Getting Divorced? 3 Types of Social Media Posts to Avoid Making

Making the decision to divorce someone you once loved can be incredibly challenging, which is why you might turn to family and friends for support. Unfortunately, talking about your divorce online can cause a long list of problems, since social media posts are admissible in court. Here are three types of posts you should avoid making online. Learn how they could injure your case.

  1. Explaining Your Side of the Story

If you want your friends and family members to understand your reasons behind your separation, you might be tempted to go online and post a lengthy statement about what happened and what you hope for the future. Unfortunately, making statements online can become an assortment of problems, since this gives your audience access to your mindset.

For instance, if you aren’t happy about the divorce, you might talk about how you are eager to get things over with. If your ex, their attorney, or anyone who knows them reads this information, your ex might be more tempted to try to speed through negotiations, which could leave you with less than you deserve.

Explaining your side of the story also gives outsiders many opportunities to comment, which is a breeding ground for problems. For instance, if your soon to be ex-sister-in-law decides to explain her side of the story in your comments section, you might end up with a harassment lawsuit on your hands in addition to a potentially messy divorce case.

To avoid problems, avoid making statements about your living arrangements or marital status on social media. Instead, consider suspending your accounts or not saying anything at all. Changing your relationship status online will have the same effect as announcing your divorce without sparking a war of words.

  1. Commenting About Your Ex

Divorce can be an incredibly emotional time, especially when you feel wronged by your ex. Unfortunately, going online to speak your piece could cause problems, since any potential derogatory statement could be grounds for libel, slander, or defamation lawsuits.

While slander is making defamatory statements about someone verbally, libel is publishing written defamatory statements about another person. Unfortunately, with the advent of video posts, divorcing partners can make either damaging statement in a matter of seconds.

Because defamation can impact a person’s ability to make money or continue relationships with family members, friends, and children, courts tend to take social media trashing very seriously. Never make statements regarding your former spouse’s character, lifestyle habits, or parenting styles, and try to keep friends and family members from making similar mistakes.

Although making defamatory posts online might seem like an easy way to tip the scales in your favor, remember that saying the wrong things could hurt your own divorce settlement.

For instance, if you accuse your ex of being dishonest and stealing from you and the statement is marked as public, this could impact their ability to earn an income, since their employer might also take issue with the statement. If their income drops, this could impact your spousal and child support.

With posting statements about your ex online, work hard to keep things civil. Address one another respectfully and professionally online, and avoid posting on their page or messaging them without getting your lawyer involved.

  1. Showing Off New Purchases

Investing in a new car or enjoying a nice vacation with your kids can seem like an innocent enough post, but unfortunately, the court might see it another way. If you use social media to show off new purchases, this could be a sign that you hid assets during your divorce — a transgression punishable with civil and criminal penalties.

Hiding assets includes actions like failing to disclose income sources or temporarily giving money to family members or friends, only to use those income sources or returned loans in the future. If the law suspects you of hiding assets, your ex’s attorneys could challenge your property disclosures, potentially increasing the number of assets subject to distribution.

If the court finds you to be hiding assets, you could face significant fines or even jail time, since you promised to be honest and forthcoming when the divorce ensued. The law could void prenuptial and postnuptial agreements and could re-open your settlement agreement. As you progress through your divorce, focus on staying away from social media and avoiding any indication of extravagant living.

What you do during a divorce matters, which is why working with lawyers is such an important part of your separation journey. Here at Madison Law Firm, PLLC, we focus on helping our clients to navigate legal matters, while working hard to make sure they enjoy a positive outcome in court. To learn more about our business, visit us online today or give our office a call.

Are There Financial Benefits to Divorce?

Most of the time, people associate divorce with expenses. You are not only dividing assets and income but also covering the cost of the legal procedure itself. And for cases with prolonged custody disputes or cases with complex estate history, divorce costs can be high. However, many people do not realize that divorce can also provide some financial benefits to both partners after their case has been settled.

After the divorce is final, those benefits can help you regain your personal financial security. Your lawyer can help you get a better idea of what your financial situation will be following your divorce and help you protect yourself during proceedings.

Here are some financial benefits you could see as a result of your divorce, especially if you carefully work through each situation with your attorney.

Sole Control

The most obvious benefit from divorce is the fact that each person will gain sole control over their own financial well-being. You will have your own bank accounts, and after everything is divided, you’ll also have control over your own investment accounts and retirement savings.

If money and spending was a major marital conflict, you’ll enjoy having the ability to budget without a need to account for the actions of a spouse who does not handle money the same way you do. For many divorcés, the extra control over the budget allows them to build savings and reduce expenses without facing any opposition.

Access to Retirement Savings

Splitting retirement accounts is one of the complex and challenging parts of creating a divorce settlement. If you have savings, it’s essential that you do not try to divide those savings on your own. If you remove the money from your accounts without legal help, you pay full tax penalties on the accounts, which results in the loss of thousands of dollars.

When you work with your divorce or estate planning attorney, you can divide and even access the money without paying the severe penalties of removing it early. To protect both parties financially, you file a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO) for an employer-sponsored 401K plan.

If you also have IRA retirement plans, your lawyer can protect those with a transfer incident to divorce. This divides the assets and the tax responsibility between the two parties, with each person and account independent of the other. Going forward, you will not have pay any penalties for how your spouse manages that money because it’s no longer tied to you.

Using these methods to divide assets is important because you may be able to access the money right away. For some people, cashing out on retirement is not wise, but for others, the immediate cash flow is important to help regain financial footing.

Remember, do not try to access these funds before your divorce or without the guidance of a lawyer. You want to keep as much of your money as possible.

College Funding

If you do not have savings accounts for your children who may need tuition support for college, divorce can actually help them get larger grants from the government to pay for some schooling. When applying for federal financial aid, the applicant must provide the incomes of their parents.

In a two-parent home with parents working, the income is much higher. However, with one main custodial parent, the reported income is lower, and therefore your student will qualify for more financial aid. For some students, this extra funding is essential to make higher education possible.

If you are hoping that your child will have access to this support, speak with a lawyer about how to best draw up living agreements so that your children can get increased financial aid after the divorce is finalized. The custodial parent on the federal financial aid applications is the one who has provided the primary living support for a child during the past 12 months.

Reduced Expenses

Finally, you can also enjoy the financial benefit of having reduced expenses. For some people, the idea of moving from two incomes to one income is daunting, but the other side of the coin is that life after marriage can be significantly less expensive.

For example, medical insurance plans are often based on family or individual. Even if you are just a married couple without children, you would still pay for a family plan. Individual plans can be much less expensive.

You also have the option to downsize your living situation, you can remove one driver from your car insurance plan, and you move from having multiple vehicles to one. These reduced expenses can make it easier to live on your own salary.

Finances during a divorce can be one of the most stressful aspects of the entire situations. However, if you proceed carefully and cautiously, you can enjoy greater financial freedom and plan effectively for future. For more information, contact us at Madison Law Firm PLLC.

Postnuptial Agreements: What Married Couples Need to Know

Prenuptial agreements are a common legal way for individuals to protect their personal financial security and interests before entering into a marriage. However, while many couples get married without getting a prenup, they might later wish for a way to seek individual protections. You can craft and sign a postnuptial agreement with your spouse to fill this legal gap.

A postnuptial agreement can be tailored to the specific needs of your marriage, but it does need to be executed correctly in order to be legally enforceable should the agreement ever need to be used. Learn more about postnuptial agreements and what protections they can offer to married individuals.

Willing Participants

First, both spouses signing the agreement must be willing to do so. Prenuptial agreements are legally binding in court because either party has the opportunity to walk away from the contract of marriage.

After you are married, you already have commingled interests and assets, and it’s easier for one person to feel forced into signing an agreement because they are at a disadvantage in the relationship. For example, a stay-at-home spouse might feel like they need to sign an agreement in order to maintain support from a spouse who is working full time.

At the time when the postnuptial agreement is needed, it can be found unenforeable if one spouse can prove that it was not signed with full and knowing willingness.

Spousal Responsibilities

Postnuptial agreements are not just for protecting financial interests in the event of divorce. They can also help to determine spousal responsibilities or expectations for the marriage relationship.

One spouse, for instance, might have a vested interest in continuing education. One provision of the agreement might be that their partner support their spouse in educational pursuits. Other couples might find comfort in having specific financial responsibilities spelled out that eliminate arguments about spending or investing differences.

A postnuptial agreement might also function to provide instructions for special circumstances. For example, it might outline expectations for what a spouse might do if their partner becomes severely disabled.

You might decide that separation in the event of a tragedy is acceptable to both of you, as long as medical care is still provided. Knowing what each person expects ahead of time can eliminate feelings of guilt or pressure if such tragic situations should occur and allow healthy spouses to move on to other fulfilling relationships.

Individuals in marriage can find some peace in having specific interests protected by the contract of a postnuptial agreement, especially if those interests might have been a source of conflict in the past.

Community Property

One of the most important features of a postnuptial agreement (and something that sets it apart from a prenuptial agreement) is protecting community property. Washington is a community property state, which means that all property or assets acquired after the marriage date are held jointly between the husband and wife.

Postnuptial agreements can help to distinguish items that would otherwise be considered community property, and this can be important for some situations.

For example, if one person inherits a house from a family member, that house might be joint property in the marriage. To keep ownership of the house contained to one spouse, the postnuptial agreement will protect that property from being commingled.

Setting some assets apart from community property can protect both spouses. In the case with the inherited house, one spouse has the title, but the other spouse is protected from the property expenses, taxes, and liability that can come from owning that property.

Provisions for Death and Assets

Finally, postnuptial agreements can be essential for diverting assets away from the surviving spouse in the event of untimely death. Normally, all assets that belonged to the marriage transfer to the living individual.

However, some couples might want specific assets to be transferred to children, other relatives, or friends. For example, an inherited property from a parent might be given to a surviving sibling instead of a surviving spouse. Without the agreement, all the property held in common in the marriage will likely be dispersed at the discretion of the surviving partner.

A postnuptial agreement can be a benefit for marriage. Contact us at Madison Law Firm, PLLC, for more information.

 

 

 

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.

Listening 

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.