When ending a marriage becomes the only option, many people struggle over when or if they should make the first move and file divorce papers. It may not matter In some cases but divorce strategy is different for everyone.
Regardless of whether your divorce is likely to be complicated over fairly dividing assets, or determining child custody or support payments, consulting with an experienced family law attorney is advisable before you take any action.
Pros of filing first
In many cases, divorcing spouses work together through mediation or collaborative law to peacefully settle their differences. However, when contentious and bitter disagreements, abuse or addiction are present, the advantages of filing first can include:
- Protecting your safety: Washington’s divorce laws are intended to protect vulnerable people, especially victims of physical, emotional or financial domestic abuse.
- Requesting temporary orders: For contentious relationships, emotions often erupt after papers are filed. The petitioner can ask for temporary orders over support amounts, parenting time and who can remain in the family home. These orders are usually in effect until the divorce is final.
- Date of separation: For spouses still living under the same roof, the filing date is typically seen by courts as the date of legal separation. This can be crucial for dividing income and property.
Cons of filing first
While some spouses may have no choice but to file for divorce after a marriage becomes unbearable, others may want to wait and talk to their attorney. Disadvantages for filing first include:
- Paying the filing fee: Filing for divorce in Washington State costs roughly $350, which includes a filing fee, a judicial surcharge and court facilitator costs. You may have to pay that directly or have it included as part of your attorney’s legal fees.
- Discouraging ADR: Surprising a spouse by serving divorce papers without warning may complicate or destroy any possibility of alternative dispute resolution (ADR), such as mediation, negotiation or collaborative divorce. It may also create added stress for children and other family members.
Being direct can bring rewards during a divorce
Unless an abusive relationship exists, having a frank and open discussion with your spouse before taking any action can lead to a more peaceful, less costly and private divorce process. In many cases, taking a cooperative approach can set a positive tone for your future parenting relationship by establishing a model to work out your differences.