Family Law

Family Law

The phrase “family law” covers a wide range of issues. Although parts of this area of legal practice, such as adoption, are associated with joyful events, many are very challenging to the people involved.

At our Shoreline, Washington, law firm, our lawyers focus on helping people get through very difficult times. We are known as caring attorneys who give our clients personal attention and a sympathetic ear while providing effective advocacy.

Family law matters include anything related to legal disputes and obligations within families. In many instances, these issues overlap with other areas of the law. For example, a person getting a divorce should consider revising his or her trust or will; all people with substantial assets or expectancy of receiving substantial assets should consider prenuptial agreements if they plan to remarry.

Same gender couples and some two gender couples can now register their domestic partnership and enjoy nearly all the benefits of marriage. Because our firm handles a wide range of legal issues, we are able to assist clients with family law problems that may arise as a result of other legal matters.

Issues in Our Family Law Practice

Our attorneys counsel and represent clients in matters such as:

  • Divorce
  • Child support and child custody
  • Alimony (also known as maintenance)
  • Property division
  • Pre-nuptial and post-nuptial agreements for marriage and domestic partnerships
  • Adoption
  • Paternity
  • Modifications of court orders
  • Domestic violence
  • Domestic partnership formation and break-up

 

Collaborative Law, a Less Stressful Alternative

We are strong proponents of collaborative law, an alternative dispute resolution method that can save people time and money. Equally important, people are more likely to abide by arrangements developed through the collaborative law process because they had a big part in developing the arrangements themselves. The process is less confrontational and usually less stressful.

Reducing anxiety and stress is an important consideration, because it helps family members deal with each other in a civil way once the issue is resolved. People do not have to contend with the anger and hurt feelings that are common after a traditional divorce or other hotly contested family law matter. Our lawyers can discuss your options and help you decide whether the collaborative approach is right for you.

Child Support and Child Custody

Issues related to children can be highly contentious during divorce. Parents sometimes use their children to strike back at their spouses. This distracts from the most important consideration, the best interests of the children. Moreover, parents who fight over the children may find themselves saddled with custody or support orders that really do not meet their needs or those of their children.

At our Shoreline, Washington, law firm, the Hawkes Law Firm, our attorneys guide clients as they consider their options in child custody and support matters. We give parents the time they need to consider their options and help them understand the long-term consequences of their choices. We encourage them to use collaborative law or mediation to arrive at mutually agreeable outcomes that they can support and implement. And we are skilled enough at litigation tactics to utilize that dispute resolution mechanism to our clients’ advantage.

Issues in Child Support and Custody

We help parents resolve custody and support matters such as:

Developing parenting plans, which are detailed description of the child’s living arrangements, or residential schedules, and contact with the non-residential parent (visitation). If the parents can agree and the parenting plan is deemed to be in the best interest of the child, the court will usually approve it. However, if the parents cannot agree, the court will evaluate factors such as the strength of the parent-child relationship, the child’s relationship with siblings, the needs of the children and other matters that go into court-determined parenting plans.

Determining child support in Washington is accomplished by applying the state’s child support guidelines. The guidelines, also called schedules, take all sources of income into account and allocates support obligations to each parent based on a schedule. Even if the parents agree, the court is required to rule on child support to ensure that children will not become public charges.

Modifying or enforcing orders after divorce can involve parenting plans, child custody, spousal or child support, and property division. Issues in contested modifications often include charges of inadequate or inconsistent parenting. Modifications that affect the parenting plan are often the result of one parent seeking to relocate. Child support modification requests are often the result of job loss, illness or disability. In all these matters, our lawyers work hard to help parents develop solutions that are in the best interests of their children.

Domestic Partnerships, Agreements and Breakups

When a registered domestic partnership breaks up, the parties need to make the same choices as married couples do. Issues related to children, support and property must be resolved to dissolve a domestic partnership agreement.

At the Hawkes Law Firm, in Shoreline, Washington, our lawyers help people deal with the dissolution of domestic partnership agreements. We know this is a difficult time for our clients and we spend the time necessary to understand their concerns and discuss their options. Our clients include people in same-sex relationships, opposite sex couples, elderly people, couples with and without children and couples with special needs. In all cases, our lawyers provide a sympathetic ear and a caring response to clients’ questions.

Dissolution of Domestic Partnership Agreements is Similar to Divorce

Clients who are dissolving their domestic partnerships must deal with property and asset division as well as maintenance. They must make arrangements for visitation, parenting plans, child support and child custody. Although the issues are the same as in divorce, the details of each case can be very different. Our attorneys have the experience and knowledge to guide clients through domestic partnership breakup matters, however complex or unusual the case.

Issues Related to Children in Domestic Partnership Dissolution

Although most matters that arise in domestic partnership breakups are similar to those in divorce, issues related to children can be more complicated, especially in same sex domestic partnerships. The children may have been adopted, may be the biological children of one of the parents, or may have been conceived through a surrogate arrangement or other assisted reproduction method. Circumstances can make determining child custody and support more challenging. Our attorneys are highly knowledgeable about the legal issues involved in such situations and are able to counsel our clients on the best courses of action.

Divorce

Divorce is almost always highly stressful, even if the parties think they are in agreement on most issues. Even though Washington is a “no-fault” state, there are still many matters to be resolved if the parties agree that their marriage is irretrievably broken.

More Than Counselors-at-Law

At our Shoreline law firm, the Hawkes Law Firm, our attorneys are strong advocates for our clients and their children. We are more than counselors-at-law — we provide a sympathetic ear and sound advice. We ensure that clients understand the long-term consequences of their decisions.

We do our best to help clients stay focused on the important issues rather than spending emotional energy on non-essential matters. In short, we guide clients through the process, giving them the help they need to move forward with their lives after divorce.

Issues in Divorce

The major issues in divorce are:

  • Child support and child custody
  • Development of parenting plans in support of custody arrangements
  • Division of assets and debts according to the community property laws that apply in Washington
  • Spousal maintenance (also known as alimony)
  • Modifications and enforcement of orders after divorce

 

Collaborative Law in Divorce

It is far better if the parties can agree on the issues above rather than letting the court decide for them. We encourage clients to employ approaches such as collaborative law or mediation that can help them develop proposals that meet their needs. The outcome of this approach is almost always better for everyone involved. Our lawyers help clients develop proposals that the court is likely to approve.

Dissolution FAQ's

What is spousal maintenance?

Spousal maintenance is financial support provided by one spouse to the other during or after a divorce, separation, or invalidity proceeding. The court must determine a number of factors, including the need of one party and the ability of the other party to pay, the length of the marriage.

What if a spouse has misbehaved during the marriage, by gambling excessively, using drugs illegally, having an affair, or similar behaviors?

Bad behavior does not usually affect how property and debts are divided.  An exception to this general rule is when the misbehavior was intended to and resulted in the destruction of property or waste of community assets, by wasting money gambling excessively without the permission of the other spouse, for example, or lavishing gifts upon an extramarital lover without the spouse’s permission.  Behaviors such as domestic violence, intoxication, emotional abuse can seriously affect a parenting plan, however.

What does a court need to do in a divorce?

The court needs to determine the following:

  1. Should the parties be divorced? Washington is a “no fault” state and the court must determine that a marriage is irretrievably broken, and that more than 90 days have passed since the later of the filing of the Summons and Petition and the service on the opposing party.
  2. Characterize and divide the assets and debts of the parties. The court must first determine what is separate and what is community, then make an equitable division of the assets and debts of the parties.
  3. Parenting Plan. If there are minor children the court must establish a Parenting Plan which allocates when the children will be with each parent, makes decisions for the children and rules how minor disputes about the Plan are to be resolved.
  4. Child Support. The court must establish support for the children pursuant to the child support guidelines.
  5. Spousal Maintenance. The court must consider whether a party requires spousal maintenance.
  6. Name Change. The court should consider whether either or both parties should be granted a name change.

Is there a waiting period before a divorce can be final?

The waiting period to finalize a divorce in Washington is 90 days after the Summons and Petition are filed and served on the other party. This is a minimum period and is intended to allow time for reconciliation between the parties.  The process could take much longer if the parties have difficulty reaching an agreement.

Can there be a legal name change in the process?

Yes. Typically, if either party requests a name change, the request should be included in the petition.

What is a “separate property”?

Separate property means possessions or real estate that was owned before the marriage, or that was received during the marriage as a gift or inheritance, or that was purchased with separate property, and not commingled with community property

What is a “community property”?

Community property is all assets and debts, including wages and retirement that are acquired from the date of the marriage through the date of legal separation.

How does a court divide property and debts?

In Washington, in a divorce action the court has authority over both separate and community property. The court is required to determine what is separate property, what is community property, and then divide the property and debts justly and equitably. The division is not necessarily an equal division. The court uses a series of factors under Washington law, such as how long the couple were married, the nature and extent of community and separate property. If there are minor children, the economic circumstances of each party at the time the division is made, and other factors.

What happens if my spouse does not respond to the petition for dissolution?

This is called a default. If the other spouse never answers the Petition for Dissolution by filing response papers, default allows you to finish your case.

How is a parenting plan determined?

In general, all child custody decisions are to be based on “the best interests of the children.” The court looks at a number of factors including: limitations of a parent due to prior conduct or an impairment; agreements of the parties; the relative strength, nature and stability of child and relationship with each child; each parents past and future performance of parenting functions; the needs and developmental level of the children; and relationship with siblings and other folks.

How is child support determined?

Washington has adopted child support guidelines that must be applied in divorce and custody cases in which minor children are involved. Every child has the right to the support of both parents. Washington has adopted a schedule that takes into account the income of each parent from all sources including overtime pay and determines what support each parent is responsible for based on a table.

What role does domestic violence play in divorce?

As with so many issues involved in divorce cases, domestic violence may or may not play a significant role in the legal process depending upon the exact circumstances. This is especially true in cases involving child custody and visitation determinations.

What is collaborative law?

Collaborative law is an alternative dispute resolution process. In the collaborative law process parties to a divorce, and their attorneys, commit to an honest, open, cooperative resolution of all issues without going to court. In fact, the defining feature of collaborative law is that both parties and both attorneys agree in writing that they will not go to court except to enter the final decree of dissolution. Instead, they will provide open, informal, expedited discovery of all relevant facts and documents; they will participate in meetings and commit to bona fide negotiations. If either party or their attorney decides that the case should go to court, the attorneys are both required to withdraw from the case and any disclosures to that point cannot be used in the court case without permission from both parties. Collaborative law works best when both parties are on a relatively equal footing.