to divorce under certain circumstances, and we can counsel you to make a decision that will work best for you and your situation.
our divorce & legal separation professionals:
Pulling from her rich background of experience, Alexandra (Xana) provides outstanding advocacy and counsel to family law clients.
Alexis works with her clients to face conflict openly and be in control of their life as they transition onto their next phase in life.
Shannon works diligently with each client to identify their goals, which ultimately shapes and drives the strategy of their representation.