Does Marital Fault Affect Property Division or Child Custody?
Washington is a no-fault state, where the only ground for divorce is the irretrievable breakdown of a marriage. Traditional grounds like adultery, cruelty and desertion have been abolished. Yet the bad behavior of one or both of the spouses can affect a divorce in other ways — namely, regarding property division and parenting rights.
Although Washington is a community property state — deeming assets and debts acquired during the marriage to be jointly owned — division of property upon divorce is not necessarily equal. State law requires that the division be “just and equitable,” taking into account such factors as each spouse’s contributions to the marriage. Conversely, the court may consider whether either spouse wasted marital property, based on evidence that he or she engaged in such conduct as:
- Gambling away marital assets
- Carrying on an extramarital affair and diverting household money to the other person involved
- Committing a criminal offense that required legal fees and/or led to a government seizure of marital property
- Investing marital funds imprudently, thereby causing a significant loss
In such cases, it is not the behavior itself that affects property division but the resulting economic impact on the couple.
There are instances when negative conduct by a spouse may be considered for purposes of determining child custody and visitation, which in Washington is known as parenting time. Courts evaluate what is in the best interests of a child when finalizing a parenting plan, and behavior that is considered harmful to the child’s well-being is a factor to be weighed.
For instance, if one spouse is regularly incapacitated due to drug or alcohol abuse or that spouse has engaged in physical, emotional or verbal abuse, the other spouse may be able to prove that he or she should not have equal — or in extreme cases, any — right to parenting time. Likewise, if there has been a history of one spouse neglecting or even abandoning the children of the marriage, that will clearly count against him or her in the court’s decision on parenting rights.
If you are seeking a divorce in Washington state and believe your spouse has engaged in bad behavior that has harmed or threatens to harm your finances or your children, it’s important for you to know your rights with respect to marital property and parenting time. It can be vital to have an experienced divorce attorney by your side. Leslie R. Bottimore of Bottimore & Associates, P.L.L.C. in Tacoma, is here to help. Call 253-272-5653 or contact us online.