HOW TO PROTECT YOURSELF BEFORE YOU FILE FOR DIVORCE
The following information is general in nature and is not intended for the purpose of providing individualized legal advice. As with any legal matter, you should consult with a lawyer about the facts and circumstances of your unique case.
Often the best approach before initiating a divorce is to set down and have an honest discussion with your spouse. If there are open lines of communication, consider mediation first. However, if the lines of communication between you and your spouse are closed, you should consider the following measures to protect yourself, your children, and your assets:
- Talk to a lawyer now – not later. Take advantage of an initial consultation with a good divorce lawyer. Do this before you make a move that you may later regret. A good divorce lawyer will review your goals and will candidly assess the strengths and weaknesses of your case.
- Don’t sign anything. Often a dominant spouse will attempt the force an agreement of the other spouse. Even informal written agreements may result in negative legal consequences to you. Talk to a good divorce lawyer before you sign anything.
- First things first – protect the physical safety of you and your children. Emergency court orders can quickly be put in place that will protect you and your children from an abusive spouse. This is usually done through an emergency ex-parte Order of Protection. However, in extreme cases, a court order by itself may not provide adequate protection. In those cases, your first priority may be to enter a secure domestic violence emergency shelter.
- If custody of your children is at issue, do not move out and leave the children with your spouse. In most cases, a judge will try to maintain the status quo for the children at the beginning of a divorce case. If you have moved out of the family home and left the children with your spouse, the judge may assume you felt that was what was best for the children. If for whatever reason you are forced to move out and leave the children with your spouse, immediately hire a good divorce lawyer – the same day if possible. Each day that your children are not living with you, works against any claim you may have regarding primary custody of your children.
- Protect your financial records. Make copies of tax returns, W-2’s, pay stubs, retirement account information, deeds, loan applications, credit card statements, bank account statements, and other such records. If possible, get at least 3 years of these records. Keep your copies of these records in a safe location away from the family home.
- Protect your interest in cash accounts. You may have joint checking and savings accounts with large cash balances (balances in excess of any uncleared checks that have been written). In order to protect your interest in these accounts, consider putting one-half of any cash balances into an account that is solely in your name and to which only you have access.
- Get a Temporary Order put in place as soon as possible. A temporary order will restrain the sale of property, require insurance policies to be maintained, sets child support, puts a temporary parenting plan in place, awards spousal maintenance, and sets up other temporary rules pending the finalization of your case. There is simply no substitute for a temporary order when it comes to protecting your rights. The only way to get a temporary order is to first file a Petition for Dissolution. A good divorce lawyer will file all of the initial pleadings on your behalf and get a temporary order for you.
WHAT YOU SHOULD AND SHOULD NOT DO DURING AND AFTER A DIVORCE
The following information is general in nature and is not intended for the purpose of providing legal advice. As with any legal matter, you should consult with a lawyer about the facts and circumstances of your unique case.
- Put your children’s welfare ahead of your conflict with your former spouse.
- Remember that children need two parents. Help your children maintain a positive relationship with their other parent; give them permission to love the other parent.
- Show respect for the other parent as a parent. Do not make derogatory remarks about the other parent to or in front of the children. Do not allow the other parent to do so either.
- Honor your visitation schedule. Always notify the other parent if you will be late or cannot exercise your time with the children. Children see missed visits, especially without notification, as rejection.
- Do not use the children as “message carriers” or spies to get information about the other parent or to send information to the other parent. Don’t cross-examine the children when they return from the other parent’s home. Don’t use the children to collect child support. Strive for agreement on major decisions about your child’s welfare and discipline, so one parent isn’t undermining the other.
- Use common sense in exercising your custodial and visitation rights. Follow the old adage: Do not make a mountain out of a molehill. Follow the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
Your total fee for a family law case will depend on your case and situation. At your consultation we will discuss what to expect when it comes to fees. Generally, you can expect our attorneys to charge between $250 and $300 per hour, depending on what attorney is working on your case and what your situation requires. Our support staff of legal assistants and paralegals also charge for their time at rates between $100 and $150 per hour for non-attorney tasks in an effort to keep your costs down.
Predicting the total cost of your family law case is almost impossible. Oftentimes, the advance fee deposit is just enough to get your case started. While we make it our goal to conclude your case within a year, sometimes there are factors out of our control that prevent this from happening. The longer your case goes on, the more expensive your case will be. In our experience, the average cost ranges from $2,500 to $10,000. While we cannot predict exactly where your case will fall, we can promise to be as transparent as possible with you about our fees. At your consultation we will talk with you about how to best maximize your resources when working with us. We do our part to be economical with your resources and will never overbill you. Every month your bill is carefully reviewed before it reaches you. We are always happy to answer any questions you may have about billing.
You will need to make an advance fee deposit to our client trust account before we begin representation. As we do work on your case, we take money that we earned out of your trust account. If there are funds left in your trust account at the end of your case, you will receive them back via check at the conclusion of your case after all fees and expenses have been paid. This typically takes two billing cycles to complete. If you fall below the minimum balance while you case is still pending, you will need to replenish your account if you wish for us to continue representing you.
DIVORCE AND CUSTODY FAQs
In Washington, there is a 90-day waiting period before a Judge will sign your divorce papers. During those 90 days, the court may issue a temporary order. That order addresses issues such as who will remain in the family home, how much child support the non-custodial parent must pay, what the visitation schedule will be, and other financial issues such as spousal maintenance and attorney fees.
Your lawyer will then collect all information on assets and debts of the marriage. Once all information has been gathered, your lawyer will talk to you about possible settlement options. If you and your spouse are unable to agree, mediation will be required (Yakima County). If no resolution is reached at mediation, your case will be set for a trail. Only a small percentage of cases go to trial. Most can be settled out of court.
That depends on the community in which you reside and the level of experience of the lawyer. Retainer fees are generally fairly similar within communities.
Yes. Your lawyer will give you a document to complete called a financial declaration where you will list all of your monthly expenses.
If your lawyer requests this information. If they are loans after separation, your lawyer may want to know about it, but it may not be relevant.
Yes. Information about life and medical insurance is needed. If you provide medical insurance for children, your attorney will want information showing how much it costs you to insure them.
Copies of bank statements, credit card statements, stock/bond statement, and retirement account information as of the date you and your spouse separated. If you are not yet separated, as of the date you first hire your attorney and file for divorce.
Yes. Three years of tax returns, W-2’s and, a current pay stub should be provided to your attorney.
Many counties have guidelines for visitation. You can review that online to get an idea of what the norm is. You should have an idea of what you would like to propose for a visitation schedule, but your lawyer can help you with that as well.
No, but the more informed you are about your finances, assets, and debts, the better.
It's always a good idea to be informed about your legal rights. An initial consultation with a divorce lawyer is typically either free or reasonably priced. Choosing the right lawyer for your particular case is very important. It is best to find a lawyer who specializes in family law. The best way to find a lawyer is word of mouth. If you know a lawyer, ask him or her who they recommend. A therapist or an accountant is also a good referral source. If you know someone who has been through a divorce, talk to them.
The judge looks at who has been the children’s primary caregiver. Which parent gets them up in the morning, makes breakfast, makes their lunch, takes them to/from daycare/school, helps with homework, prepares meals, gives baths, takes them to the doctor appointments etc. Often this is determined by the parents’ work schedules.
The judge looks at the history of your parenting. If you and your spouse have always shared the parenting responsibilities equally, the Judge may allow more of a shared schedule. If one parent has done more of the parenting responsibilities, the court may utilize the Yakima County Guidelines for visitation. The Yakima County Guidelines are the typical every other weekend schedule with additional time in the summer and shared holidays. If one parent has domestic violence issues or drug/alcohol problems, the Judge may limit his/her contact with the children.
Yes. One parent or the other must be designated as the custodial parent for state and federal statutes that require a designation of determination of custody. However, as a general rule, the other parent has joint decision making authority for medical, educational, and religious issues.
Children do not get to choose with whom they want to live until they are 18. The reason behind this is that if we gave children the power to choose, they would be going back and forth between their parents’ homes on a frequent basis, depending on whose rules they liked better at any given time. When children are 15, 16 or 17, the court may listen to their input (through a counselor or Guardian ad Litem), but they do not get to decide.
Washington has very strict rules about relocating with children. If you have a temporary or final parenting plan, you must give notice of your intended relocation. If you fail to do so, the judge may require you to move back. Your spouse or former spouse has 30 days to object to your request to relocate. If it is opposed, there will be a court hearing at which time the judge evaluates several important factors in deciding whether to allow the relocation.
Yes, but the circumstances must warrant it. Specifically, you must be able to prove that both of the biological parents are unfit or that keeping the children with the biological parents would result in actual detriment to them. It is a difficult burden to meet.