Seattle Divorce Lawyer Protecting Clients’ Interests Since 1991

The legal terminology for divorce in Washington state is dissolution of marriage. Our firm’s founder, Veronica Freitas, is skilled at working with individuals who are contemplating or going through a divorce and are experiencing one of the most difficult periods in their lives.

At V. Freitas Law, we are sensitive to the needs of our divorce clients. Our attorneys have the experience, skill and judgment needed to get clients through the process and place them in the best position possible to continue with their lives. We are highly protective of our client’s privacy and confidentiality, yet effective in achieving results for them – whether through agreements, negotiations or court litigation – in issues such as child custody, property division and spousal support.

Navigating The Divorce Process, Contested Or Uncontested

Divorces can be uncontested or contested. If parties agree to how they want to divide their assets and share custody of their children, they can file the appropriate documents with the court and be divorced within 90 days after the case is filed.

A contested divorce will likely take much longer to resolve, especially if there is a dispute over child custody. In King County, a case schedule assigning a trial date is generated whenever a dissolution action is filed. Trial dates are currently being scheduled 11 months from the date the case is filed.

If you have been served with divorce papers, contact an attorney immediately. Our Seattle-based divorce lawyers can help you navigate the many intricacies of the process.

Making Sense Of Divorce Filings

A divorce or legal separation action begins with the service of a summons and petition. Often a motion for temporary orders and/or a temporary restraining order will be included in the service documents. You should read over all the service documents as soon as possible. Look for a note for motion or show cause order. Those documents will notify you of future hearings.

A temporary order hearing usually occurs shortly after a dissolution or legal separation is filed. Fourteen days’ notice is required prior to most hearings. Make sure you find a lawyer sooner rather than later to help you navigate this hearing and others.

Divorce Mediation

Anyone who has gone through a divorce before can tell you that it is no fun. That is true even when the desire to dissolve the marriage is mutual. That does not mean that the process has to be a gut-wrenching experience throughout.

If you are going through a divorce, it is possible that you will be ordered into mediation. Mediation provides an opportunity for two people to work out their disagreements outside of court. The parties can meet with their attorneys as representatives, or just with each other and a third-party mediator.

Mediation is a fantastic solution for resolving divorce issues without the imposition of a judge or the court. Nothing said in mediation can be used as evidence during a court hearing, so both parties can feel free to express themselves fully. In some cases, opposing parties can completely resolve their cases within mediation and just enter a solution into court. This saves money on court fees as well as diminishes the stress that comes with having to go to court.

At V. Freitas Law, our Seattle mediation attorneys can represent you during a session of mediation or conduct a session for you. Mediation can be scheduled to resolve settlement agreements, enforce court orders, discuss child custody and support matters, and much more.

Tips For Making Mediation Successful

Your legal adviser can be the difference between a prolonged, contentious divorce and one that is resolved expeditiously.

When considering a mediation attorney in Seattle, remember these pointers:

  • Never underestimate the importance of experience. While there are some fine young mediation attorneys out there, finding someone who has been down this road time and time again can make all the difference in the world regarding your case.
  • Look for a mediation attorney who knows how the other side is likely to present its case. The last thing you want in your divorce case is protracted litigation. Cases can drag on for months and even years, causing a great deal of stress, not to mention substantially increased expenses.

Once you have settled on your Seattle area legal team, make sure to do the following:

  • Be clear with your attorney about your goals in mediation. Going the mediation route allows you to lessen the chances for conflict between you and your significant other.
  • Listen to your attorney’s advice. Your mediation attorney will be able to advise you on what is a reasonable settlement range for all of the issues in your case. If your expectations are not reasonable, you are not likely to settle your case. Remember, the other party probably has an experienced attorney telling them what to expect and what is unreasonable. The mediator will usually share their opinion on what is a reasonable settlement with both sides as well.

As stressful as divorce can be, it can be made a little easier when you have the right mediation attorney in your corner giving you sound advice that you can rely upon.

When Mediation Becomes Divorce Litigation And Trial

Many counties require the parties to participate in an alternative dispute resolution process prior to trial. Most cases are resolved in mediation or at a settlement conference. The mediation process is more productive if discovery has been completed prior to engaging in mediation because the parties will know what their assets and liabilities are and what their assets are worth. The parenting evaluator’s recommendation should be known prior to mediation as well.

If the case does not settle in mediation, it will proceed to trial. Family law trials are decided by judges, not juries. The judge will hear testimony from the parties and their witnesses, after which the court will decide parenting and property issues.

What To Know About Divorce Litigation And Trial

It is always preferable to negotiate an amicable settlement in divorce and other family law cases. Unfortunately, that is not possible in every case. Here are some basics about the divorce litigation process.

Temporary Orders Hearing

At the beginning of a case, parties frequently are not able to agree on who will stay in the home and who will move out; what the parenting plan will be; how much spousal maintenance and child support will be paid; or who will be responsible for paying bills and debts. The court will make those decisions for the parties at a temporary orders hearing.

A motion for temporary orders can be heard on 14 days’ notice. At that hearing, the court will make important decisions that will impact the parties’ and their children’s lives until the case is settled or goes to trial. The court will decide who will live in the family home pending the final resolution of the case; which parent will be the primary residential parent and what the other parent’s time with the children will be; who will pay which liabilities and who will have use of what property; how much one parent will pay the other for child support and whether or not there is a need for spousal maintenance or payment of attorney’s fees. One party can place themselves in an advantageous position at the temporary orders hearing by gaining control of the family home or custody of the children. Each party should be well-prepared before going to court for any hearing, but the temporary orders hearing is a critical stage of the proceedings that can set the stage for the final outcome of the dissolution proceeding.

Discovery Process

The discovery process during a divorce typically begins after temporary orders are entered. Interrogatories and requests for production are sent to the opposing party to gain the information necessary to prosecute and settle the case. Information requested typically includes:

  • Banking and investment accounts
  • Tax returns
  • Employment history
  • Retirement and benefit plans
  • Pension statements
  • Insurance policies

In some cases, interrogatories may seek information about medical or mental health issues or ask questions about prior criminal history.

Gathering Evidence

Evidence in family law hearings is presented via written declaration; live testimony is rarely allowed. It is important to prepare your responsive documents well in advance of the hearing date. The response must be filed with the court and served on the opposing party four days in advance of the hearing. It is critical that you seek the advice of counsel immediately upon being served in order to prepare a timely response.

Experts are retained to assist counsel with technical aspects of the case. Those experts may be intended to testify at trial, or they may be consulting experts who are hired to advise counsel. Expert witnesses are used to determine the value of property or businesses or to help decide how much financial support a client will require. Experts include CPAs, psychiatrists, financial planners and property appraisers. Parenting evaluators are frequently retained to evaluate each parent and make a parenting plan
recommendation to the court.

Depositions allow one party to question the other party or their witnesses under oath, prior to trial. Attorneys conduct depositions to gather more specific information about documents provided in response to the interrogatories or the requests for production. Depositions are also conducted to discover a preview of the evidence the other side will be presenting at trial.

Divorce FAQ

When it comes right down to it, divorce can be one of the toughest things for any individual and/or family to go through. From dealing with the mental anguish to the financial fallout, many people find it difficult to get through a divorce. You likely have far more questions than answers.

Here are some answers to frequently asked questions about divorce in Washington:

  • Can I proceed with a divorce without a consenting spouse? Yes.
  • If I choose to ignore a summons and other legal paperwork from my spouse’s attorney, can they still move ahead with the divorce? Yes.
  • As a male parent, is it a guarantee that my soon-to-be ex-wife will get full or the majority of custody for the children? No. Custody is often split between the parents, so don’t assume that you have no rights as a male parent. In most cases, courts will look to see what is in the best interests of the child or children.
  • Is Washington a community property state? Yes. All income that is made and any property either spouse attains from the beginning of their marriage is considered community property. This means it must be divided equitably when all is said and done. Community items would include a home, a vehicle, investments funds, retirement accounts, pensions, etc. In most cases, property that was accrued prior to the marriage will be looked upon as separate; however, if the parties cohabitated prior to marriage, property they acquired during that time period may be treated as community property.
  • What will my divorce cost me in terms of legal fees? This is a harder one to answer, though any reputable divorce attorney should be able to give you an estimate of what their services will cost, along with what you can expect to get for those costs.

What If You Have A Marital Or Separation Agreement?

Marital agreements are valid in Washington. As long as the correct legal protections and formalities are followed, unmarried and married persons may enter into contracts with each other before, during and/or after a marriage or relationship to provide structure and predictability regarding such matters as their children, property, businesses and other concerns.

Here’s a breakdown of these agreements:

  • A prenuptial agreement is a contract entered into by the parties in anticipation of marriage that defines what will happen if and when the marriage ends due to dissolution or death.
  • Spousal, community property and cohabitation agreements are contracts entered into during the marriage or relationship to define how matters will be handled at the end of the marriage or relationship due to dissolution or death.
  • A separation agreement is a contract between spouses who are separating, whether or not future plans involve dissolution, and typically addresses property division.

If you have one of these agreements in place and are facing divorce, talk to a lawyer about the effect of your agreement. Not all agreements are valid, and there may be grounds for challenging problematic agreements. Conversely, if the other party is seeking to invalidate your agreement, you need a strong advocate on your side.

What About Annulment?

Annulment is different from divorce in that, while they both terminate a relationship, annulment stands as a court-ordered declaration that no valid marriage ever existed. Such a declaration can have a favorable outcome with respect to considerations of property division and spousal maintenance.

Annulment is not a common option for most couples seeking to end a relationship, but for some, it can have some profound legal advantages. You should consult a Washington family law attorney to discuss the potential advantages of annulment over divorce.

Common Reasons For Annulment Rather Than Divorce

Annulment is possible when the marriage was not valid when entered for some reason. One example is when one spouse was under the legal age of 18 when the marriage vows were taken. Another would be that one party had another spouse at the time of the marriage. Incompetence based upon mental defect or drug and alcohol-induced incapacitation qualifies. Having been defrauded about some quality essential to the marriage, such as sexual impotence, the concealment of a venereal disease or hiding the fact of a pregnancy by another man can also anchor an annulment. Additionally, force and duress, in which a partner was unwillingly compelled by fear or threats, can also nullify a marriage.

How To Get An Annulment With A Family Law Lawyer

Drafting a proper petition for annulment or invalidating the marriage is a legally exacting process. The document must be perfected to include all the relevant circumstances and causes and include provisions for any potential property division, alimony or child care provisions. These documents must be served upon the courts and the proper parties in a timely fashion according to the requirements of law. Our Seattle family law attorney team at V. Freitas Law has considerable experience in successfully drafting and executing such petitions.

So, if your lovely but impressionable teenage daughter ran off to Las Vegas with the “wrong” person to find herself the blushing bride at Elvis’s wedding chapel, you needn’t fret about who you may find sitting across the table from you at the next Thanksgiving Day dinner. We would be delighted to send the young lad packing for you so that he can make his next concert engagement. The more quickly you take action, the better your chances of a favorable outcome.

Get Help With Your Divorce To Avoid Costly Missteps

If you are considering filing for divorce, seek the advice of counsel before you make any decisions that could permanently alter your rights to property or your position with respect to custody of your children. Do not move from the family home, especially if there are children involved. (If you do not feel safe staying in the home, then you may need to seek a protection order.) Do not allow yourself to be pressured into signing off on car titles or quit claim deeds. Learn about your options before you make any agreements, move out or sign off on any documents. Call 206-536-2875 to get started.