If your marriage is no longer working for you, it may be time to start exploring your options for obtaining a divorce or legal separation. Even if you and your spouse agree to part ways, it’s common to grieve the conclusion of this chapter of your life. Untangling your lives from one another can be a difficult and complex process, especially if you have been married for several years, or you have children together. As you approach the divorce process in Washington state, you may wonder whether there are any advantages to filing for divorce before your spouse does. This post will address the circumstances in which the roles of the petitioner and the respondent may influence the divorce process.
Years ago, many states required the spouse seeking a divorce to provide a concrete reason for wanting to end the marriage. For instance, the spouse may have stated that the other spouse was unfaithful or abandoned them in some way, establishing legal grounds for pursuing a divorce. As divorce laws have evolved, all states recognize some type of “no-fault” system for granting divorce requests. Instead, states like Washington allow either spouse to file for divorce without citing a specific reason for doing so. A spouse may file a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage and have the Summons and other relevant paperwork served on the other party. When spouses agree that divorce is their best option, it rarely matters which party the petitioner is and which party is the respondent.
For the most part, Washington courts do not view the petitioning party differently from the responding party. As a no-fault state, Washington does not use this information to influence the terms of the divorce. The spouse who feels more strongly about pursuing a divorce often files the petition and corresponding paperwork first. Spouses who mutually agree to seek a divorce may decide which party should act as the petitioner, keeping in mind that these roles will not influence the outcome. However, there are a few circumstances in which filing as the petitioner may protect your best interests. Let’s take a look at three reasons why you may want to consider filing first for divorce in Washington state.
If you have concerns that your spouse will threaten or harm you in any way, you have the right to petition the court to issue a Temporary Order. The petitioner has the advantage of arguing their position first (and last) at the hearing for temporary orders. For example, if you are seeking a divorce and you are worried that your spouse will retaliate violently or abusively, you should be the one to initiate the legal proceedings. By filing first, you assume control of the narrative. Your spouse will then fulfill the role of the respondent, meaning that the court will hear your voice and concerns before your spouse can have their say. It can be intimidating to take this risk, but you do not have to go through this vulnerable time alone. Enlisting the guidance and support of an experienced and caring divorce attorney can empower you to take the necessary steps to get out of a relationship that is no longer serving you or your children.
Although rare, a spouse who does not want to divorce may respond to the petitioner’s Summons by making baseless accusations against them. For instance, the respondent may claim that the petitioning spouse is abusive or dangerous in an attempt to damage their credibility in the eyes of the court. However, the court will likely view these “emergency” claims with suspicion—if the respondent has genuine concerns about the petitioner’s behavior, then why isn’t the respondent the one who initiated the divorce in the first place? Of course, if either spouse is worried about their safety or the safety of their children, they should work with their attorney to determine the most strategic path forward.
The overwhelming majority of divorces are finalized long before a trial becomes necessary. However, some contentious divorces end up going to trial as a last resort. One slight advantage of being the spouse that petitions for divorce is that you will be allowed to make your closing argument first. This is a small tactical advantage, as you will present your side first, followed by your spouse, and then you have the opportunity to provide a brief rebuttal. Essentially, you will have the first and last words during this crucial phase of the trial.
Even spouses who are seeking an amicable divorce can find this time difficult and emotional. Ending this chapter of your life is a significant endeavor, and it’s understandable to mourn the loss of your relationship. As you explore your divorce options, consider enlisting the assistance of a knowledgeable and caring divorce attorney who can answer your questions, address your concerns, and steer you toward a brighter and more stable future.
Reach out to the dedicated and compassionate family law attorneys at the Hemmat Law Group today by calling (206) 682-5200.
The Hemmat Law Group (HLG) was founded in 1994 by Steven Amir Hemmat, a former DOJ Trial Attorney. We specialize in family law, supporting victims of the legal system.
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