5 Things Divorcing Couples Should Understand About Washington Parenting Laws

If you have children and are requesting a dissolution of marriage (divorce), annulment, or legal separation in the state of Washington, a family court judge will have authority over the decisions that affect your kids’ wellbeing. Here’s what you should know about parenting laws in Washington State.

  1. The Term CustodyIs Not Used in Washington

Washington family law is based on the best interests of the children. And the term custody implies physical control and guardianship. The view of a child as an object — or as physical property to wrangle over — doesn’t necessarily take into account what’s in the best interests of the child from a developmental standpoint.

The decision of where a child lives can have profound implications for that young person. Divorce and the resulting family upheaval affect children’s:

  • Social development
  • Quality of life
  • Physical wellbeing
  • Emotional health
  • Spiritual beliefs
  • Educational and extracurricular opportunities

No matter where your child lives, separating from one of their parents is hard for most children. Washington family law recognizes the need for both parents to be as involved as possible in their children’s lives to foster a sense of connection and continuity.

  1. You and Your Estranged Spouse Can Direct the Divorce

It’s always in your best interest to hire a divorce attorney whether you’re filing for divorce or have been served with divorce papers. Family law is complicated and has intricate rules that you must follow for your kids’ sake.

However, you and your divorcing spouse need to set aside your personal disagreements to create your own plan for your child’s living arrangements. For example, if both parents live in the same school district, your child can live with each parent for a week at a time.

Some kids live with one parent most of the time and then live with the other parent on the weekends or over the summer. You and the other parent can create the best residence plan for your child based on their needs, your work schedules, and your individual living arrangements.

  1. All Parents Must Ultimately Follow a Parenting Plan

Whether or not you and your partner agree on your child’s living arrangements, a family law judge in Washington will approve what is called a parenting plan. Both parents are required to follow the plan. When you and your ex can’t agree on a parenting plan, the judge will create one for you.

A parenting plan is a legal document that includes orders involving the child’s well-being. By law, parenting plans created in Washington State must support and enable all parents to have a stable, loving, and nurturing presence in their children’s lives.

Of course, there are exceptions. For example, when a parent has committed domestic violence or is on drugs, they may not be allowed to contact their children. However, most parents should get used to the idea that their children can love both parents and be part of both parents’ lives. This attitude will help you follow the parenting plan.

Depending on the case, the parenting plan may include orders that involve:

  • Living arrangements
  • School attendance
  • Child-care arrangements
  • Counseling sessions
  • Holiday schedule
  • Travel and vacation specifics

The parenting plan also specifies who has the authority to make educational, medical, and other decisions for the child.

  1. Parenting Plans Are Enforced

Each parenting plan spells out how issues will be resolved if a parent refuses to follow the plan. Mediation and arbitration are two methods to resolve issues.

If you or the other parent break the parenting plan and refuse to let the children visit the other parent as ordered, you or your ex-spouse can be found in contempt of court. For the first contempt-of-court charge, you may be ordered to serve jail time or pay a fine. But if you violate the plan again within three years, the judge may alter your parenting plan completely.

  1. You Can Petition the Court to Relocate or Change Plans

Parenting plans can be modified when circumstances change. For example, there are special rules for parents actively serving in the military. When a military member is deployed, they may petition the court to create a temporary parenting plan while they’re away on duty.

There are also provisions found in Washington’s Relocation Act that allow a parent to request a child’s move away from the immediate area. The other parent can object to the child’s move.

A family law judge will weigh the pros and cons of any relocation before approving or denying a relocation request. One consideration that judges address is whether the separation of a child and one of their parents is more harmful than denying the move to the other parent.

Additional factors the judge considers include:

  • Reasons for the move
  • Relationship with each parent
  • Closeness to siblings and others
  • Socioeconomic benefits or losses from move
  • Prior agreements and problems

The judge will also weigh details like the age and development of your child when deciding if a relocation is in the child’s best interest. A competent family law attorney is the best person to help you draft a modification petition for a parenting plan, military deployment, or relocation.

Contact Madison Law Firm, PLLC to help you develop a parenting plan, modification, or other family-law-related documents.

Situations Where 50-50 Joint Custody May Be a Good Option for Families

Figuring out custody can be the most challenging part of a divorce. However, it doesn’t mean that you can’t peacefully parent. In fact, conscientious parents prioritize the well-being of their children throughout the divorce, and that may mean making tough choices in the best interests of the kids.

According to TIME, less than 20% of divorced couples share joint custody of their children. Only about 18% of custody cases are split 50-50 in the state of Washington, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t right for your family. If you believe your ex is a good parent, it’s a good idea to talk to a divorce attorney about whether shared custody is a viable option. Consider these situations in which it can work well for divorced parents and their kids.

Your Co-Parent is Flexible and Cooperative

Although shared custody has only been the norm in the state of Washington for about a decade, it is no doubt a way to help kids maintain strong relationships with both parents. Many divorced parents decide that is the most effective way to co-parent their kids. When both parents agree on the major issues and can be cooperative with each other, joint custody works best.

More specifically, shared physical custody where kids get to spend equal time with both parents works well if you and your ex are willing to be cooperative, understanding and flexible. It’s not about giving each parent exactly half of all their kids’ time. It’s about encouraging children to have strong relationships with both parents who are a consistent presence in their kids’ lives.

You Are Prepared for Complex, Logistical Coordination

You and your ex must be prepared for complex logistical coordination for joint custody to work well. How well your kids adjust to the arrangement is likely to depend on how peacefully and compassionately you and your ex can negotiate the specifics of the custody arrangement. The best interests of the kids must be front and center with every negotiation with your ex.

Some factors that may determine how well you can coordinate include:

  • Each child’s personal development and adjustment to the family’s post-divorce lifestyle.
  • Each parent’s career and commitments that are inflexible.
  • Kids’ extracurricular activities and commitments.
  • The distance between each parent’s home and how close the houses are to schools.
  • The willingness of each parent to honor and stick to a rotating schedule.

Your children’s schedules will be the primary consideration. You and your ex need to discern whether you can realistically balance your own work schedules with the kids’ schedules to make shared custody feasible. Sacrifices will inevitably be made on the part of both parents so that children don’t have to sacrifice when it comes to their relationship with both parents.

Your Children Express a Preference for Joint Custody

For a long time in this country, custody was granted to one primary parent after a divorce. It was thought that it would be more stable for kids to live with one primary parent instead of being shuffled back and forth between households. However, it turns out that getting to spend a nice quantity of time with both parents may be the best way forward.

It’s important to discuss the situation with your children. Talk openly about the pros and cons of joint custody. Ask how they would feel about carrying things between homes or getting duplicates of some items. Make sure they understand what it would mean for you and your ex to have joint physical custody. They may feel that the frustrations and inconveniences of splitting time in different homes are worth it.

You Feel It May Be Better for Your Kids’ Health

The Washington Post reported on a study that analyzed responses from nearly 150,000 kids between the ages of 12 and 165. The study revealed that children whose parents had joint physical custody were less likely to suffer from stress and psychosomatic health issues like headaches, sleep disturbances and loss of appetite.

It’s impossible to draw conclusions based on one study, but the data certainly is worth weighing when considering what may be best for your children. The study doesn’t conclude that joint custody will cause or relieve psychosomatic problems, but it is worth looking into the issue and discussing the matter with those who are familiar with your children. What’s good for some kids wouldn’t be suitable for others.

Finally, keep in mind that joint shared custody isn’t for everyone. However, when it’s a good fit for families, it can help kids thrive and enjoy the best from both parents. If you are considering a divorce, contact Madison Law Firm PLLC for help with family law. You can receive a free, no obligation consultation with an experienced lawyer who is on your side and can help protect your best interests throughout the divorce.

Understanding Attorney Retainer Agreements

A retainer agreement — or fee agreement for family law cases — is a formal, written agreement that both you and the attorney you hire to represent you sign. Also known as a representation agreement, the purpose for drawing up the document is to outline in detail what each of you should expect from the attorney-client relationship into which you are entering. The agreement also states how you will be billed for the legal services you request.

Reason for the Agreement

In the state of Washington, unless you and your attorney agree to enter into a contingent fee arrangement, the law doesn’t require that you get a fee agreement in writing. However, a written agreement is still a good idea, even if you agree to pay the attorney a flat fee or hourly billing rate.

Like other written contracts, once you and your attorney sign the agreement, it becomes an enforceable legal contract. By specifying the rights and responsibilities each of you have in the relationship, a retainer or fee agreement is a vehicle for resolving any conflicting issues that may arise between you.

For instance, you as the client are responsible for providing your attorney with information that is complete, accurate and truthful. In return, your attorney is responsible for acting with due diligence on your behalf and keeping you informed about the status of your case.

A written agreement that outlines the nature of the legal services the attorney will provide, as well as the method and amount of compensation, can help prevent the development of disputes between you and your attorney. If the legal services you’ve requested involve more than drawing up documents, the agreement should state that the attorney makes no guarantees about the outcome of your case.

When you and your attorney sign the agreement, the two of you are agreeing to move forward with the legal services you have requested. Your signatures on the contract also affirm that each of you agree to the terms and conditions set forth in the agreement. Consequently, it’s important to be clear about the legal matter in which the attorney is representing you.

What the Agreement Should Include

Along with your name and the name of the attorney and law firm with which he or she is affiliated, a retainer or fee agreement should include:

  • Reason why you need the attorney to represent you, such as representing you in divorce proceedings
  • Amount of the retainer fee which is placed into a trust account
  • Whether any unused portion of the retainer fee will be refunded to you
  • Manner in which you will be billed for fees and reimbursable expenses, which are separate from attorney fees and may include courier fees and court filing fees
  • Payment terms — how often you will be billed and when payment is due

If the attorney you hire bases compensation for the legal services he or she provides on a flat fee billing structure, the agreement should specify the services and expenses the fee covers. Family law attorneys often charge flat fees for drafting a last will and testament, drawing up living will and power of attorney documents, writing estate planning documents and settling child custody, support and visitation agreements out of court.

Payment for Legal Fees and Expenses

If the attorney you hire bills on an hourly basis, the agreement should specify the hourly billing rates for not only the attorney but also for any associates or paralegals who work on your case. Fees are based on the number of hours the attorney, his or her associates and a paralegal spend on your case.

Any amount of time these legal professionals put into research, negotiations, document drafting, correspondence, telephone calls, emails, conferences, court time and travel time may be billed on a monthly basis. If you pay a retainer fee, the monies deposited in the trust account are applied to itemized, monthly bills until the amount set aside in trust is fully spent.

Often, once the initial retainer deposit is used up, clients who pay by the hour are billed on a weekly basis. The bill covers the hours for the previous week with payment due upon receipt. The agreement may also state that payments you make are nonrefundable.

Inclusion of Other Provisions

You and your attorney may include additional provisions in the fee agreement. These may include the right of either of you to terminate the relationship, days and times when you can communicate with the attorney and the types of legal services your attorney is not providing under the contract.

If you request legal services other than those stated in the signed agreement, you must then negotiate a separate agreement. Legal services not included in the original agreement usually are billed separately.

Regardless of what provisions the fee agreement contains, it’s important not to sign the contract unless you are certain that you fully understand the terms stated. Retainer fees generally are due upon signing of the agreement.

For answers to additional questions you may have about attorney legal fees, retainers or attorney fee structures, the legal team at Madison Law Firm, PLLC can clarify how family law representation and fee agreements work.

How Marriage Counseling Contributes to the Emotional Process of Divorce

Marriage counseling alone isn’t a fix, and sometimes a marriage can’t be fixed despite the efforts you and your spouse put into trying to save it. In some cases, divorce seems like the most practical solution. But even if marriage counseling can’t restore your marital relationship, it can help prepare you for life after divorce.



To Counsel or Not to Counsel

While fewer than 5 percent of couples whose marriages end in divorce even try marriage counseling before taking that final step, it can be helpful, even if you and your spouse get a divorce in the end.

Marriage counseling gives you and your spouse the opportunity to express your feelings in a structured yet safe environment. An unbiased third party (the marriage counselor) is present to provide direction during the sessions.

With the guidance of a professional therapist, marriage counseling will help you develop communication skills that can also strengthen your relationships with others—not just your soon-to-be ex-spouse.

What You Can Learn from Marriage Counseling

Along with helping you to identify the problems in your marriage, marriage counseling helps you develop skills that you can use in all your interpersonal relationships, including your relationship with your spouse after divorce. Counseling can help you see the value in:

Not Placing Guilt and Blame 

No matter what problems exist between you and your spouse, it’s important for each of you to take responsibility for your parts in contributing to the difficulties in your marriage. Divorce isn’t necessarily the fault of one spouse or the other, and in many states, assignment of fault doesn’t affect whether a divorce is granted.

Since the state of Washington is a no-fault divorce state, proving that one spouse or the other is at fault for the divorce generally does not impact the court’s decision. As long as one spouse declares that the marriage can’t be saved, the court grants a decree of divorce.


When major conflict erupts in a marriage, communication is a crucial aspect of finding solutions to problems so that you and your spouse can resolve difficult issues that arise. Listening is an effective skill of conflict resolution because it shows that you respect and want to understand what the other person is thinking and feeling. It’s a skill you can practice in all your relationships with others.

Sharing Your Feelings

While in counseling, you must be willing to talk openly about the problems in your marriage even if you are getting a divorce. Honesty about what went wrong can help you leave the marriage with less anger, emotional pain, and hostility, especially if you have children. Talk therapy allows you to get your feelings out, which can help you, your spouse, and your children deal better emotionally with the changes in your lives.

Coping With Challenging Issues

Counseling helps you develop the skills to talk things through, particularly the issues that caused problems in your marriage. If you leave the marriage without addressing the sources of conflict in your relationship, you may experience a more painful divorce and higher levels of frustration and anxiety afterward.

Your Ability to Co-Parent

Successful co-parenting following divorce requires the ability to cooperate and deal with parenting issues by working together rather than against each other. You must be ready to rationally and realistically discuss with your former spouse any family-related issues that concern both of you.

Making a Change

Look to yourself rather than expecting other people to change. If you are getting divorced, your life is about to change in a big way. The thought of change alone can be stressful, so you don’t want to continue making the same mistakes. Counseling throughout the divorce process can help you prepare for this major life transition.

It’s important to know who you are and what you want in life. Marriage counseling when preparing for divorce can help you see changes you need to make in your feelings and behavior so that you can move on with your life as an emotionally healthy individual.

Overlapping Roles of Marriage Counselors and Divorce Attorneys

Divorce is a complicated legal and emotional process—a process that often involves help from multiple professionals in order for a marriage to end on healthy terms for all concerned. Attorneys gain insight from marriage and family therapists and other mental health professionals that helps them develop a better understanding of the psychological effects of divorce on a family.

Marriage counselors learn through working with attorneys in court-ordered mediation processes more about the legal problems that can impact the emotional states of a divorcing couple and their children. Consequently, both professions can help each other help their clients.

When it comes to the area of divorce, the family law attorneys at Madison Law Firm, PLLC can make recommendations to help you navigate this difficult process with the least amount of emotional stress as possible.

Abused or Neglected Children: What Close Relatives Can Do to Help

If you learn that a child in your extended family has been abused or neglected by his or her parents, you may have a long road ahead of you. Your first concern will be for the current safety and security of the child. Your next concern will be to ensure that the child will be cared for properly in the future.

Most people have no idea where to begin when it comes to protected and gaining custody of a relative. It’s a situation no one wants to experience, but sometimes it is necessary to provide a safe home for children. Here’s what you need to know about responding to poor parenting situations and what you can do to gain custody of a child who is in your extended family.

Defining Neglect and Abuse

Many parenting methods are perfectly safe and valid, and the state cannot interfere based on matters of opinion. If you simply disagree with how your relatives raise their children and there is no evidence of harm, your reports will not get very far.

Washington sees abuse, abandonment, or neglect of a child as a criminal offense. Violators can be subject to prison time and heavy fines. Generally, these actions constitute abuse or neglect under the law:

  • Sexual exploitation. This includes but is not limited to acting upon a child, taking inappropriate photographs, or making a child witness inappropriate or violent sexual actions.
  • Using too much force to discipline or stop a child. Physical harm would be evidence of this type of treatment.
  • Leaving a child unattended in a parked car. This provision is in place to prevent accidental death due to brake failure or heat stroke.
  • Giving a minor drugs or alcohol.
  • Driving a vehicle while impaired with children present. Generally, this is action is charged under “child endangerment.”
  • Knowingly leaving children in the care of a sexual offender.
  • Failing to provide the necessities of life, including food, water, clothing, and shelter.
  • Leaving young children unattended for long periods of time, especially when they don’t have access to basic necessities.

Any combination of the above actions may result in the termination of parental rights. This is when family members can step in to offer homes for children in these situations.

Knowing the Signs

Sometimes, it is difficult to see the signs of neglect, abandonment, or abuse. Many children do not say anything about what they experience at home, and it can be challenging to know for certain if you are right about your suspicions.

Family members usually see children more often or have an insider’s view into living conditions and family dynamics. They may have more ability than “mandatory reporters” like doctors, teachers, and counselors to see what is going on at home.

Warning signs of abuse, neglect, or abandonment include:

  • Lack of medical attention. For example, if you notice that your niece or nephew has a large cut that should have been seen by a doctor for stitches, but was not, this is a warning sign.
  • Reduced enthusiasm for normal childhood activities.
  • Weight loss, reduced personal hygiene, or a ragged appearance.
  • Poor school performance.
  • Increased anxiety, agitation, or fear over getting into trouble for ordinary childhood mistakes.
  • Apathy toward adults and reduced affection toward those who show love and concern.

If you see these warning signs, your first step should be to contact child protective services. Following that phone call, it’s best to also contact a family law attorney as soon as you can. You will need legal assistance in cases where clear-cut evidence is difficult to pinpoint.

Gaining Custody

After you have contacted CPS, there will be an investigation into the claims of abuse. The police will direct the investigation on criminal activity. CPS begins evaluating the family and looking for possible temporary care situations. When the case of abuse is clear, parental rights are often terminated based on the seriousness of the circumstances.

Terminating rights can be a lengthy process, and so first you must be appointed as a guardian. Then you can work toward making the situation permanent, especially if there is little chance the parents will improve. Fortunately, Washington gives legal preference to worthy relatives to adopt children before looking to the public for foster care or adoptive parents.

If you are fighting for custody of these children, your lawyer can help compile the history of abuse and unfit parenting evidence. Your lawyer will also help you complete the necessary steps to make yourself available and suitable for adoption. You will need to prove that your home is safe and ready for children and that you can support the added expense.

You will be given even more preferential status in court if you can show a history of a relationship with the child in question. You will be required under Washington law to undergo a criminal record check before the placement, even though you are a family member.

For more information on adopting a relative out of a bad home situation, contact us at Madison Law Firm PLLC. We can provide the information you need to get started on this big step.

Equitable Doesn’t Always Mean Equal: Four Things You Need to Know About Asset Division in Washington

When you get divorced in Washington, what property do you get to keep? Washington is a community property state, so all of the assets—and debts—acquired by either you or your spouse during the marriage are divided up in a just and equitable manner. It’s important to understand, though, that just and equitable doesn’t always mean equal—otherwise, you could be in for quite a shock when the final division of property comes about.

Here are four things that you need to know about asset division and Washington law that might surprise you.

  1. Separate Property Is Only Separate if You Kept It That Way All Along

One of the first things that the court will do is look at all of the assets that you and your spouse have and determine what is community property and what is separate property. Separate property could include things like cars and houses that were yours alone before you got married or an inheritance that you received in your name only. Community property is generally subject to division between you and your spouse, usually (but not always) the court will award each party his/her separate property.

Of course, the law is full of exceptions to the rules, including this one. If you gave your spouse equal control over the property during your marriage or comingled an inheritance with marital funds, that once-separate property likely became part of the household’s community property. It can be difficult to assert that the property is still separate unless you treated it that way all along. The court may consider it unfair to suddenly let that property revert to one spouse alone. In some cases, even commingled property can be characterized as separate by using a forensic account procedure known as “tracing”.

  1. Marital Infidelity Has Nothing to Do With How Property Is Divided

A lot of people think that the courts will punish someone over their marital infidelity by awarding the faithful (or “injured”) spouse a greater share of the assets. It doesn’t happen that way in Washington. The only time your spouse’s marital infidelity might come into play is if he or she spent an exorbitant amount of money on the person he or she was unfaithful with.

For example, the court isn’t going to consider dinners in a fancy restaurant to be exorbitant. Even the occasional piece of jewelry or birthday gift isn’t likely to be a problem, as long as it keeps with the general budget of the household.

However, if your spouse set his or her paramour up with an apartment, a gym membership, and put a lot of expensive food, clothing, and accessory items on a joint credit card, that’s a significant expense to have come out of the household funds (or debt to have to divide).

You could probably convince a judge that you deserve a bigger distribution of the remaining assets or a smaller share of the family debt because your spouse had dissipated marital assets or created marital assets solely for his or her own pleasure and without your consent or knowledge.

  1. Waste of Marital Funds Can Sometimes Lead to an Inequitable Division of the Remainder

Waste and dissipation of marital funds are two topics that are closely tied together, but they’re slightly different. Think of dissipation as spending household money on things that don’t benefit you but at least you know where the money went. Waste is just what it sounds like—a spouse may purposefully waste marital funds rather than divide them with his or her spouse.

For example, your spouse may take a sudden pre-divorce trip to Las Vegas and proceed to gamble away the savings account without your knowledge or consent. That information could be enough to get a judge to award you a larger share of any remaining assets, like the equity in your home.

Keep in mind, however, that waste is often hard to prove and long-term habits can be seen as mere entertainment, not purposeful waste. For example, if your spouse routinely went gambling with your full knowledge (even if you didn’t particularly care for the habit), the court may view the occurrences as mere entertainment—so long they weren’t an abuse of his or her discretion to use some of the household money that way.

  1. The Duration of Your Marriage May Factor Into the Division of Assets and Debts

There are no hard-and-fast rules regarding a marriage’s length and the division of assets, but judges are inclined to approach short marriages differently than long-term marriages. If your marriage was fairly short, the judge may be inclined to restore both you and your spouse to your financial position pre-marriage, unless you and your spouse signed a prenuptial agreement.

If your marriage was fairly lengthy, the judge may look more carefully at each of your situations and try to divide assets and debts so that you each have approximately the same financial outlook for the future.

Asset division can be complicated, even when you think it should be simple. Contact Madison Law Firm and let one of our attorneys guide you through this confusing and difficult time.

The Newcomer’s Guide to Domestic Partnerships and Same-Sex Marriages in Washington State

Laws in Washington provide a clear framework that allows two adults, regardless of gender, the right to enjoy the benefits of partnership or marriage throughout the state. In statutes, rules and laws relating to same-sex marriages or domestic partnerships in Washington, the words “husband” and “wife” are considered to be gender-neutral terms.

If you’ve recently moved to Washington from another state and have questions about domestic partnerships and same-sex marriage laws, this guide is a good place to find basic answers:

Your Out-of-State Marriage or Partnership 

Generally, as long as your domestic partnership or same-sex marriage was made legitimate by the laws of another state, it’s recognized as valid in Washington. As a member of a partnership or marriage formed in another state, you and your spouse or partner are entitled to all of the benefits offered to heterosexual couples in partnerships and marriages in this state. You are also allowed to marry each other again in Washington.

There are exceptions to this recognition. If you and/or your spouse were not at least 17 years of age, and you did not have a court order allowing the marriage, it will not be recognized as valid. If your marriage would be void in Washington for any other reason, such as a kin relationship or an existing marriage to another person, your marriage will not be recognized.

It’s a good idea to officially marry your spouse within a year of becoming a resident of Washington to maintain your out-of-state union’s status as a legally recognized marriage. Alternately, enter a state-recognized domestic partnership within that time frame to secure all of the legal benefits of partnership. Madison Law Firm, PPLC, can answer any questions you have about these and other civil contracts.

It’s Easy to Wed in Washington

The state of Washington recognizes a marriage as a civil contract between two people. In order to meet the qualifications to be married, both of these people must be at least 18 years of age, and both must be capable of entering into a civil contract.

The two people cannot be related by blood any closer than second cousins. Neither of the people can be a child, sibling, aunt, uncle, grandchild, niece, or nephew of the other person.

You don’t have to recite any specific vows to each other in order to make your marriage official in Washington. All you must do is stand before two witnesses and a religious or judicial official and declare that you take each other to be spouses.

Religious Freedom Laws Limit Same-Sex Participation

While the state recognizes and establishes same-sex unions, Washington also recognizes that religious institutions and organizations have the right to disagree with same-sex civil contracts. Whether or not you agree with a given church’s or faith-based organization’s opinions on same-sex marriage, the state gives these entities the right to deny you services and privileges.

A religious organization may turn you away from marriage counseling services, marriage workshops, religious retreats, and educational courses. They can deny you the right to hold your wedding in their facilities, and they can refuse to perform your marriage ceremony.

You have no cause of action against a religious official or institution if they deny you access to accommodations, goods, and services. No state or local agency can penalize a religious organization for refusing to serve same-sex couples.

If you or your partner are 62 years of age or older, there is a special domestic partnership allowed in Washington. This partnership addresses the problems older couples face with social security and other retirement issues.

To find out more about this special category of civil contracts, or to get help with a same-sex marriage, adoption, divorce or other action, contact our office to schedule a consultation. We stay on top of family and marriage laws in Washington state and do all we can to protect and assert your rights.

4 Tips for Handling Custody of Your Dog During a Divorce

When families expand with the joyful additions of children and pets, few couples consider whether they will one day part ways. Breaking up the family unit is likely the last thing on their minds. The rush to build their lives together can blind two people to the reality that a large percentage of marriages end in divorce, and the harsh realities of a divorce can hit all members of the family very hard.

If you find yourself not only facing a divorce, but also a potential custody battle for your dog, follow these tips for the best ways to handle the fight for custody of your canine companion.

  1. Maintain Physical Possession of the Dog

If your custody case winds up before a judge, you may find that possession plays a huge part in who gets custody of your dog. Since an animal is typically viewed as property, having the dog in your care indicates your ownership over your pet. If you allow your soon-to-be ex-spouse to take possession of the dog, he or she may attain rightful ownership in court.

No matter how much your ex may try to convince you to give him or her possession of an animal, stick to what you want. When you retain possession of the dog, you are not required to justify that decision to your ex-partner. Be consistent, or it may work against you in court.

  1. Prioritize the Preferences of the Children

If one parent gets primary custody of the children, it may seem unfair that they are also granted custody of the dog. However, that is often how dog custody is decided when families split up. When looking at what is in the best interests of the kids, it is undeniable that allowing things to stay as stable as possible should be a priority.

Keeping a beloved dog by their side can be helpful for children as they cope with the “new normal” after a divorce. While you should never fight over custody of the pet in front of your kids, including them in discussions about where the dog should live can be helpful, especially if you know your ex is willing to listen to what the children want.

Letting the kids decide custody of a dog improves their confidence, but you and your ex will need to cooperate with each other.

  1. Document Any Problematic Behavior Towards Your Dog

Although nearly every divorcing pair has high hopes of maintaining a friendly relationship, most people find that they never fully knew their former spouses until they knew what it was like to divorce them. If you suspect that your soon-to-be ex-partner is mistreating your dog out of anger or spite for you, take action to protect your pet.

Taking photos of your dog after a suspected incident is one way that you can protect your canine companion and ensue that your former partner does not end up with custody.  If you have any evidence of animal abuse, it’s okay to report your ex. Unfortunately, divorce can change people, so don’t hesitate to do what you must to protect you, your kids, or your dog. On the other side of that, you may also choose to document all the positive things that you and your kids do with your dog.

  1. Call a Family Law Attorney for Help

Don’t take a tough situation lying down. If you are not sure what your next move should be to ultimately get custody of your canine companion, contact a family law attorney. After you retain the services of a family law lawyer, you can ensure that you are doing the most you can to increase your odds of retaining custody of your dog.

Finally, if you have any questions about pet or child custody, contact Roger Madison at the Madison Law Firm PLLC. Your initial consultation is free, and it is offered without pressure or obligations.

3 Tips for Making Your Divorce Amicable

The moment your spouse asks for a divorce is one you will never forget. If things haven’t been working well for some time, you may feel a sense of relief. Or, you may feel surprised, and therefore, deeply angry and depressed. Some people experience these seemingly conflicting emotions—relief, anger, and sadness—at once.

Depending on your temperament, you might be ready and willing to fight your soon-to-be-ex for every cent. You might not care if you remain friends or treat each other well.

However, for many people, an ex-partner is someone you will continue to interact with after the divorce. You’ll see them at the grocery store, at your kids’ soccer games, and at major family outings, like weddings and college graduations. Therefore, it’s necessary to make your legal uncoupling as peaceful as possible. Below, we’ve provided three tips to help you keep your divorce amicable.

  1. Decide Not to Place Blame for the Divorce

Couples have a myriad of reasons for getting divorced. Rarely, if ever, is it solely one party’s fault. Despite this reality, the divorcing couple’s emotions often flare up, and fingers get pointed. They bring up events from the past and relive old, negative emotions. They place blame, and, in doing so, fail to recognize their own part in how the marriage turned out.

Now, instead of having calm, civil discussions about their upcoming divorce, one (or both) parties are trying to make things more difficult than they need to be.

You can choose to avoid this by consciously deciding not to blame your partner for the divorce and kindly asking your partner to do the same. If your soon-to-be ex-spouse disagrees, you will need to hold firm about not blaming and stay diplomatic in your exchanges with him or her.

  1. See a Therapist or Another Mental Health Professional to Learn Coping Techniques

As we’ve mentioned above, divorces stir up a lot of emotions. They can be truly life-changing, even traumatic, experiences. As this process begins, you may feel like you’re in mourning. You also may experience a distracting amount of resentment.

Don’t allow these powerful emotions to unsettle you. Be proactive, and find a therapist or another mental health professional that specializes in helping people through divorces. Mental health professionals can teach you critical coping techniques that will help you sort through and let go of your emotions surrounding the divorce.

  1. Let an Experienced Divorce Lawyer Handle the Division of Assets

We’ve all heard this story before. A friend of a friend tried to handle their divorce without a lawyer. They tried to negotiate with their ex, and the former couple couldn’t agree on the division of assets. They wanted to maintain a good relationship with one another, and they chose to use a professional mediator. Still, they couldn’t agree on who should get what. By the time they realized mediation wasn’t working, these once-amicable ex-spouses were no longer treating each other kindly or respectfully.

Avoid this situation by hiring an experienced attorney to negotiate on your behalf. It’s a divorce lawyer’s job to achieve the best possible settlement for the client and to understand the divorce laws in your state. The Madison Law Firm team knows the ins and outs of divorce in Washington State. A divorce attorney also looks at your divorce objectively and counsels you about what you can expect. He or she can handle negotiations calmly when things get heated.

If you’ve filed for divorce recently, you may be experiencing some of the challenges we’ve discussed. Review our well-researched list of tips on keeping your divorce proceedings amicable, and prevent your relationship with your ex from unraveling into anger and blame. It’s important, during these challenging times, to have a reliable lawyer to walk you through your divorce. To meet with an experienced divorce lawyer, contact Madison Law Firm in Olympia, WA, today.

Should You Opt for an Agency Adoption or a Private Adoption?

When it comes to adoption, your highest priority is making the process simple and beneficial for all involved-especially for your future child. However, it’s not always clear whether an adoption performed with the help of an agency or an independent private adoption offers the better path.

While each situation is different, understanding how these two options compare can give you a starting place. In this blog, we summarize the process of each.

Agency Adoption

When you adopt through an agency, that agency serves as the connection between you and prospective birth mothers. The agency provides birth mothers with counseling and the profiles of interested families. The agency provides you with a guide through the process.

You have the option to choose between a private agency or a public agency. Private agencies often handle both domestic and international adoptions, while your public agency may only work with local children.


Generally, an agency adoption provides more oversight and structure than a private adoption. This type of adoption has the following advantages:

  • Extensive parent training-When you work with an adoption agency, you typically receive 10 or more hours of training about the adoption process. This training is intended to prepare you to raise a child of a different race than yours, identify and address any health issues caused by unhealthy pregnancies, and so on.
  • High safety standards-Agencies work hard to protect the rights, interests, and safety of all involved parties. As an adoptive family, you will likely need to be fingerprinted, have a background check performed, and be approved before you can take custody of your adopted child.
  • Option to close the adoption-If you choose to do so, you can close your adoption. This option means that you do not have to disclose your name or meet the birth family.

If you’re ready to be matched directly to a child, find an agency that fits your needs to get started.

Private Adoption

During a private adoption, your attorney works directly with birth mothers or birth families to find the right fit. When allowed by state law, your attorney advertises to birth families and may use networking to match you with a child. Your attorney can also guide you through the process of finding a birth mother on your own.

In addition to your attorney, you may also work with a social worker of your choosing or a facilitator.
Private adoptions tend to be local, but they are can also include children in other states.


Where an agency adoption gives you more structure, a private adoption gives you more control. Private adoption has the following advantages:

  • Fewer rigid requirements-In a private adoption, the requirements depend on your desires and your attorney’s recommendations. For example, a basic background check is required, but an extensive background check is not. You may choose to provide the birth family with more information at your discretion and your attorney’s advisement.
  • Less time spent waiting-Unlike agency adoptions, private adoptions do not generally involve waiting lists. Instead, your profile can be shown to families as soon as it’s fully prepared.
  • Possibility of relationship with birth mother-In a private adoption, you decide how much of a relationship you want to have with your child’s birth mother and, by extension, how much of a relationship your child will have with her.

If you want to pursue a private adoption, start by finding an experienced attorney.


Whether you choose an agency adoption or a private one, it’s wise to retain an attorney to help with the process. Your attorney can navigate the agency’s process or facilitate meetings with prospective birth mothers. Additionally, your attorney helps ensure that your adoption complies with all local, state, and federal laws so there aren’t any complications later on.

Use this comparison to decide how you can best connect with your future child.