Questions from the neighborhood

Recently I asked a neighborhood Facebook group for input on topics to discuss.  Some responses were very personal and I won't discuss them here.  But there was a patter to the general questions.

 Here are is a collection of general questions asked by the group.


Does it matter who files first?

There is no legal significance to who files first.   The one filing is the Petitioner and the other is the respondent.  There really is no benefit of winning the race to the court house.  In fact, Washington State allows couples to file a "joinder".  If both parties sign, one does not have to worry about a process server or filing a response.  It can set the tone for a cooperative divorce.  

If I move out of the house, do I lose all my rights to the property?  Have I "abandoned" it?

I am asked this quite often.  Someone's hairdresser's friend's cousin said that if you move out you are abandoning all rights to the property.  One party moving out is often the most sane thing to do. Give everyone some cooling off time.  

*this does not apply if there are children.  If you have minor children, consult with an attorney before moving out.  

My name is not on the title of the house, does that mean it belongs solely to my spouse?

It does not matter whose name is on title to a house, car, bank account or boat.  If it was obtained with "community funds" it is considered community property.  Community funds are any money earned during the marriage.  If it was obtained by gift or inheritance it MAY be separate property.  

Can I change the locks on the house after my spouse moves out?

If your spouse moves out you can have "exclusive use".  This does not mean you are the sole owner.  Consider it similar to a landlord/tenant relationship.  A landlord can't just drop by anytime.  A landlord must give notice and obtain permission to enter.  Incidentally, if you are changing the locks, don't forget the garage door opener.  

How much alimony can I get and how long can I get it?

We now call it "spousal maintenance" and it is available to either party depending on circumstances.  The standard is "need and ability to pay". That is not very definitive and there is no calculator, even though your hairdresser's friend's cousin tells you there is. We look at how much each party earns and what the expenses are. There is also not a standard calculation for length of time support runs. The length of the marriage and either party's age, health and circumstances are issues that are considered.  This is truly a lawyer answer of "it depends".

Is it true that in a fifty parenting plan, no one has to pay child support?

Not true.  While the state mandated support schedule does provide for a "deviation" the deviation is considered "discretionary".  This means it depends on the relative income of either party.  If one person earns $200,000 a year and the other earns $40,000 it would not be fair to waive child support.  If one party is getting spousal maintenance, that would be considered income also.  

Does my spouse have an interest in my business if I have an LLC, partnership or corporation?


Again, there are other factors such as did you start the business before marriage?  It does  not matter whether your spouse ever took part in the business or did anything to make if viable.  

Do we have to have all the details worked out before filing?

You do not.  I generally advise to file the petition with most issues "to be determined".  That way the ninety day clock can start running.  You can work out the parenting, support and property issues after filing.  There can be circumstances where one or both of you are trying to secure financing.  Then there may be reason to wait to file since the petition is public record.  Your attorney and lender can work together to make sure the timing is right. 

What if we reconcile after I file? 

If both of you agree, you can file an agreed dismissal of the case. 

What are the grounds for divorce in Washington?

Washington is a "no fault" state.  That means if one party thinks the marriage is "irretrievably broken", it is.  No further information is necessary.  The other party does not need to agree.  If one person says it is, then the Court deems it to be so.

I don't want a divorce.  Can I object?  

See above.

Do you have questions I can address in a future post? Send your question to   



Common law marriage -- Can you be married without knowing it?

A warm, sunny beach and a man proposes marriage to a woman.  He tells her that since they have been living together for four years they will be married anyway in three years because it will be a common law marriage so they might as well do it now.  She said yes.

This story was told to me by a friend.  It is romantic and funny.  It is also based on a myth.  

In Washington State and most others, there is no such thing as common law marriage.

Never has been.  Only 16 states have common law marriage and most are phasing it out.  If you really have a need to know, google it.  The above story happened in California and California also does not have common law marriage. 

A question I get asked frequently in social and business networking situations is: 

How many years does it take to have a common law marriage in Washington State? 

Folks often look incredulous when I tell them there is no such thing. because they just know it is true because their friend's hairdresser's cousin said so.  (I get a lot of legal opinions from friend's hairdresser's cousin)  

But like most legal questions, the answer isn't always that simple.  While there has never been common law marriage in this state there are a couple of situations in which a couple might find they have some obligation to each other that are similar to being married.  I generally ask the person if they are just curious or if they have some genuine concerns.  Are they living with someone?  Do they own property together?  In business together?  This is where the conversation is way beyond the ordinary cocktail party small talk.  The person may find a "marriage like" relationship that subjects both parties to some legal consequences.

A committed intimate relationship  (CIR)

Currently there is no specific statute regarding CIR but there is sufficient legal precedent for courts finding that a couple has a legal obligation to each other similar to marriage.  (With one very important difference)

The factors for a CIR are:

  • continuous cohabitation
  • the length of the relationship
  • the purpose of the relationship
  • whether the couple pooled resources and servicesfor joint projects, and
  • the intent of the parties.

Note:  If either of the parties is already married, you cannot have a CIR.  

Thus under the theory of CIR, a court can divide property.  The three pronged test a court uses is:

  • determine whether a “meretricous” relationship existed (see above)
  • evaluate the interest each party has in the property acquired during the relationship, and
  • make a just and equitable (fair) distribution of the property.

Complicated and confusing?  It sure is.  

A CIR does not obligate either party to support the other

This is a very important distinction.  There is no support (alimony) in a CIR.  I know several people who were unpleasantly surprised to find that even after living together for twenty years or more they were not entitled to any support.  

What about child support?

Whenever a couple has a child, there is a support obligation. Married, unmarried or CIR.  Child support is according to the state guidelines.  

Can same sex couples have a CIR?

Yes.  Since Washington State has marriage equality the same rules apply to everyone.  

Can you have written agreements to protect both parties?

Not only can you, but you should.  What are your intentions?  What are your obligations to each other?  Spell it out.  Get it in writing.  






What if your spouse is not a "grownup"

I am often asked what to do if a spouse is not behaving as a grownup.  Does this mean the case has to become contested and ugly?  Not necessarily.  There are a number of strategies that have worked with my clients.  If my client can be the grownup we can resolve the matter in an amicable fashion.

First, try to have a meeting.  I invite the other party to meet with my client and me.  Often the person wants to "save face" by acting like a grown up in front of me.  He/she will explain how logical their position is and why things should go his/her way.  I always listen, pointing out that listening is not agreeing.  This is not the time to attack the opposing side's position.  That will only result in push back.  I want the person to feel heard.  Then I may ask questions or  present my clients position.  The key is to listen.  I am amazed how much I can accomplish by listening. At this meeting, we try to make a determination if we can work together cooperatively.   The majority of the time we actually can.  I make it clear that the opposing party is free to consult an attorney or even seek representation.  Leaving that back door open is important.

There are times where the opposing party is obstinate and clearly has no interest in being cooperative.  At that point I ask the opposing party to seek his/her own counsel.  I explain to my client that this is not necessarily a bad thing because then I have a grownup to talk to.  I advise my client that we will know a lot more about how the case will go after I find who they hired.  Mean nasty people like to hire mean nasty lawyers.  If that happens, we do not have a cooperative case and we proceed as necessary.  

An important point to remember is that even if a case is very contentious, it will probably not go to trial.  Fewer that 1% of divorce cases actually go to trial. There are a lot of steps along the way and almost all cases settle somewhere before trial.  

If the case does become contentious, there is no reason you need to be contentious.  Fighting fire with fire is not a very good approach when it comes to divorce.  Then you both get burned. 

Yes, a divorce can be negotiated even if only one of you is the grown up.  


Welcome to Karin's Blog

This is a collection of random thoughts and observations.  Questions are welcome for future posts.  You may want to check out the page "Thoughts about Divorce" for a collection of previous posts that I have written over the years.  Many of these started out as newspaper columns.  I hope you find them educational.  

In my 21+ years of family law I have many stories.  I may share some of those here, but always preserving my client's anonymity.   Each of us is different and yet there are so many commonalities.  I share other peoples stories so you can see that you are not alone, or learn how other people handle certain issues.  

How did I get into this business?  That is an often asked question.  When I completed law school and became licensed to practice law I only knew that I wanted to have my own practice -- "hang my own shingle" as they used to say. I tried several different areas -- employment, personal injury, will and trusts and even did some eviction work just to pay the rent.  Everywhere I went socially people would tell me their personal stories and ask me to help.  I helped a young mother get a better parenting arrangement with her young daughter.  I helped several people with a divorce and realized that was what I was meant to do.  I decided if family law was what I was going to be practicing I better learn more.  I went to countless trainings, I apprenticed with one of the top attorneys in the county and  I also took classes in mediation, conflict management and even trial practice.  

Over the years I have also taken extensive training in divorce mediation and collaborative law.  When I relocated to Washington State in 2003 I took a fresh look at my practice and decided there must be a better way.  That's when Divorce for Grownups began.  I find that most people would prefer to resolve their marital dissolution in a grown up way.  That doesn't mean there isn't emotion, even anger and resentment but it can be harnessed so that both parties can move forward with their new lives.  Clients also appreciate the privacy I offer them.  They avoid court and public airing of their grievances.  Life is better for me, my staff and all concerned since I developed Divorce for Grownups.   

I welcome your questions for future postings.  I am always open to ideas.  

Help! Ive just been served!

Getting served divorce papers must be right up there with the worst day of your life.  The papers are very official looking and in your shock completely incomprehensible. The cover is a Summons that extols you to respond within a certain number of days.  What to do?

Over the years I have many experiences with these shell shocked people.  What amazes me is how many of them claimed they didn't see it coming.  How do you not know your spouse has been meeting with a lawyer and is planning to divorce you.  Didn't you have any conversation about this?

The worst experience ever happened in California.  Henry came to my office with the requisite official papers but he also had a letter from an attorney.  No, not the letter from his wife's attorney but from an attorney who was soliciting his business.  Henry did not know his wife had filed for divorce until he got a letter from an attorney informing him his wife had filed for divorce and said lawyer would be happy to help him.  This lawyer was combing the public records and sending solicitation letters to soon-to-be Respondents in divorce actions.  Henry hired me rather than the ambulance chaser.  When I called the wife's attorney he was even more appalled at the solicitation.   He and the wife were not yet ready to tell Harold about the divorce.  Not a good start for the case.

Being served has a very technical legal definition.  It means that a process server came to your home or employment and left papers.  Often, however, people merely received papers in the mail, by e mail or even handed to them by their spouse.  Often this is accompanied by a document Acknowledgment or Receipt.   I rarely use a process server but there are times where it is necessary.  Here are some points for either method:

NOTE:  The following are only general guidelines and your case may be different.  Also note that this information is intended for WASHINGTON STATE cases only. 

Were you served by a process server?  Or, Is a process server trying to serve you?

  • First of all, dont try to evade service.  Process servers are pretty diligent and will find you and you have only made things more expensive and difficult.  This is not the time to be evasive.
  • The process server may have left the papers with someone else at your house.  This is probably still good service.
  • You do not have to sign for the papers.  Even though you through them on the ground, you have been served.
  • Dont leave abusive messages for your spouse.  Restraining orders will usually follow.
  • Dont file anything with the court even though the Summons only gave you 20 days.  you want to do this one correctly.
  • Find a lawyer you resonate with.  Review some web sites of the individual lawyer, not the lawyer listing services.  Most of us try to express our philosophy and point of view on web sites.  Make a phone call or visit in person for a face-to-face.  Make a decision.  Your new lawyer will file a response for you and then you can plan the next steps.
  • Using a process server generally is a more aggressive approach.  You really do need to talk to a lawyer.

Did you receive papers in the mail,  e mail or in person with an Acknowledgment or Receipt?

  • The acknowledgment merely asks you to acknowledge that you received the papers, not that you are agreeing to anything.  Its OK to acknowledge receipt.
  • You can give the papers to your lawyer who can accept service on your behalf.  Probably the preferred route
  • Again, pay attention to the time requirements on the Summons.  You really do need to respond by filing a response with the court
  • While this is a more amicable approach, you must take these papers seriously.  If you do not acknowledge receipt a process server will come knocking and you will be expected to pay for it.

Is there a court hearing scheduled on this case?  For what purpose?

  • This means it is a particularly aggresive case.  You must take action immediately.
  • Often clients overlook this because it comes in such a thick package.  Your lawyer needs time to respond to this.  Dont wait until the day before the hearing to talk to a lawyer.
  • Dont panic.  Often a lawyer can get a brief continuance for the hearing and sometimes can negotiate it away entirely.
  • Not attending the hearing or attending unprepared is a big mistake.

Are there temporary restraining orders?

  • You must pay attention to these.  This is serious business
  • If they are financial restraining orders just make sure you dont close accounts, cancel insurance, etc.  Follow instructions.
  • If they are restraints on personal conduct they really mean it.  DO NOT CONTACT your spouse in any manner.  Do not have a friend or relative do so.  This could result in severe consequences, even jail.
  • Dont panic.  Your lawyer may be able to negotiate these away or find a less harsh solution.
  • Dont try to handle this yourself.
  • NOTE FOR WASHINGTON STATE RESIDENTS:  Some counties (Snohomish for one) have automatic financial restraints.   These are automatic and not something your spouse requested.  It is not necessarily overly aggressive.  The court requires it.

Papers you were probably served.

  • Summons and Complaint
  • Petition
  • Blank Response

you may have also received:

  • Acknowledgment or Receipt
  • Automatic Financial Restraining Orders
  • Blank Response
  • Case Schedule
  • Notice of required parenting class and registration information

If you received the following, see a lawyer immediately:

  • Temporary Restraining Orders for Personal Conduct
  • Notice of Hearing for temporary orders
  • Proposed Temporary Orders

Conclusion If you have been served divorce papers

  • Dont panic
  • Talk to a lawyer right away
  • Be able to tell your lawyer which of the above papers you were served

Washington State Divorce Most Commonly Asked Questions

As we meet with clients, these are some of the most common questions we answer.  Keep in mind, this is for Washington State residents only.  Also some of the counties in Washington have different policies.  We practice primarily in King and Snohomish Counties.  Our clients primarily live in the Eastside cities of Bellevue, Kirkland, Issaquah, Woodinville, Bothell, Mill Creek and Samamish, although we do see many Seattle residents.


I hear about uncontested divorce, what does that mean?


Technically there is no such specific action as uncontested divorce.  All divorces are considered a lawsuit with a Petitioner and a Respondent.  A couple may agree to a divorce and agree on all the issues, but in the court file it looks the same as a so-called contested.  In our office, we work very had to make all our cases co-operative and avoid court whenever possible, we dont divide cases up as contested or uncontested.  On line promotions offer a special price for uncontested divorce,  know this is merely a marketing term and is not an actual description of a case type.  The divorce is not final on the 91st day unless one of the parties specifically does something like enter a court order.   Some of our cases are resolved very quickly and some have taken over a year.  Each case is different.

Do we have to wait for the house to be sold before we can finalize a divorce?

No,  it is quite common for a couple to finalize a divorce before they have sold the house.  It is important to state very specifically what is to happen to the house and how the proceeds will be divided.

My spouse does not live in this state, can I still get a divorce here?

Yes, you can dissolve the marriage in Washington if you are living here.  Property and support issues get a little more complex and you will want to consult with a lawyer on your individual circumstances if your spouse does not live here.

Is it true that all my assets will be frozen while the divorce is pending?

This is a very common concern and it is not true.  In some circumstances, one of the spouses attorneys will ask for temporary financial restraints.  These do not freeze the assets but are designed to prevent a spouse from transferring or hiding assets.  Day to day business can still be conducted and the parties can agree on other financial transactions.

Do I have to have a lawyer?

Trick question!  Many couples do complete their own divorce but it is always advisable to at least consult with an attorney to see if you are missing anything.  The court forms can be very confusing and a consult with a lawyer can save you a lot of time.  Most lawyers, our firm included offer consulting services that can save you a lot of time and money and inform you of unforeseen issues.  it is worth a consult fee.  We offer legal coaching at a very reasonable fee.


We invite you to submit further questions

Let us know if you have more questions.  We always welcome ideas for future posts.

How to Handle a Parenting Evaluation

The major benefit of a cooperative divorce with children is that the parents work together on a parenting plan that is in the best interests of the children without court intervention.    However sometimes it is necessary to involve the court.  Either party may request a parenting evaluation or the court, if it deems necessary, may appoint an evaluator.  My friend, attorney Alan Funk has written an excellent paper to help parents involved in an evaluation.  I have reprinted here with his permission.  Thank you Alan.  


By: Alan Scott Funk


Appointing and Retaining the evaluator

Evaluators are usually appointed by the court at an initial hearing. Once contacted, most evaluators will send a questionnaire, request a a fee deposit, and require a contract. PROMPTLY RESPOND. The evaluator may negatively view an inability to handle these simple tasks. Work with your attorney, complete the forms, and pay the deposit. Your attorney will probably want to send the documents filed in the case, and may also want to send a letter letting the evaluator know your position. DO NOT act without coordinating with your attorney.

Keep it Simple

When completing the forms, avoid angry or accusatory answers-just state the facts. Keep your answers short. You should make each of your major points only once and reserve the minor points and the long explanations until later.

Collateral Contacts

The evaluator will probably ask for collateral contacts. That just means theyd like to talk with witnesses that can support your position. Dont overwhelm the evaluator with a list of 50 names. Three to five names of people who have seen your parenting skills should suffice. Teachers and doctors are often viewed as reliable and neutral sources. It probably wont help the evaluator to talk with your mother and find that she loves you, but doesnt like your ex-spouse. Include close family if you have no other witnesses or the family has witnesses an incident that is being investigated

The Interview: Dress the Part Act the Part

Make sure you put your best foot forward for the interview. The interview may be in your home, or at the evaluators office. Dress appropriately. If you are bringing a child, bring age appropriate reading or other activities. Bring snacks and juice for toddlers. You are not just there to answer questions, but to be observed. Make sure you give proper attention to the child(ren). Giving spectacular answers to questions isnt going to help if the evaluator observes you neglecting a childs needs. This stuffs hard to fake. If you are not really comfortable caring for the child you probably should be looking to settle the case before the report comes out.

Tell the truth

You can lose all of your credibility by lying about some small detail. Stick to the truth and you cant go wrong. Your case may not be as great as you wish but lying will not only fail to make your case any better than it really is, but can destroy any chance you have at reaching your goals. If you have to lie to reach your goals you need to set more realistic your goals. If you have misbehaved in the past, you should recognize that you were wrong and make a real commitment to behave better.

Do what you are told

If you are asked to sign a release for medical or other records you should do. If you have reason to believe the records will be trouble, you should review that with your attorney before meeting the evaluator. If you are ordered to a drug or alcohol evaluation or any treatment you should not argue about it. You will want to confer with your attorney before you enroll. Your attorney may want to hire a consulting expert to review the issues before selecting an evaluator.

Review the negative report

The report may be harmful to your case. Some reports are harmful to your case because they are accurate and well reasoned. Some reports are harmful because they are sloppy, wrong and poorly reasoned. You are probably not in good position to figure out which type this one is. You need independent advice. If your time with your kids is at issue you need an attorneys assistance. If you are going to need an attorneys help, it is far better to get that help early in the case, before you find yourself staring at a bad evaluators report.

Get the evaluators file

In Washington you have a right to access the evaluators file. If the report is negative, but accurate you should be looking to settle the parenting issues. If the report is negative and wrong you will want to go over the file and take the deposition of the evaluator. If the report can be shown to be in error, all hope is not lost.

What is in the file

See RCW 26.09.220(3) (See Appendix) and WAC 246-924-445 (parties are entitled to all underlying data and should request information prior to deposition and/or trial) a. The forensic history questionnaires b. Parenting history surveys c. Personal history checklists d. Personal problems checklists e. Notes from party interviews f. Observation sessions g. Child behavior checklists h. Children’s problems checklists i. Notes from child interviews j. Notes from all collateral interviews k. The collateral documents reviewed l. The informed consent documents executed by the parties m. The consent forms executed by the child (if child is 12 or older) n. Complete billing information including internal billing, the names and addresses of all persons whom the investigator has consulted o. Were audio or video recordings made? F. Issue Subpoena Duces Tecum for deposition – even if you already obtained a copy of file

Deposing the expert

Every expert can be impeached based on: 1. Credibility (bias and pecuniary interest) 2. Prior conduct 3. Prior inconsistent statements 4. Hypothetical questions 5. Learned treatises, and the law 6. Reliance on incorrect or insufficient foundational information 7. Opinions of other experts Find out if the expert has anything to say that isn’t in the report Get the expert’s testimony on record a. so it can’t be changed or supplemented later and b. so the expert can be impeached with testimony inconsistent with deposition testimony Find out if the expert has anything to say that isn’t in the report Get the expert’s testimony on record a. so it can’t be changed or supplemented later and b. so the expert can be impeached with testimony inconsistent with deposition testimony

Guidelines, Rules and Statutes that Apply

Learned treatises, the statutes governing parenting plans & guardians. Guardians and evaluators should be familiar with: 1. American Academy of Psychiatry & the Law Ethical Guidelines for the Practice of Forensic Psychiatry (Adopted May, 1987; last revised 1995) 2. The APA Guidelines for Child Custody Evaluations in Divorce Proceedings (1994) 3. RCW 26.12.175 187; 26.09.220; 184; 187 & 191, 4. The Guardian Ad Litem Rules (GALR’s) 5. WAC 246-924 (Psychologists in general) 6. WAC 246-924-445 (Parenting Evaluations – Standards) (See Appendix)

Administrative Code

Rules of ethical conduct for psychologist. 1. 246-924-352 Definitions 2. 246-924-353 Competence 3. 246-924-354 Maintenance and retention of records 4. 246-924-355 Continuity of care 5. 246-924-356 Impaired objectivity 6. 246-924-357 Multiple relationships 7. 246-924-358 Sexual misconduct 8. 246-924-359 Client welfare 9. 246-924-361 Exploiting supervises and research subjects 10. 246-924-363 Protecting confidentiality of clients 11. 246-924-364 Fees 12. 246-924-365 Assessment procedures 13. 246-924-366 Fraud, misrepresentation, or deception 14. 246-924-367 Aiding illegal practice 15. 246-924-445 Parenting evaluations Standards 16. 246-924-467 Limited services related to parenting evaluations

Are the conclusions supported by the Facts?

The evaluator should be able to support each conclusion with the facts that are supplied and concrete examples of specific behavior that have been corroborated by multiple measures (WAC 246-924-445 requires it)



Alan S. Funk
Wechsler Becker, LLP
701 Fifth Avenue, Suite 4550
Columbia Center
Seattle, WA 98104
(206) 624-4900|  Fax: (206) 386-7896

Keeping Your Divorce Information Private

Did you know that divorce files are open to anyone?

At one time divorce files could be “sealed” so that no one other than the parties or their attorney could look at the files. That is no longer. Divorce files are public record and available to anyone with or without a legitimate purpose according to the Freedom of Information laws. In many places the files are available on line or soon will be. The only way to keep such information from prying eyes is to not have it in the record at all. Just because you are getting a divorce does not mean you have to expose all of your private information to other’s scrutiny.

The information in a divorce file can include financial information, property settlement agreements, and worst of all, the unproven allegations one parent is making against the other. In some cases parenting evaluations, including psychological evaluations, are available to the curious. A business owner may find very private company financial information in these filings.

While filing for divorce (technically, dissolution of marriage) is a matter of public record there are ways a divorcing couple can avoid most exposure of their private information. Several forms of what I call co-operative divorce provide the means to keep all but the most basic information confidential. The parties’ property settlement agreement, while completely enforceable as a contract, is not filed with the court.

The privacy concern is probably on of the most important reasons to work with an attorney rather than on line programs or do-it-yourself divorce. The first thing I notice when do-it-yourselfers want me to review their papers is how willing they are to list all their assets, all their debt and other private information in the documents. No one tells them there is another way.

When engaged in co-operative divorce a couple keeps court filings to the minimum required to obtain a final decree. The settlement terms, financial disclosure and other concerns remain private. If there is a parenting recommendation by an evaluator or counselor, that information remains confidential to the parties and their attorneys.

What constitutes as co-operative divorce? This can range from a couple that agrees on everything and asks an attorney to draft final documents to a mediated divorce model where the couple works with one attorney on resolving the various issues and preparing the final documents all the way to a complex situation in which both sides have attorneys but the attorneys and the parties contract to keep the matter out of court.

Besides the privacy issues I discussed above, a cooperative divorce costs about one-third of the traditional litigated divorce. Studies have shown that the outcomes, do not have to be one sided or influenced by the person with the stronger personality.  The structure of the process can provide even more fairness than litigation.  Most importantly,  the outcomes are resolved. Litigated divorces often are re-litigated, and continue to be modified even years later. The evidence is that the parties are more apt to keep the agreements they worked on cooperatively and don’t have to go back to court.

Most important of all: PRIVACY IS PRESERVED.