The laws that govern family rights and relationships – marriages,
partnerships, parent/child – are pretty similar in most states.
However, each state usually has a few quirks in how they apply those laws.
Here are a few of the surprises you’ll find in Washington State:
Domestic partnerships converted to marriages
In June of 2014, after the legalization of same-sex marriages in Washington,
the state transferred all registered
domestic partnerships into legal marriages. The only exceptions were for couples with one person
over age 62 at the time – or if you requested to have your domestic
partnership dissolved before the cutoff date. The transfer was automatic.
Any couples who wanted to legally dissolve their relationship after the
cutoff date had to take the same actions as any other married couple (divorce
or legal separation).
“Child custody” does not exist
In recent years, Washington has turned its focus to what is in the best
interest of the child rather than the parent. As a result, the state has
replaced the concept of custody with parenting management. This encourages
both parents to stay involved in a child’s life and share parenting
responsibilities. Parental rights and responsibilities are only limited
if evidence of abuse, neglect or other harm to the child’s best
During a divorce, you submit what is called a parenting plan. This document
details your child’s residential schedule with each parent, household
rules, which parent will make what decisions, and how any misunderstandings
will be addressed. These decisions can be made by the court or by agreement
of both parents, but the court will examine the plan to make sure that
the child’s physical, emotional and mental needs are met.
The parent with the children is usually granted the house
The court understands how traumatic changes are in a child’s life.
As a result, the court will usually make decisions that will minimize
the impact of the divorce on your children. If you and the other parent
own a home and you are going to be the “custodial parent”
(meaning the children live with you the majority of the time), then you
will probably be awarded the house if at all possible. The court’s
opinion typically leans toward keeping children in their home to make
coping a little easier.
Washington is a community property state but the property is divided equitably
When people think about states that abide by community property rules,
they think that property is divided straight down the middle. However,
here in Washington, property is divided in an equitable manner. According
to Washington statute, you could receive more or less than half of property
that is classified as
community property. The courts use factors such as how long your relationship lasted, what
your economic situation is like, how much separate property is involved,
and other factors to reach a fair and equitable division of asset and debts.
Annulments do not negate legal rights
Annulments may be granted to couples under certain circumstances. Maybe,
after seven years together, you find out that your partner is still legally
married to someone else! You can have the court declare your marriage
nullified, which means that in the eyes of the state, the marriage never
happened. Despite that fact, you still have legal rights regarding property
and child custody. You can ask the court to make financial orders relating
to support, assign parenting arrangements of any children born from the
union, and even divide community property.
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