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Third-party custody and visitation of children in a divorce

All parents want a loving atmosphere for their children. And typically, when there are more people to provide support for the children, the better. “Third-parties” such as grandparents, aunts, uncles, siblings, and even family friends (“fictive kin”) often take part in caring for a child by babysitting, or sometimes providing long-term care. However, in some situations, a parent might not be fit to parent their children.

In those cases, these third-parties may want to pursue “non-parental custody” of a child. These cases are difficult, as a parent’s right to exercise control over his or her child is protected under the United States Constitution. If a grandparent or other third-party wants to obtain legal custody of a child, then the third-party must prove that a parent is unfit, or that placing the child with the parent would be detrimental to the child’s growth and development.

Also, even if obtaining non-parental custody is not feasible, when the relationship between the parents and the non-parents falls apart, the non-parents can pursue court-ordered visitation. This is referred to as “third-party visitation.”

These types of cases most frequently arise in the form of grandparents seeking visitation with their grandchildren (although nothing prevents someone who is not a grandparent from seeking visitation). Under Washington law, a third-party may request visitation with a child in the event that the parents are divorced, separated, or in the process of a divorce.

In order to be successful in this request, the third-party must demonstrate  — among other factors — that he or she already has a significant relationship with the child. The trial court will consider a list of other items in determining whether visitation is in the child’s best interest, including the reasons the parents object to visitation, the relationship between the third-party and the parents, the strength of the relationship between the child and the third-party, and the visitation schedule in place between the two parents.

If the third-party proves all of the factors associated with third-party custody, then it is presumed that visitation would be in the child’s best interest. A parent may produce evidence to rebut this presumption, and demonstrate that visitation would endanger the child’s physical or emotional well-being.

A third-party should be cautious about when to bring such an action. For one, there is the potential of forever alienating the parents of the child. Also, if a third-party cannot successfully prove a pre-existing significant relationship with the child, the third-party may be ordered to pay the attorney’s fees incurred by the parents.

Third-party custody and visitation cases can be complicated and challenging, with the odds in favor of the parents, no matter how wonderful the relationship between the third-parties and children may be. We at The Levey Law Group have extensive experience helping both parents and third-parties in these types of disputes. Call us today at (253) 272-9459 to set up a consultation to discuss your case and your options.

 

Understanding your role in the divorce process

For most people, divorce is a serious and difficult life crisis. Yet, when facing divorce, it is important to understand that divorce is much more than this. For one, divorce is a process — a fairly lengthy process, measured in months not days.

Divorce is also a lawsuit — one that typically involves not only the divorce law in Washington, but possibly other forms of law such as immigration law, the state Constitution, the Rules of Civil Procedure, the Rules of Evidence, Civil Practice & Remedies Code, Penal Code, Business Organizations Code, federal tax laws, and/or bankruptcy laws. In short, divorce can be complicated and complex.

Divorce is definitely a tough time on many levels and emotions run high. Yet, it is really a good idea to try your hardest not to get angry when you are discussing divorce issues with your spouse. Anger will not solve over-all issues and could delay the divorce process, or make it far more difficult to get to a final settlement. It is also a good time to talk with a therapist and find out how you might better process the negative emotions you are feeling.

As much as possible, proceed carefully and methodically through the process of divorce. This is especially true when you and your spouse have children together. Your divorce decree may affect your life, the lives of your children and your relationship with your children for many years to come.

Learn all you can from your attorney about the law as it pertains to your unique case. Think through issues and goals before taking a stand on a specific settlement arrangement. Boil down what is really important to you. And always review any settlement offer with your lawyer before proceeding.

Our attorneys are trained in all methods of dispute resolution, including Collaborative Divorce. We have extensive experience in guiding clients to a settlement with their futures in mind. Contact us today at (253) 272-9459 for an appointment.

Should you buy a house before the divorce is final?

Many of us don’t have the option of buying a home during the process of divorce due to financial constraints. Even if you have the resources to afford the down payment, mortgage payments, property taxes, and upkeep, careful thought should still be given to this idea.

Going through a divorce is highly stressful. You likely will experience a wide variety of emotions, including the fear that you won’t have anywhere to live. At the beginning of a divorce, many questions remain unanswered about you and your spouse’s financial future. You can count on one thing: many changes are coming. Most legal, financial, and psychological experts advise that couples who are going through divorce not charge forward with major financial decisions. It just doesn’t make sense.

If you buy a home during the divorce process, you conceivably would be purchasing a house with funds that belong partially to your soon-to-be ex-spouse. If you intend on buying the house in your name alone, title and escrow companies still will require your spouse to attend the closing, sign the documents, and basically give permission for the home to be purchased in your sole name. In fact, many attorneys require the non-purchasing spouse to sign a special agreement to permit the purchase of a home by the purchasing spouse during divorce proceedings.

Granted, during the divorce process, your spouse and you could buy a house and place both the title and/or mortgage in both of your names. This generally is not a good idea for a host of reasons. You first should discuss this with your attorney if your spouse and you are considering doing this.

During the divorce process, “temporary orders” or “temporary restraining orders” (also known as “temporary injunctions”) often are put into place to prevent spouses from spending down assets or incurring new debt. Typically, a temporary order specifically forbids both spouses from using community funds for major purchases without first obtaining the consent of the other spouse (and possibly the involvement of the attorneys). Further, a temporary order typically instructs both spouses not only to spend only what is absolutely necessary to sustain their individual households, but also to notify the other about any expenses that are out of the ordinary, even if “separate funds,” i.e., non-community funds, are used for that expense.

It is also possible that purchasing a home during divorce could ultimately result in financial difficulties for one or both spouses. One spouse might be approved for a loan on a new home based on his or her current income and expenses. However, this doesn’t take into account future debts–the amount of which might be unknown at the time of purchase–such as debts pursuant to final divorce documents, e.g., child support, alimony (referred to as “spousal maintenance” in Washington), a “lump sum” pay-out to the other spouse, etc.

It may make more sense to rent a home temporarily instead of buying one during divorce. While it may be possible to purchase a home while going through the divorce process, it generally is ill-advised and can be problematic–especially buying a home where both spouses are on title and mortgage.

The Levey Law Group recommends that you consult with your attorney and financial advisor to thoroughly address the following: 1) the long-term effects of financial decisions such as home purchases; 2) the tax implications; 3) future projected financial responsibilities; and 4) other factors.

If you have any questions regarding this topic or any other topic related to divorce, please call our office at 253-272-9459 to schedule a consultation.

Temporary orders can protect both spouses at the onset of divorce

For many people facing divorce, a common concern is the disruption of financial security during the divorce process. This can be especially frightening and overwhelming when a stay-at-home parent, a financially dependent spouse, or a disabled spouse is facing divorce. And understandably so.

Attorneys with The Levey Law Group often hear comments such as, “My spouse earns much more than I do, how will I support myself and my children on my income alone while I’m going through divorce?” Or, “My spouse has complete control of the household finances.” Another common concern voiced by those facing divorce is, “My spouse is threatening to take away my children if I file for divorce since he/she makes most of the income.”

Rest assured, we offer a variety of solutions to these and other concerns with regard to helping clients maintain their financial stability during the divorce process.

While the divorce is pending and agreements are being worked out, most couples benefit by setting up temporary orders to protect their assets and credit during the divorce process.

 Temporary orders can determine who stays in the family home, make arrangements for the care and support of children, make arrangements for the support of the other spouse if warranted (commonly known as alimony, but referred to as “spousal maintenance” in Washington), and who is financially responsible for the mortgage payment, utilities, car payments, etc. These orders also typically set rules restraining any inappropriate conduct by divorcing spouses.

We have found that spouses often can agree upon reasonable, temporary financial arrangements  that will tide them over until the divorce is final. Either spouse’s attorney can draft temporary orders (which might include a child support order) for the other attorney–and both spouses–to review and sign. Once everyone signs these orders, a court commissioner signs the agreed order which makes the order an official court order that both spouses must abide by.

If the couple have children, a temporary parenting plan also can be drafted.  Agreeing on temporary orders early on offers everyone involved some breathing room. This also alleviates fears, moves the process along, and may prevent court hearings down the road.

A temporary order also can include a provision ordering that one spouse (typically the higher wage-earner) help pay the other spouse’s attorney fees.  On that note, as far as paying attorney fees, The Levey Law Group accepts credit card payments from clients, and also offers an online payment option called LawPay. These options may work for clients who might not have the cash reserves available to finance a divorce. LawPay also may be a good solution for clients wanting to preserve what cash reserves they have to pay for unexpected expenses during the divorce process.

The first step in securing your finances during divorce is to call our office and schedule a consultation. We will answer your questions, and assist you with these and other concerns you may have about the divorce process.

Disclaimer: The information above is provided as a guideline and offers only general information. It is not intended to be a substitute for–nor is it–legal advice or counsel. For more specific details regarding your family law questions, please call The Levey Law Group at 253-272-9459.

Collaborative Divorce

Collaborative Law (commonly known as Collaborative Divorce) is a form of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) that was developed in the late 1980s in Minnesota. Since then the practice has spread to all 50 states, as well as to other countries including Canada, England, Ireland, and Australia.

The primary goal of the Collaborative Divorce process is to settle outstanding issues in a non-adversarial manner. This process aims to minimize, if not eliminate, the negative economic, social, and emotional consequences of protracted litigation on spouses and their children.

Some of the principles of Collaborative Divorce are:

  1. The spouses seeking a divorce agree not to pursue divorce through litigation, and  instead, agree to resolve their divorce in a non-threatening, respectful, non-adversarial manner.
  2. The spouses and their attorneys agree to act in good faith and focus on needs and interests rather than “positions” in the divorce.
  3. The couple and their respective attorneys work as a team to craft a settlement that both parties feel is fair and equitable to themselves and each other.
  4. The parties and their attorneys may agree to engage other collaborative professionals such as a child specialist, divorce coach, and/or a financial specialist who are trained to help support the parties in their Collaborative Divorce.

For example, having a Divorce Coach on the team may help individuals uncouple their former, dysfunctional relationship by helping them process the emotional part of the break-up and build the skills they need to create a respectful divorce and move on with their lives.

A Child Specialist can help parents develop a parenting plan that is in their children’s best interests. Often, the Child Specialist will meet with the parents’’ children in order to assist with drafting a parenting plan that is in the children’s best interests.

A Financial Specialist can calculate many different financial scenarios to show the divorcing couple what their financial options are.

A Family Specialist performs the same functions as Divorce Coach and a Child Specialist.  A Family Specialist might be appropriate to use in low or moderate conflict cases.

An Eldercare Specialist may be useful when issues with aging, quality care, costs, or short- or long-term care options are concerned.

How Does Collaborative Divorce Work?

A Collaborative Divorce is done in a series of meetings that focus on identifying and prioritizing issues to be discussed and resolved. All participants freely exchange all relevant information, generate and discuss options, and strive to problem-solve that ultimately reaches resolution and a full settlement of the divorce.

Experienced Assistance in Collaborative Divorce

The Levey Law Group is experienced in all forms of ADR and will work with you to determine which method best suits your needs. In Collaborative Divorce, the key to success is the willingness of all parties and their attorneys to commit to the process. The Levey Law Group has met the stringent standards involving additional training in the practice of Collaborative Divorce. To learn if Collaborative Divorce offers an appropriate solution to your family law dispute, please call us.