Fault versus No Fault, and When Fault Matters

When a marriage disintegrates, both spouses need closure. For some people, this means that he or she will want a court to declare that the other spouse is at fault for the break-down of the marriage. Unfortunately for these people, Washington is a “no fault” divorce state. This means that a spouse does not need to allege that either person is responsible for the marriage falling apart. Instead, all that must be alleged is that the marriage is irretrievably broken. As a result, adultery, cruelty, drug abuse, or financial infidelity all will not matter in terms of whether a divorce is granted.

Similarly, the issue of fault is not considered in terms of property division. Washington is a community property state, and in general, property that is acquired during the marriage will be divided equally between the two parties. The court will examine several factors when making this division, including but not limited to the type and value of community property, type and value of any separate property, the length of the marriage, and the financial condition of both spouses at the time of the divorce.

Notably absent from this list is fault. One party being a bad spouse does is not on the list of what a court shall or may consider when making a property division order. An exception to this could be if one spouse intentionally dissipates assets. In other words, if one spouse goes on an outrageous spending spree or gives away money in contemplation of filing the divorce, a judge may take that type of behavior into account. However, in such a case, it is not the bad behavior the judge is considering, per se. Rather, it is ensuring a fair property division that is the concern of the court.

Issues of child custody present a slightly different set of facts. Again, a spouse’s infidelity will not factor at all into a court’s determination of who should receive custody or what type of parenting schedule should be arranged. Child support is likewise unaffected by a parent’s poor behavior. If a parent’s “fault”-like behavior is severe, such as drug abuse or domestic violence, then that very well may have an impact on a court’s custody decision. However, as with property division, it is not the fact that a spouse was a bad spouse that is being considered, but actually how a parent’s behavior may impact a child’s best interest. In short, being a bad spouse is not being used as a punitive measure, although the behavior may become relevant in other ways.

We are highly experienced in family law matters and can help you understand how your behavior and your spouse’s behavior may impact your divorce case. Call us today at (253) 272-9459 to talk about your divorce and your future.


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