Now that the holiday season is over, it is time to look ahead to what 2020 has in store. For many people, the start of the New Year signals a new beginning, and for some, this means filing for divorce. A study conducted at the University of Washington in 2016 found that divorce filings peak in March – this coincides with beginning the divorce planning process in January.
So, are you thinking about filing for divorce in 2020? If so, here are some planning tips from our highly-skilled attorneys:
Divorce Planning Tip #1: Learn about the Process
If you talk to friends or family members who are divorced, they will tell you that going through a divorce is a process rather than a singular event. While the day will come when a judge formally terminates your marriage, you will need to go through several steps along the way.
The specific steps involved in your divorce will depend on a number of different factors: Are you and your spouse in agreement that it is time to get divorced? Are you generally in agreement regarding major issues like who should stay in the family home and who should be your children’s primary custodian? Or, do you anticipate every single decision being a battle? Depending on your personal circumstances, you may be able to resolve your entire divorce through informal negotiations, or you may need to utilize a tool such as mediation and collaborative law. Divorce litigation is also a possibility, although it will be in both spouses’ best interests to avoid this route in most cases.
Divorce Planning Tip #2: Learn about the Law
While you do not need to become an expert in Washington divorce law, you will need to learn some of the basics. Divorce laws vary from state to state, and many common perceptions about the divorce process are based on generalities that do not necessarily apply in Washington.
For example, Washington is one of the limited number of states that still follow the law of community property. Under Washington’s community property law, all assets acquired during a marriage (with certain exceptions) are deemed to be owned by the spouses equally. This means that each spouse is entitled to an equal share in the event of a divorce (again, in most cases). This contrasts with the “equitable distribution” laws that have been adopted by the majority of states around the country.
Likewise, Washington is among the limited number of states that still recognizes the concept of permanent alimony (or “spousal maintenance”) – although your marriage must have lasted 25 years or longer for this law to come into play. However, even if you were not married for a quarter of a century, you will still need to understand how Washington’s alimony laws apply to the circumstances of your divorce.
Divorce Planning Tip #3: Start Prioritizing
No one keeps everything in a divorce. As a result, when preparing to go through the divorce process, you need to prioritize. Which of your community assets are most important to you? How important is it to you to receive (or avoid paying) alimony? How do you want to balance your work and the time you spend with your children?
Since you and your spouse will ultimately need to reach a compromise (unless you ask a judge to decide the terms of your divorce for you), making a list of priorities is important to making informed decisions during the divorce process. By deciding in advance when you are willing to concede and when you are prepared to take a stand, you can avoid the need to make difficult decisions while under the stress of negotiating with your spouse. Here, too, understanding the role of Washington law is important. For example, while you and your spouse will have options when it comes to structuring custody and visitation, you will ultimately need to make all parenting time decisions based on the best interests of your children.
Divorce Planning Tip #4: Start Thinking about Life, Post-Divorce
In this same vein, it is also important to start thinking about life after your divorce. In order to prioritize effectively, you may need to focus on your needs in the future. Which of your community assets (including savings accounts, IRAs, and 401(k)s) will you need to rely on when living alone after your divorce? If you are planning to seek primary custody of your children, how will this impact your post-divorce financial needs?
Many aspects of the divorce process make it easy to make decisions based on emotion. However, in order to ensure that you are able to preserve your current lifestyle as much as possible, you need to make sure that emotional decisions do not get in the way of informed decisions. By planning beyond the divorce process itself, you can avoid costly mistakes that could negatively impact your life for years – if not decades – to come.
Divorce Planning Tip #5: Prepare to Devote the Time and Attention Required
Finally, in order to achieve a positive outcome from your divorce, you will need to devote the time and attention the process demands. Getting divorced does not have to be contentious or stressful, but doing everything you can to avoid unnecessary hostility still does not necessarily mean that the process will be easy.
From gathering financial records to discussing strategy and negotiating with your spouse (with each of you represented by your own attorneys), the more effort you put in, the more favorable the outcome is likely to be. If you go into your divorce expecting to do very little, you are likely to become frustrated. However, if you approach your divorce from the perspective of doing everything you can to set yourself up for the future, you will almost certainly have a much different (and better) experience.
Speak with a Proven and Skilled Lawyer in Confidence
If you are thinking about filing for divorce in 2020 and would like to speak with an attorney, we encourage you to contact us for a confidential consultation. To schedule an appointment at our family law offices in Tacoma, WA, please call us directly or inquire online today.