Breaking Down Uncontested Divorces in Washington
In the broadest sense, an uncontested divorce could be said to include any divorce in which the parties are not actively fighting over the terms of the divorce. This generally means that they are following a process other than litigation. Even if the parties aren’t fighting, however, there are specific steps to make sure the process runs smoothly. Thus, even the most amicable of splits would benefit from the help of a Seattle divorce attorney.
Avoid This Important Uncontested Divorce Mistake!
Strictly speaking, an uncontested divorce in Washington is a divorce where no Response has been filed by the Respondent to Petitioner’s Petition for Divorce. Since there is no Response, there is no “contest” to whatever Petitioner has requested in the Petition. If the deadline for the Response passes (typically 20 days after service), then the Petitioner can ask the court for an order of default which then allows the Petitioner to finalize the divorce without further input from the Respondent. If you are the Respondent, you do NOT want this to happen. If you do not have a chance to review and object to the final orders, you could easily find that the final orders contain things you did not anticipate and would not have agreed to. Therefore, make sure you timely file a Response!
Is a Joint Petition for Divorce Only for Uncontested Divorces?
Sometimes the parties might file a Joint Petition for Divorce. This means they have both signed the Petition and both parties are asking the court for a divorce. This does not necessarily mean the divorce is uncontested, as they may still disagree on what the divorce settlement should look like, but as a general rule parties who file a Joint Petition are probably working together to reach an agreement on the divorce terms.
The Next Steps in a Washington Uncontested Divorce
There are several different ways in which the parties might work together to avoid the divorce turning into an actively contested divorce. The first is what we often call Kitchen Table discussions. This means that the parties are simply talking directly to each other about what they would like to see the divorce look like, and reaching their own agreements without outside help. Once they have reached agreement, it is still a good idea, though not required, that they have attorneys help them draft the legal documents to make sure that the documents actually accomplish what they have agreed to and do not miss anything critical. It can be helpful to have the drafting attorneys be ones who work together well, such as attorneys who provide Mediation or Collaboration services and have worked together before. Our attorneys are happy to provide the names of other attorneys they have worked well with in the past.
A second option is Mediation. Parties often find that when trying to settle their divorce themselves, they run into issues they are unable to resolve and so get stuck. They also may not be sure what all the issues are they need to cover, or what all of the considerations are that should go into a good agreement. A mediator is a neutral person, often an attorney, who works with both people to lead them through the discussion of the various divorce issues. The mediator can highlight key issues and has various tools for helping the parties work through places they are getting stuck. The mediation may take place over multiple sessions, often with homework items in between (such as obtaining valuations of property or other financial records). Because the mediator is neutral (not representing either party), they are limited in their ability to answer legal questions or prepare the legal documents in the case. Rather, they should ask the parties to have attorneys in the background who can help with these things. Again, it is best if these attorneys are cooperatively minded and have work well together in the past.
Collaborative Divorce is a Great Option for Uncontested Divorces
A third option, and one which our office prefers for many cases, is Collaboration. In the Collaborative process, both people agree upfront that they are not going to court or using the threat of going to court (i.e. NO BULLYING!). This means that they must listen carefully to each other so that they can understand the concerns of the other and make proposals they believe will be acceptable to the other (similar to how many business deals are made). In a collaborative divorce, the parties work with a small team of professionals who guide them through an information gathering and decision-making process to help them reach the best agreement they can. Both parties will have a Collaborative attorney working with them. The Seattle divorce attorney is able to answer legal questions and prepare the necessary legal documents. The attorney will also assist their client in formulating ideas for settlement that may be acceptable to the spouse because in this format, ideas that do not work for both spouses are not going to get them to an agreement.
There will also generally be a financial professional. This is a person who not only can work with both parties to gather all the needed financial information (saving money over having two attorneys do it) but can also offer financial advice and even run future projections based on different settlement scenarios the parties develop. Often much of the initial work in the case is done between just the financial professional and the two clients.
Collaborative teams also usually include a divorce coach. This person usually has a background as a family therapist. Their job is to help unpack underlying baggage that may get in the way of productive discussions, and help the parties keep moving forward when emotions get too high or they reach a stuck point. This helps group meetings move forward better (without a coach to intervene, hitting the difficult bumps in the road can take longer to resolve, which can also get expensive).
Considerations for Your Children
Finally, if there are children involved, it can help to work with a child specialist on the development of a parenting plan. The child specialist can check with the children as to how they are doing, bring concerns of the children back to the parents (in divorce situations children often try to “help” by hiding their own struggles from the parents), and offer advice based on what may work well for the children. The child specialist can help guide the parents through the many issues to be decided for the parenting plan and suggest ways that such issues have been resolved in other cases. Most importantly, the child specialist assists the parents in planning how they are going to continue to raise their children in a way that works for all involved.
Let Seattle Divorce Services Manage Your Uncontested Divorce
If you would like to learn more about the various ways to handle your divorce or any other concern, talk to one of our Seattle family attorneys. You can call us at 206-784-3049, or contact us through the contact form on our website to set up an initial consultation.