Snohomish Divorce Attorney

Attorney Walton Dabney Advises Washington Residents on Divorce and Legal Separation

If you’re considering divorce, you’re already well-versed in the details of your marriage. Yet this may be your first experience with the courts. Even if you dealt with divorce before, the details of your current situation differ from those you’ve experienced in the past.

Many people experience divorce negotiations and consider it to be one of the most complex and contentious challenges. The stakes are high, and the risks of a mistake may reverberate through your life for years to come. 

Dabney Law Firm PLLC is here to help. We’ll help you navigate the divorce process and build a brighter future for you and your family. 

Key Issues in a Washington Divorce

According to Washington’s Department of Health 2020 Marriage and Divorce Dashboard for Snohomish County, there was a 4.1 marriage rate for every 1000 people. In 2020, Snohomish had a population total of 830,500. However, of these people, there was a 1.9 divorce rate.

Four key issues arise in nearly every Washington divorce or separation:

  1. How will the spouses divide their property?
  2. Where will the children live, how will they be raised, and who will make decisions for them?
  3. Who pays child support and how much?
  4. Will either spouse pay spousal support to the other, and if so, how much?

Answering these four questions can quickly turn a divorce into a complex legal matter. For example, you may wonder how to divide retirement savings. A divorce or separation may have unforeseen impacts on the immigration status of one of the spouses. If you own a family business or have extensive assets, property division questions become more complicated.

Property Division

Nearly all Washington divorce or separation questions address property.

Washington is a community property state. Courts in Washington treat property acquired during the marriage as property that is jointly owned by both spouses, even if only one spouse’s name is on the title. Your income or earnings during your marriage are considered community property, as are your spouse’s income or earnings.

In contrast with community property, separate property belongs to one spouse or the other. Examples of separate property include the following:

  • Property one spouse acquired before the marriage;
  • Property one spouse received as a gift or inheritance during the marriage; and
  • Property one spouse acquired after the couple separated.

“Property” includes both assets and debts. Debts that one spouse acquired before the marriage or after the couple separated are considered separate rather than community propertyーthey belong to the spouse that acquired them. 

What is Community Property vs. Separate Property?

The community property rule may even extend to property you acquired while you lived together before you became legally married. An experienced Washington divorce attorney can help you determine whether an item should be considered community property.

Washington courts do not automatically split community property equally between spouses. Rather, courts strive to split community property “equitably,” in a fashion that leaves the two people in approximately similar financial situations. 

Washington law allows courts to make any “just and equitable” divisions of property. To determine what is “just and equitable,” the court may consider:

  • The nature and extent of the property – both community and separate property.
  • How long the spouses were married.
  • The economic position each spouse will be in when the property division takes effect.
  • How child custody is arranged and whether the parent with custody should also receive the family home. 

Property division questions quickly become complex. Questions about retirement accounts, family-owned businesses, closely-held corporations, and other assets can further complicate the process. Working with an experienced divorce attorney is essential. 

Child Custody, Visitation, and Parenting Time

Although most Washington residents are familiar with terms like “custody” and “visitation,” most Washington courts talk about arrangements for children differently. Terms like “parenting plan,” “residential schedule,” and “decision-making authority” are more common. 

Regardless of the terms used, spouses with minor children will need to answer several questions about their children’s future. Common questions involving a couple’s children include:

  • Will the children live with one parent more than the other, or will they spend equal time with each parent?
  • If the children live primarily with one parent, when, where, and how will they spend time with the other parent?
  • Who will make decisions about the children’s education, medical care, and other significant life experiences?
  • If the parents disagree about how to raise their children, how will they find a solution?

The court order that outlines answers to these questions is called a parenting plan. Every parent and every child benefits from a parenting plan. The plan sets ground rules for raising children together even when you live apart. It clarifies expectations. It creates rules and boundaries that help the parents plan their time and the children feel secure with a routine. 

How is Parenting Time Determined in WA

Custody decisions are made on a case-by-case basis. Courts place the child’s best interests highly in their consideration of custody and visitation decisions. Generally, courts will favor allowing both parents to spend equal time with their children. 

However, Washington law requires courts to limit one parent’s time with children if that parent is a member of their household and has:

  • Willfully abandoned or refused to care for their children for an extended period;
  • Committed physical, emotional, or sexual abuse of any child;
  • Engaged in past domestic violence or assault that poses a risk of serious harm; or
  • Was convicted of certain types of crimes related to sexual behavior. 

In addition, Washington law allows courts to limit a parent’s custody or visitation time if the court finds that a parent:

  • Neglected to care for their children or substantially failed to care for their children;
  • Has a long-term emotional, physical, or substance abuse problem that interferes with their ability to care for their children;
  • Behaved in ways that risk serious damage to the child’s psychological development, such as by acting abusively during divorce negotiations;
  • Kept the child from the other parent for an extended period without good reason;
  • Has failed to build a bond with the child or has seriously undermined their bond with the child; or
  • Another reason exists to believe that unrestricted contact would not be in the child’s best interests.

Restrictions may include limiting the time one parent spends with the child, requiring that time to be supervised, or holding a parent to certain standards of behavior. 

Child and Spousal Support

Some divorce arrangements require one spouse to pay the other a set amount of money on a schedule. These payments are generally known as “support.” Both child support and spousal support fall in this category, yet these two forms of support operate differently.

Child Support

Child support is typically paid by one parent to the other to help cover their children’s basic needs, from heat in the household to school supplies. Each parent has a legal duty to help support their children, whether or not the child lives with that parent. 

Child support is calculated according to the Washington State Support Schedule. In making its calculations, the court may consider the needs of the children and the incomes of each parent. If the parents’ incomes are quite different, one parent may need to pay child support even if the parents split custody evenly.

Parents may also be required to share costs for the children’s needs. Examples include the costs of healthcare not covered by insurance, daycare, school tuition, and the expenses of long-distance visits. 

Spousal Support 

Spousal support, once called “alimony,” is financial support where one spouse makes payments to their ex-spouse. It may also be called “maintenance.” 

Not all Washington divorces include an award of spousal support. Rather, the court considers support requests on a case-by-case basis. When examining a support request, the court considers factors like:

  • Each spouse’s financial resources. These include the property each spouse receives in the divorce, whether each spouse can meet their financial needs, and the amount of child support one spouse may receive from the other.
  • Whether one spouse can receive the education or training needed to boost their income, and if so, how long it may take.
  • The “standard of living” or lifestyle the spouses enjoyed while they were married.
  • How long the spouses were married.
  • The age, health condition, and financial obligations of each spouse.
  • Whether each spouse is capable of paying spousal support on top of paying their own bills.

Spousal support awards are typically limited to a certain amount of time. Their goal is to ensure that one spouse does not become destitute as a result of the divorce. A limited spousal support award, for instance, may be granted while one spouse works to complete a college degree or technical training. Once the training is complete and the new graduate moves into higher-paying employment, the spousal support payments may no longer be necessary. 

Contact Dabney Law Firm’s Snohomish Divorce Lawyers Today 

Divorce can be complex. The consequences of a mistake now can haunt you for years to come. You don’t want to spend additional time in court reworking parenting plans or battling over an improper property decision. Nor do you want your children to face the struggles of the divorce process longer than necessary.

Contact Dabney Law Firm PLLC today. We’ll help you understand your legal options and choose the right path forward for yourself and your family. You can give us a call at 425-488-5809 or contact us through our online form.


Dabney Law Firm can help you disregard the default and chart your own path. We help people customize their relationships. Write your own vows, your own rules, your own plan.

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