Frequently Asked Questions

Domestic Partnership / Prenuptial / Postnuptial Agreements

  • Why do I need a prenuptial or post nuptial agreement?

    The purpose of pre and post nuptial agreements is to delineate how property is owned and define are expenses are to be paid from the date of the agreement forward. By law, all property within a marriage belongs to both parties and all debts are owed in common regardless of the name on the asset or debt. A prenuptial or postnuptial agreement can alter that by defining the intent of the parties of how assets are to be owned and debts to be paid.

  • What is a domestic partnership?

    A domestic partnership is a relationship that creates a marriage like relationship between two parties. These can be of the same sex or not. The sexual relationship is not relevant to the definition.

  • What is a domestic partnership agreement?

    Domestic partners are parties in an intimate relationship who are not married. To prevent confusion and potential palimony suits, parties need to define who owns what and how expenses will be paid. A domestic partnership agreement spells this out. These agreements can easily be written to serve as prenuptial agreements should the parties get married later and wish to maintain the separation of assets and debts.

  • What is the advantage of a domestic partnership agreement?

    The law defines what happens when a married couple gets divorced. The law is much more vague when it comes to unmarried couples. While cases dealing with unmarried couples are examined by analogy to the law of marriage, the two are not treated the same way, so that you can not rely on the same division e.g. a portion of your partner's retirement, if you split up.

  • With the new laws about domestic partners, why do I need a domestic partnership agreement?

    The new law addresses the legally required benefits/rights third parties must provide to domestic partners. It does not define the economic relationship between the parties as long as they are alive. So the right to inherit is addressed, but not what happens when you split up.

  • Should I have an agreement if I have children from an earlier relationship?

    It is advisable to have a prenuptial agreement when a party wishes to preserve assets owned prior to a relationship for the children from the previous relationship. This is also the case where child support is paid by the other parent or a party’s income needs to be protected from the debts of the new partner.

  • What if I have coparented my partner's child, but have not adopted the child?

    A recent court decision makes it possible to establishing a parenting plan, if you can show you have been the child's psychological parent. While this is a huge step forward, it is still much more difficult and expensive than an adoption. It is the road to take if the relationship is over and you want access to the child. But if you are in a relationship and things are going well, adopt the child to secure your rights now, not when you have a much higher and more difficult standard of proof.

Wills & Trusts

  • Why do I need a will?

    Wills allow you to define how your assets will be distributed upon your death, who will care for your children and how your remains are to be disposed. In the absence of a will, the law defines who will receive your assets and who has the right to administer your estate upon your death. A will can also create the means to structure your estate so as to minimize estate taxes.

  • Why do I need a trust for my children?

    The most common trusts are trusts inside a will (testamentary trusts) most often for children. These allow you to define the purposes for which funds may be used to benefit the child and the age at which the child will gain control over the funds.


  • How long does the process take?

    Weeks to several months depending on the stage of the proceedings. Prior to filing a home study report has to be completed. Thereafter, a post placement report is required. This is usually done after the child has settled into the household for a few months.

  • Who can help to find a baby?

    There are many ways of finding a child to adopt. Newborns are generally the hardest to find. Lawyers can be sources for information that may lead to locating an available newborn. Often this involves a fee for the service of searching for available resources.

  • Can a step parent adopt?

    Yes, if the non-spouse parent agrees and the spouse acts as co-petitioner. If the non-spouse parent does not agree, there may be a basis to terminate his/her rights under the right conditions.

  • Can the birth parents change their minds?

    If all of the legal requirements have been met and there is no indication of fraud or coercion and adoption is final and will not be reopened.

  • Can I adopt if I am single, over forty or gay?

    The short answer is yes. If you can find a child who is available. Availability may mean through an agency, an individual or an international adoption. Each agency and country has different rules. Private adoption availability is based on being chosen by the birth parents, usually just the birth mother.

Dissolution of Marriage (Divorce)

  • How long does it take to get a divorce?

    Washington requires a ninety day waiting period from the date of filing to the final decree. That means all issues involving assets, debts and children must be agreed upon by that time. If the parties do not agree, a trial date is set at which the issues are tried by a judge. Most divorces involving children take longer than the 90 days. However, most divorces with and without children, settle before trial as a result of negotiations and/or mediation. In my practice very few cases end up in trial.

  • Is Divorce the same thing as Dissolution of Marriage?

    Yes, it is the term used in Washington Law.

  • What issues must be addressed in a dissolution?

    Before a decree of dissolution can be entered (that's what actually divorces you), the court must divide all assests and debts, provide for child support and a parenting plan if there are children. Even if all of this is agreed by the parties, the details must be presented to the court. How can I assure that my spouse pays child support right away? A motion for temporary orders can be filed as soon as a petition for dissolution is filed. The motion can address child support, a parenting plan (when the child is with which parent), who gets to live in the family residence and who has to pay what bills.

  • What if my spouse and I are in agreement about the divorce?

    If the two of you were in agreement in a meaningful sense of that word, you would not be getting a divorce. People often agree on how to divide property, but don't know all that is involved in the legal definition of assets to be divided. This is even more true when it comes to dividing the time with children between parents. Even if you have general agreement, it is advisable to seek legal counsel, just to make sure that the documents you have drafted cover everything. Once a divorce is final, it is very difficult and expensive to make any changes. It is cheaper and easier to do it right the first time.

  • Who pays the maintenance (alimony)?

    In Washington, maintenance is provided where the party who requests it can show that he/she has a need for it and the other party has the ability to pay. Usually maintenance is ordered for a limited time. Maintenance is the exception, not the rule. Generally both parties will be expected to work to support themselves, unless there are extenuating circumstances (an infant at home, a disability preventing the party from working or a very long term marriage where one party has been out of the workforce for a very long time or has never worked).

  • What is a Legal Separation?

    A legal separation differs from a divorce only in that the marriage is not dissolved. In a legal separation, property and debts are allocated to the respective parties, post-separation debt belongs only to the party who incurs it. If there are children the court orders a parenting plan and child support. A legal separation is useful for people who may want to continue to reconcile the marriage, but are not living together anymore. A legal separation can be converted into a dissolution of the marriage or can be overturned if the parties reconcile.

  • Does it matter who files the petition?

    The short answer is no. There are no legal advantages. However, there is often a psychological advantage for the person taking the first step.

  • What if a parent has a drug/alcohol problems, domestic violence issues, child abuse issues, mental health issues?

    All of these problems come before the court all the time. In the context of a divorce, the standard is the best interest of the child, as defined by law, not terminating a parent's right to the child. If you or your spouse have any of the above issues, the court will likely appoint a person to evaluate the situation and make recommendations about what would be best for the children. A court can also order a parent to participate in evaluation and treatment in order to be in an appropriate position to care for a child for whatever time the child is with that parent. It is the court's duty to protect the child's well being. Therefore, the court will provide for whatever is necessary to keep the child physically and emotionally safe when the child is with a parent with the above impairments.

  • Can't I do my own divorce?

    Everyone is free to represent him/herself in court on any matter. However, a person doing so is held to the same standard as an attorney. That means if you make mistakes, don't know the law, the court rules, etc. you have to live with the consequences. Since divorce involves where the children will live, who makes decisions about them, what is covered by child support and how all the assets and debts are allocated, mistakes made as a result of ignorance of the applicable law and rules can be very costly both in human and in economic terms. Especially if children are involved it is always advisable to retain counsel.


  • What is a parentage action?

    A parentage action is the process whereby an unmarried father can establish his legal rights to a child. Even if the father has signed the affidavit of paternity and his name is on the birth certificate, he is not a legal father until the court has made a judgment that he is the legal father.

    What if we've been living together and he has always acted as the child's father.

    That is more evidence that he is the child's father and often will mean no DNA test has to be done, but it does not give him parental rights until a court says so.

  • What if I don't want the father in the child's life?

    Either the mother or the father can file a parentage action. Therefore, if the father wants to make the claim of paternity he can do so whether or not the mother wants him to have contact with the child. If there are reasons to limit contact (father has a violence or substance problem) it is much safer to do a parentage action in which the court can order various interventions, than to do nothing.

  • If the State filed and I am ordered to pay child support, why can't I see my child?

    The state usually files if the custodial parent is receiving public benefits (welfare, medical coverage, etc). Unless one of the parents asks to have custody addressed in that process, the state does not do it. If you are paying child support your paternity has been established and you can file a petition for parenting plan which will allow you to set up a legally mandated schedule to see the child, make decisions, etc., in short, actually have the rights as well as the responsibility (child support) of a parent.

  • Do I have to do a DNA test?

    If the father has signed an affidavit of paternity or both parents agree that he is the father, the court does not usually order a DNA test. Usually these are only ordered if the father does not believe or know if he is the father.

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