It is easy to get into a marriage; but getting a divorce can be another thing entirely. A Washington State divorce may be simple – or it can be expensive and painful and frustrating. If you are thinking about a divorce, or in a divorce, or planning a divorce, or your friend is having a divorce, ask an attorney who knows what they are doing. Reading the Internet only helps so far. Washington State has a body of case law, dealing with divorces and family law problems, going back to the 1800’s. (See Marriage of Neff, an 1899 case, that is still good law and makes for good reading.) But that deep body of law and rules and culture cannot be easily understood; getting advice from the Internet is a bad idea at the best of times.
A Washington divorce involves many different issues, besides just getting “divorced”. You have to worry about maintenance (alimony); custody; the parenting plan; child support; college support; retirement plans (and what in the world is the difference between a 401-K, and an IRA, and a pension?); restraining order and protection orders; taxes; and even (sometimes), who gets the dog. Given that a divorce takes anywhere from six months (in Snohomish County) to just under a year (in King County), it is important to get good advice before you start. Mistakes made in the beginning can prove expensive in the end.
I am primarily a divorce attorney, and I like trying divorce cases. Trial for me, is fun. I enjoy it. Many attorneys do not. People say there are no winners in a divorce; that is not true. In any trial, someone is the winner; my job is to try to make that winner you. I have twenty years of experience; I have seen virtually every situation – good, bad, or ugly – and know how to deal with them. But every situation is different, as well, and how well your case turns out, depends very much on how you fight it. And that takes an experienced, competent attorney.
How Does A Divorce Play Out?
Preparation is critical in a Washington divorce. If you are planning to get a divorce, you need to consider a number of things. You need to decide if you are going to move out – or if you want to get the other person to move out. That impacts who gets the house in the end. You need to decide if you want to try to resolve the divorce peacefully – or if you get a better result by simply filing a divorce and starting a fight. You need to decide what to do with the bank account – and how to make sure the bills get paid. You need to consider if you want a 50/50 parenting plan or a regular every-other-weekend kind of parenting plan. A bad decision there will affect the rest of the divorce, so you want to be careful. Preparation is critical; mistakes you make in the beginning, can cost you dearly in the end. You need to consider the process in your county. (King County process is here.)
From experience, most contested divorces follow the same pattern. (For agreed/ uncontested divorces, see my Uncontested Divorces page. There is an initial flurry of activity (the divorce gets filed and served; we got to court and the court issues temporary orders) in the first month or so. That usually costs $2,000-4,000 or so, depending on how much we have to fight. (Talk to me!) Then, depending on the county (see sections on King and Snohomish Counties on this website), there is a long period until we get close to trial. You will spend a fairly small amount of money, on discovery and figuring out the assets and debts.
Towards the end of the case, we get ready for mediation and trial. Mediation is usually the month before trial. Most mediations early in a case, especially if the divorce is contested, or if one side doesn’t like the other, will not work and simply waste your money. Mediation works at the end of the case because both sides are tired of the fight; neither side wants to spend money going to trial, or on attorneys, and both sides know if they don’t make a decision that day, a judge will be making the decision for them a couple of weeks later – at a lot more cost. Depending on how we do it, mediation will cost each side $2,500-4,000 – but it usually settles the case. Not all of that is a sunk cost; we use mediation time to go over your testimony for trial anyway. My experience is that, if we don’t settle the case, we would spend about half that time getting ready for trial anyway.
Every case is different, and costs vary as well. But I have a pretty good idea, when you call me in the beginning, what the overall costs will be all the way through. You can control, to some degree, how much you want to fight. But you have little control over how much your spouse wants to fight. It is important to fight smart: money is always tight in divorces, and I always discuss where you need to spend money – and where you are better off not spending money. I will always tell you if you are wasting your money on fights that are not productive.
Trial costs money. My experience is that trials just over money (assets, liabilities, spousal support), take more time to prepare; but less time to actually try. The average trial length, for a case just over assets and liabilities, is one to two days long, and takes perhaps 1-2 days of preparation time before trial and a half day afterwards. The average cost is between $8,000 and $10,000 for a two – three day trial, by the time you are done.
A custody trial can take many days – average is 4-7 days. That’s because these trials require lots of witnesses to testify, not just looking at bank statements, etc. And that means the cost of these trials tends to be much higher.
The bottom line is this: the divorce process is never a lot of fun. Having an experienced attorney helps make sure it ends as well as it possibly can, and the process is as painless as it can be. Call me.