what is no-fault divorce

Is Washington A No-Fault Divorce State?

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Marriages end for a variety of reasons. Infidelity, abuse, mistrust, financial issues, and more. The list of causes of divorce is practically endless. That doesn’t mean, however, that one person must always carry the blame. This is where no-fault divorce comes in.

Sometimes two people grow apart and evolve in different, incompatible directions. Any number of factors can further complicate matters. For instance, adultery may lead to divorce, but in Washington, how does adultery affect the process?

Another such snag is when you want to end your marriage, but the other party has other ideas. What can you do if your spouse doesn’t want to divorce?  With the exception of Mississippi and South Dakota, it doesn’t matter if your spouse disagrees.

Every other state in the union, including Washington, practices no-fault divorce.

What Is No-Fault Divorce?

In short, no-fault divorce is exactly what it sounds like. You don’t have to prove that either party is to blame for the marriage crumbling. If adultery broke your marriage, for instance, it doesn’t really matter. You don’t have to prove adultery in Washington.

All the court requires is that you declare the union broken beyond repair with no hope of reconciliation. Do that, actually be legally married, meet state residency requirements, and follow the proper procedure, and you can dissolve your marriage.

In a practical sense, no-fault divorce streamlines ending a marriage. Without having to prove one person is to blame, it speeds up the timeline.

There’s no need to dig up painful memories or sling mud back and forth. And even if your spouse doesn’t want to divorce, you can get out and move on with your life.

Related Reading: Average Costs of Divorce In Washington

Does it Affect Settlement Agreements?

Under no-fault divorce statutes, the court doesn’t take wrongdoing into account when dissolving a marriage. Wrongdoing can, however, come into play in a variety of areas in divorce cases.

Child custody, the division of property, spousal support, and others can all feel the influence. If wrongdoing has a direct impact on circumstances, fault could possibly factor in.

Can Adultery Affect No-Fault Divorce?

In spite of the fact that Washington is a no-fault state, there are instances where wrongdoing, including adultery, can affect divorce. Infidelity can kill relationships and there’s often no coming back from cheating. But it also factors into the divorce when it negatively impacts the surrounding circumstances

Division of Property

Though it’s rare, one area where adultery in Washington and cheating may impact divorce is in the division of property.  As there’s no blame to assign, adultery doesn’t usually come into play. One situation where it can is if cheating directly contributed to financial issues.

For example, the court may consider this if:

    • An affair included lavish gifts,
    • Racked up extensive hotel bills,
    • Or contributed to other economic hardships.

Can Child Custody Be Affected?

If an affair negatively influences a person’s parenting ability, like forgetting to pick up your child from band practice because you are otherwise “engaged,” that can play into child custody decisions.

    • Perhaps it’s possible to illustrate that an affair is part of a larger pattern of neglect.
    • Did your ex routinely choose infidelity over parental duties?
    • Did they shack up in a hotel room instead of going to your child’s birthday party?

If you show cheating directly led to bad parenting choices, the court may consider that factor in child custody decisions.

Can Adultery Increase Alimony Payments?

Spousal support is another area where adultery may factor into your divorce thanks to no-fault statues in Washington. It’s also another area where it’s difficult to demonstrate the concrete impact. Again, if you can prove that infidelity directly triggered an undue financial burden, it may apply.

Perhaps your spouse drained your savings or ran up substantial credit card debt in the course of an affair. The court will likely consider that when it awards spousal support.

They may also consider significant emotional distress caused by adultery. In this case, however, it must be severe, like negatively impacting the ability to find or hold a job.

Related Reading: How Is Spousal Support Calculated In Washington?

Arguments For No-Fault Divorce

Proponents of no-fault divorce often cite suicide rates and incidents of domestic violence to back their claims. Both dropped in states that picked up this practice.

Also, they state that outside interests, like the courts, shouldn’t be able to determine whether a person has legitimate reasons for wanting out of a marriage. Just the fact that you want out should be enough, even if your spouse doesn’t want to divorce.

Arguments Against No-Fault Divorce

Opponents argue that no-fault divorce decreases the inherent value of marriage. That by making it easier to end a marriage, it lessens the significance of the matrimonial bond.

Another point of contention claims that often the person actually at fault is the one who files for divorce. In these situations, an abuser or cheating spouse can end a marriage with no consequences.

The list of why marriages and relationships break down is practically endless. It’s as long as the list of why people wed in the first place. Abuse, infidelity, and financial problems are just a few common causes. But sometimes people just grow apart or want different things.

No-fault divorce helps smooth over the process and means neither party has to blame the other. You can end your marriage even if your spouse doesn’t want to divorce.

Related Reading: Common Mediation Questions


From The Radio

One of our founding partners, Rick Jones, has a regular guest spot on the Danny Bonaduce and Sarah Morning Show. On the air, he takes family law questions from listeners. During one recent episode, a listener had this very question.

CALLER: “My wife and I filed a petition for divorce back in December last year. We both agreed on the division of property, we signed together, we filed, and then once the 90 days were up, she refused to sign the paperwork to finalize the find of facts and dissolution papers.

“Since she already signed the initial papers and agreed to the divorce and now she’s changing her mind, what are my options?”

Rick: “A couple of things. The first thing I would say is that filing the initial papers doesn’t mean the agreement’s binding. That’s why Washington State has that 90-day waiting period. That’s why you couldn’t get it done in December when you filed. So, she has that right within the 90 days to back out.

“For her to back out though, out of that tentative agreement, there are some steps she needs to follow. For example, she would have needed to do what’s called a ‘response to the petition.’ That basically says to the court, He filed, and she needs to [respond]. If she hasn’t done that, you can do what’s called a ‘motion for default.’

“You can basically say, look, more than 90 days have elapsed, she’s obviously been served with the documents, therefore I’m asking for this case to be closed on the terms of our original petition.

“The problem with that is that its kind of like a tennis match. Yes, you do that motion, but she’s going to respond and say, ‘No wait I’m here.’ The courts are going to be very liberal about giving somebody their opportunity to have a day in court.

“Unfortunately, you thought you had an agreement in December. You’re really like most everybody else in which you’ve got a divorce filed, now you need to reach an agreement with her.”

Related Reading: Preparing for a Divorce Consultation


Questions About Adultery

CALLER: “I am really upset this morning. I caught my husband cheating last night. And I am ready to take him for everything he’s got. Including his dog. I will take his dog. I can’t believe he cheated on me. But my question is, if I divorce him can I take it all? It’s all his fault. I haven’t cheated, I’ve been faithful. ”

Danny“Well, I’ll tell you the bad news and then I’ll turn it over to a real live lawyer, and I don’t mean this about me or the show, we love you and care about you, but legally speaking, I don’t think anybody cares Janet. Let’s find out from an expert, Rick Jones.”

Rick: “What Danny is referring to is what’s called a ‘No-Fault’ state, meaning the issue of fault doesn’t have anything to do with financial issues, dividing up assets and liabilities.

“The reason they do that, not to be an additional thorn in your side, and I certainly feel bad for what you’re experiencing right now, but the reason they do that is that it would open up so many levels of litigation in what’s already just a packed court docket.

“So the reality from an attorney’s perspective is, you want to get an attorney that will treat it as a business transaction. In other words, get this done, move on, those assets that otherwise you’re going for would end up getting frittered away with the amount of attorney fees you’d have to go after this litigation.  So ultimately the pain you’re feeling will mitigate.”

Danny: “Can I tell you something, Janet? And I am adamant about this, you don’t have to do any of this right now. It’s like going shopping when you’re hungry. You’re mad, you’re going to call a lawyer before you do anything, and that’s a great idea, get yourself a lawyer.

“But you don’t have to divorce him today. Retain good counsel, but give yourself a minute to breathe, ‘cus you’re real mad, and you don’t often go after peoples’ dogs, that’s all I’m saying, Janet. Calm down, take a breath and think about what you want to do with the rest of your life, because this is an important decision.”

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CALLER: “My job takes me away for days on end. [A] couple days, sometimes weeks. I came home recently to find out my brother has been sleeping with my wife. And I’d like a divorce.”

Danny: “I bet you would. I bet you want a divorce from your brother as well. I will tell you this, I don’t know the answer to this, but I do know how life works.”

Rick:Well, first of all, I’m going to apologize for what you’re going through this. Ultimately, it puts you in the same boat as everybody else that wants a divorce, which is that, simply put, you put one foot in front of the other.

“You start by getting the case filed. Then you address any temporary issues, for example, the living situation might be a bit uncomfortable.

Danny:Oh so you gotta get that, you’re right. I went through that, I didn’t even think about that, because it was a big house with a basement. He’s got to figure out a place for him or for her.”

Rick:Or for her, exactly. So that’s what I mean in terms of putting one foot in front of the other. There’s nothing that stops you from getting a case filed right now.

“The other thing for you to know and for everyone else to hear, that fact of what she and your brother is doing is morally reprehensible, doesn’t matter when it comes to issues that arise during a divorce.

“It’s still going to be diving up assets and liabilities. If you have children you have to address that. There may be some issues you want to raise though regarding parenting. But ultimately it’s one foot in front of the other.”

Danny:Great advice by the way, and I happen to know this, from you of course, that Washington, is a ‘no-fault state,’ it doesn’t matter that she had sex with his brother, right?

Rick:Correct.

Related Reading: How Is Debt Divided During A Divorce? In-Depth


CALLER: “So I’ve been married for about two years and my wife recently admitted she cheated on me. I was curious about the first steps to my divorce would be?”

Danny:You’re going to hate this.”

Rick: “I think what you’re wanting to hear is, or what everybody should learn at least–and this isn’t necessarily your question–but Washington is what’s called a no-fault state.

“So the fact that she has stepped outside of her marriage and obviously not lived up to her vows does not result in any necessary harm to her, it doesn’t mean you get a better deal.

Danny: “I hate this so much. Yet I was the cheater, so I’m kinda glad. But Rick’s telling the truth man. You don’t get any more or less because someone is a cheater and a liar.

Rick:That’s right. Now the question is though, it obviously sounds like you’ve processed this and said, “I’m done.” So to answer your question on where you start, there’s a couple of ways to go about it.

“Obviously a case needs to be filed, so you need to start the process. You don’t need to have a settlement prior to starting this, so start the clock ticking.

“A divorce in Washington takes 90 days. Even if you do come to an agreement right away, it takes 90 days at minimum. It could take upwards of a year if there are contested issues that you guys can’t agree to right away.”

Rick: “So the first step is to get a case filed. What you really probably want to do though is pick up the phone and call my office, or frankly anybody else, and give them a little bit of background. ‘We’ve been married two years. We have kids or we don’t.

“Here’s what we’ve accumulated. Tell me what this is like, what’s it going to be like for me.’ That way you’re in a position to be more educated about the various decisions and options you’ve got coming up.”

Danny: “Joe, is there any chance you could work this out?

Caller:No, we’ve been falling apart for about a year now. So this is kind of a long time coming.”

Danny: “All right, you’ve heard from the expert himself. It doesn’t matter to the court who did what, just run right out and get a lawyer, and start protecting your assets.” 

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