Divorce is a fact of modern life. It’s like birthdays but without the cake and the song.
In a divorce, spouses will be exchanging words far removed from the poetic language they used during their nuptials. Promises “to love and to cherish” and “to honor and sustain” are traded in for “marital dissolution,” “distribution of assets,” and “child support.”
As family law attorneys, we regularly use these terms when handling our clients’ cases. But we do not drop these terms willy-nilly. In fact, we’d like you to understand some of them.
In “No-Fault Divorce States,” does anyone “win” in a divorce?
Washington is a No-Fault Divorce State. That means a court only needs to know that husband and wife no longer wish to be married to each other. They can simply cite “irreconcilable differences” or that the marriage has “irretrievably broken down” as grounds for the dissolution of the marriage.
We know that’s a mouthful, so allow us to put it in easily digestible language.
In 1949, Elizabeth Taylor married Conrad Hilton, Jr., whom she divorced after 205 days. The legendary actress “won” the divorce on the grounds of cruelty. She accused the hotel heir of being an abusive gambler and an alcoholic, and was presumably awarded a huge alimony — which she refused.
If their divorce had happened in 2019 in, say, Washington, Liz wouldn’t have “won” anything. The reasons for their separation would certainly be dissected on Page Six and TMZ, but the court would not have required a specific reason.
Bottom line: there’s no such thing as “winning in a divorce” in a no-fault state. Washington courts aren’t going to decide property division and child custody matters based on one spouse’s misconduct(s).
“Community Property” States: where there’s rarely a thing as 50-50 assets split
In 2013, Real Housewives of New York star Bethenny Frankel and her then-husband Jason Hoppy were on the brink of divorce. At the time, gossip sites reported that the two were still living together in their New York apartment because neither wanted to lose claim to the property in a divorce settlement.
We non-gossip columnist types think it has something to do with the fact that New York is an “Equitable Distribution State,” which means the court divides properties fairly and equitably. In other words, properties aren’t automatically awarded to the person who purchased them and aren’t necessarily divided 50-50. That would explain the speculations on Bethenny and Jason’s attempts to stake claims on the NY apartment.
On the contrary, “Community Property States” like Washington deem spouses equal owners of properties and income acquired during the marriage. Hypothetically, Bethenny and Jason would have had very little reason to actively stake a claim on their apartment on a Community Property State. That’s because their respective lawyers would have (presumably) counseled them that their marital properties and income are to be split evenly (although it also won’t necessarily be 50-50).
Long story short: the gossip columnists were wrong. If Bethenny and Jason divorced in a Community Property State, they probably would have moved out a lot sooner.
Deadbeat dads: beware of “imputing”
Here’s a word you’ve probably never heard of till now: “imputing.” This term should be of particular interest to spouses who intend to shirk child support payments by avoiding employment or purposefully choosing to be underemployed.
In Washington, a court may order both parents to pay child support based on their incomes. This is fairly straightforward, but the formula for calculating child support requires a bit of mathematical genius. So if you’re planning to spite your ex by requesting a demotion at work or quitting your job so you can pay small child support payments, you’ll be sorely disappointed.
Your lawyer might have to tell you that the court can “impute your income” based on what it deems you’re capable of making. This is why a deadbeat dad like Jeremy Bieber, father to one of Canada’s brightest musical stars, is lucky.
Mr. Bieber has reportedly never held down a job. And because the Biebs became a pop star before he even finished high school, Mr. Bieber probably wouldn’t have had to worry about making child support payments, much less having his income imputed.
But suppose he and his ex, Justin’s mom Pattie Mallette, divorced in Washington and the Biebers were a normal American family (i.e., they had one or both parents earning income while Justin was just a regular kid). Things would be much different for Justin’s dad, who would either have to find employment or look for a higher paying job so he can provide for his son. He certainly wouldn’t be living in an $850,000 house paid for by a pop music powerhouse.
Seattle family law attorneys Buckingham, LaGrandeur & Williams speak divorce fluently, so you don’t have to. Call our office today.