Maintenance, Property, Parenting and Attorneys' Fees

Spousal Maintenance

Maintenance (formerly called alimony) may be ordered where there is a demonstrated need for it on the part of one party and the ability to pay on the part of the other. Marital misconduct is not considered in setting maintenance. Maintenance is sometimes awarded temporarily pending trial, but the Court is usually reluctant to award post-divorce maintenance except in the neediest circumstances. The law requires a Court to consider the following factors in determining whether to award maintenance:

  • Length of marriage
  • Education level of the parties
  • Employment histories of the parties
  • Age of the parties
  • Physical and emotional condition of the parties
  • Whether or not the party seeking maintenance is also receiving child support
  • The standard of living established during the marriage

(other factors may be submitted as well - depending upon the circumstances.)

Division of Property and Debts

As part of the dissolution, the Court makes a disposition of the property and liabilities of the parties, either community or separate, as appears "just and equitable" to the Court after considering all relevant factors. This means there is no basis to assume property and debts automatically are split 50/50. There also is no basis to assume that property over which there is disagreement will be sold - that very rarely is ordered. The factors considered by the Court in dividing property include:

  • The nature and extent of the community property
  • The nature and extent of the separate property
  • The duration of the marriage
  • The economic circumstances of each party at the time the division of property is to become effective including 1) awarding the family home to the party providing primary residence for the children or 2) awarding more property to a party who lost income producing potential during the marriage or who simply has noticeably less income producing potential than the other party

Parenting Plan

Whenever there are minor children, the Court must enter a final parenting plan as a part of concluding the case. A Petitioner is expected to file such a plan within 30 days of filing the Petition for Dissolution of Marriage (or Legal Separation). If temporary orders are necessary, then a temporary parenting plan normally is entered. Often the temporary plan that is adopted becomes the basis for the final plan. The Court must examine several factors when adopting a parenting plan. These factors include (this is not an exhaustive list):

  • Where and with whom have the children resided for the last 12 months
  • How were the children cared for and which parent performed what functions as relates to the children's daily needs (a child's "daily needs" is considered but now receives less weight).
  • Work schedules for each parent, both current and for the last 12 months
  • Child care schedules for each parent, both current and for the last 12 months
  • Any circumstances that are necessary to protect a child from a parent

Parenting Seminars

Snohomish County requires that both parents must attend a parenting seminar as a part of the Decree of Dissolution or Legal Separation process, but if only one parent has attended, that parent will be allowed to enter a Decree and Final Parenting Plan. If a parent who has not attended such a seminar later seeks to enforce provisions of the parenting plan, s/he likely will not be permitted to do so until s/he has attended the seminar. Seminars are available from several sources and there may be a sliding scale for the fee, depending on your income. Weeknights and Saturdays are available for the seminar. Its approximate length is 4 and hours, children are NOT allowed so you must make child care arrangements. Parents cannot attend the same seminar. There is often a wait of 3 or 4 weeks to get into a seminar so you should arrange to attend now. Per court rules the Petitioner is to attend the seminar within 30 days of filing the seminar.

Attorney's Fees

A court has the discretion in appropriate cases (where one party has the financial ability to pay and the other party has the financial need) to award attorney fees. Please recall that in choosing to award attorney's fees, or not to award them, the Court will examine the overall financial provisions made for the parties. There are three (3) financial factors that are considered carefully: What award of property is made, what provisions are made for maintenance and considering the first two, what if any award of attorney's fee should be made. Receiving more of either of the first two (property and maintenance) reduces the likelihood of an award of the third (attorney's fees); however, each judge has her/his own approach to this subject. Also, judges understand the emotional impact of ordering one side to pay the attorney's fees for the other side (ouch).