The Conversation

“I don’t want to get divorced, it’s him (or her), not me.”

That’s the start of one of the toughest conversations I have with potential clients. It’s a conversation, by the way, that really shouldn’t be put off for any length of time. Options disappear quickly with time when you’re dealing with a legal issue.

I’ve heard variations on the ‘I don’t want to get divorced, but …” theme for what seems countless times, and yet they never seem to get any easier.  People come in for an initial consultation, introduce themselves, we share a few pleasantries about the weather or the Seahawks or the latest movie, and then they tell me they’re not in my office because they want to get divorced, they’re only here because their spouse–sometimes to their surprise–does.

That brings the comfortable part of the conversation to a halt. It was hard for them to tell me that, and I’ve heard it enough that I know the person across from me is in pain.

I completely understand.  Barring extreme situations–abuse, addictions, etc.–people generally don’t want significant relationships to end.  It just seems to happen.

I don’t want these relationships to end for my clients either, if it can be avoided. That brings up a very knotty question, one that books and countless daytime TV shows have been dedicated to: when can divorce be avoided, when can’t it, and how is anyone supposed to know?

From what I’ve seen, the question comes down to whether it’s past a point of no return, the point where there’s nothing the partners can do to save the relationship. The point where it’s obvious–at least to one spouse–that there’s nothing left to pursue or explore that can make a difference in saving the marriage.

The legal term for that point is dry but straight to the point: “The marriage is irretrievably broken.”

So, back to my conversation with the potential client who doesn’t see the relationship as truly over?. The person doing the “dumping,” or the leaving, can say it’s done, and has taken actions —like serving a summons and petition–to convey that, but it certainly doesn’t mean that the “dumpee” thinks it is. In fact, it usually comes as quite the shock.

Yet, the person in front of me, in pain, upset, shaken, has no choice but to respond. Where do I begin. First, here’s what I absolutely, under any circumstances, do not talk about – promises, how much alimony (called spousal maintenance in Washington) are you going to pay/receive, do you get to keep the kids 50/50, how much do you keep in your retirement plan, etc.

We are going to have a discussion about your options. That simple. There are more than you think. In there someplace, we’ll figure out a realistic plan to get you through this opening stage of the divorce proceedings.

There’s really only one truly important, have-to-do-this-immediately-or-else move when you find out your spouse wants to divorce. It’s also the easiest step: pick up the phone and call me.

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.

 

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.

Legal Separation vs. Divorce: What’s the Difference?

There are a couple of different legal ways that you can separate yourself from your spouse. As we all know, a divorce or dissolution of marriage is one option. When a divorce takes place, arrangements are made with regard to the separation of property, child custody, child support, etc. At the end of the process, each person is once again single and unattached in the eyes of the law.

A legal separation is another possibility for couples who want to go their separate ways without severing the marriage knot. In some cases, the individuals involved are not entirely sure that they will never get back together again. However, in other instances, they feel as though there will never be a reconciliation. Why would a couple choose a legal separation over divorce if there was no hope of getting back together in the future? There are a few different scenarios that could make legal separation a better choice.

In some cases, a couple can realize significant tax benefits if they stay legally married, and this is one reason why a legal separation can be preferable. Health insurance is a basic necessity of life, and the couple may choose legal separation over divorce to preserve benefits if one party is covered under the other’s policy. Military spouses may be able to receive benefits if they remain legally married, so legal separation can be a good choice for some military couples.

There can also be Social Security implications that can tilt the scales in favor of a legal separation. If you have been married for least 10 years, and your own Social Security record would provide you with less than half of what your spouse is receiving, your benefit would be half of what your spouse is entitled to. Couples will sometimes choose legal separation so that they can reach this ten-year threshold.

Take the Next Step

We have provided a bit of basic information in this brief blog post. If you are a local resident who would like to explore this subject in more detail, we would be more than glad to assist you. We offer informative initial consultations at our Tacoma, Washington family law office, and you can set up an appointment right now if you give us a call at 253-272-9459.