Looking for info on "divorce" (unmarried with children) in WA state
January 12, 2018 1:38 PM   Subscribe

I am meeting with a lawyer to discuss separating from my partner with whom I live and have children, and to whom I am not married. I want to go in with some basic info under my belt so I can make the most of the short, expensive appointment and have a better idea of what questions to ask her.

YANML. TINLA. I am meeting with a lawyer shortly. We are in WA state.

My partner and I are not married, have lived together for 5 years, and have 2 small children (under 6). I am and have always been the sole financial provider for the family. We rent a house, and do not co-own any property or other assets. Partner is not on the lease.

We have NO official legal or financial relationship, in that Partner is never claimed on my taxes (nor I on theirs), and children are my legal dependents tax-wise. We have never co-signed on anything whatsoever. I have tried to make sure we maintained entirely separate legal and financial identities. Partner gets insurance thru Obamacare, not my employer.

Partner has a very small savings (~~$8K), no credit, and no credit card.

Partner took care of children full time when they were very small, and now cares for them when they are not in school (when I am not home). I work full time.

Partner has essentially no employment history (has not worked at all since probably 2006 [6 mo], and before that since the early 90s). They would probably qualify for some sort of government assistance like disability (mental, not physical).

I want to evict Partner from the home and be "divorced." I want to continue to co-parent but have no idea what that can even look like given Partner's lack of financial resources. I have NO desire to keep children from Partner; they are an awesome parent.

My questions are thus:

- eviction rules in WA are pretty clear, but are there weird exceptions when the evictee is the co-parent of children living in the home? (5 years co-habitation)

- is "spousal support" a thing even for non-married people who separate? i.e. Is there a chance I'll actually have to pay them money after I evict them?

- other than a legal eviction, is there anything "legal" that I have to do to make this as divorce-like as possible? Like, are there papers to file or some sort of "legal" separation process?

- I assume that a court would grant me full custody given Partner's lack of home/money/job, is that stupid to assume?

I know this is a lot, and anything you can throw at me is helpful, I just want to have a tiny bit more of a realistic idea about my potential future before I meet with $$Lawyer$$. Thanks so much.
posted by clseace to Law & Government (15 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Below is a book I read to understand the legal ramifications of being partnered rather than married, and it has information related to separation. Basically, the answers to your questions vary widely by state.

Living Together - Nolo Press
posted by toastedcheese at 1:46 PM on January 12, 2018

Check your MeMail.
posted by k8t at 1:48 PM on January 12, 2018

is that stupid to assume?

Yes. As you said, Partner is an awesome parent.

We have NO official legal or financial relationship

Children are an official legal relationship, assuming they belong to both of you. This set of posts may be useful to understand what Washington State thinks about "common law" marriage (tl;dr does not exist as a legal thing but courts do recognize committed intimate relationships") The #1 thing I would ask a lawyer is if your relationship qualifies.

My current SO legally separated a ways back from the parent of his child, a woman with mental health issues who sounds similar to the situation you describe. His deal wound up being basically

- he continued to pay child support while their child was still living with his mom until he was 18, he did not pay spousal support
- she used that money to pay rent on the place they had been living together, a place he had been paying rent on
- he left because she didn't want to and they basically decided that keeping things as stable as possible for the kid was the most important part
- they had a delineated joint custody plan, though the kid spent more time at his mom's. The mom ignored almost all of the legal agreements

Some, most, of this is going to depend on how much Partner is on board with any of this. Your use of the word "evict" pretty much makes it seem like they are not really on board. Legal separation is a real thing and a lawyer can tell you more about it.
posted by jessamyn at 1:49 PM on January 12, 2018 [5 favorites]

Cohabitation Laws in Washington State - When an unmarried couple lives together for a significant period of time, they may have formed a “meretricious relationship,” which, in Washington, gives each of them rights to property, similar to rights enjoyed by married couples. This article provides an overview of cohabitation relationships.
  • there is no right to receive, or duty to pay, alimony in a cohabitational relationship, in other words, an unmarried partner cannot be ordered to pay support to his or her ex-partner.
  • For information on child custody, see Child Custody in Washington: The Best Interests of the Child
  • cohabitation laws should apply to all couples that meet the legal requirements for meretricious relationships - not just opposite-sex couples. However, no case dealing precisely with the issue of same-sex cohabitants’ property rights has been heard [as of 2012]
The "best interests of the child" model of assigning custody means that a website can't say, "if you have all the money, you're likely to get custody" - obviously, in the case of an 8-year-old with a dad who's never home and a stay at home mom who's been the only face that child sees on most days, that's not best. (Not comparing that to your case; just pointing out, "who has the money" has little to do with "what result is least traumatic for the child.")

Courts generally like joint custody with parents who agree that the other is a good parent, if not a good partner for them. Sometimes that just means bumping the problem down the line a few years, but even then, it means the kids aren't dealing with "parents splitting up" and "losing access to a parent, maybe forever" all at the same time.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 1:50 PM on January 12, 2018 [2 favorites]

I'm a little confused by the use of the word "evict" here, because I believe eviction proceedings would need to be initiated by the landlord/property owner. I'm not aware of any process by which I could have, for example, "evicted" one of my roommates when I lived with other people -- at most I could have complained to my landlord and tried to get them to evict the person (if they were breaking the lease or not paying rent or whatever). I wonder if the easiest way to deal with this would be to either wait for the end of your lease (if soon) or pay to break the lease (if you've just recently resigned), and move to a different rental property where your partner would have no established residency. At that point, your partner could figure out a way to pay rent and stay where they are (sounds unlikely, but perhaps they'd get help from family or something?), or voluntarily move out, or get evicted by the landlord.
posted by rainbowbrite at 1:57 PM on January 12, 2018 [1 favorite]

I memailed you, but for public consumption.

Kid stuff and being married are VERY different. As you can imagine, there are a ton of kids out there without married parents and the state treats them all the same in terms of money and residential time, without any regard for the parents' legal relationship to each other. Specifically: Washington state assumes 50/50 residential time. There is no way that one parent would be given full custody based on income/job/etc.

Non-kid related: In my direct experience with this exact situation in the same state, we were told over and over again that, more or less, our relationship was legally the same as a married one with a few small exceptions regarding taxes, transfer of retirement savings, etc.

You absolutely both need to talk with lawyers very soon. And yes, this will cost you money. In my memail I recommended lawyers, financial mediators, and parenting plan mediators. (Future people reading this are welcome to memail me for these).
posted by k8t at 2:01 PM on January 12, 2018

As a side note, no matter what is going on right now, this person is your kid(s)' parent. Remember that at all times when you are about to send a nasty text or bad mouth them to a friend or if they really would like to keep a particular blanket or when you are thinking about your financial relations.

Specifically, regarding money inequity. The state wants the kid(s) to have pretty much equal comfort at both homes. It is in your absolutely best interest to make sure that they (and by extension your kid(s)) are in a comfortable enough place financially and physically. It is not in your best interest if your ex can't keep the heat on in their home when your kids are there. It is also not in your best interest for your ex to not have any retirement savings. Can you imagine X number of years from now when your kid is in their early 30s and trying to get a start in life and buy a home or a car, but they are also financially responsible for your ex because they didn't have any savings?

Moreover, you were partnered with this person (albeit without a wedding) for a number of years. They cared for your child(ren). They cooked for you. They did your laundry. All while you were at work. This is why alimony exists - to not screw over stay-at-home parents. They are entitled to some of your retirement savings, morally/ethically.

It sounds like there may be some additional challenge in this person working a traditional job. That is something you will need to sort out. But also keep in mind that just because they've been providing childcare while you worked, that doesn't mean that they will continue to. We were told over and over again that when the kid is residing with you, you are a single parent. That means that you will likely need to look into before/after school care as well as care when a child is ill from school, that is not your ex providing it. (In reality, at least with my ex, we are slightly more informal with this and it is not unusual for me to pick up my kid on days that are not mine and take them to an activity or whatever, but I have a fairly flexible schedule, but I am not legally obligated to do this).
posted by k8t at 2:13 PM on January 12, 2018 [35 favorites]

Do more listening and less talking if you can -- you're paying for your lawyer's opinion and experience.

Lots of unmarried couples with kids have separated -- only hire the lawyer if (s)he's done this OFTEN and IN THE SAME COUNTY in which you live in.

Reconsider "eviction." No judge will remotely like putting a housewife-equivalent out on the street, and it shifts all the equities and perceptions in the case against you. (As a general rule of dissolution, it's the person who wants to break up who has to move out.)
posted by MattD at 2:59 PM on January 12, 2018 [5 favorites]

Eviction is a legal process involving a landlord and a renter. You would have to have the landlord evict your partner, and that sounds painful and contentious.

Using your words, yes, it would be stupid to assume that you would be granted custody, assuming they are legally your partner's children too. If your partner has been a stay-at-home parent and provided the vast majority of the childcare, you might have an uphill battle to get primary custody. You cannot reasonably expect that the level of care your partner is able to provide your children will remain the same if they are kicked out of your home with no income or place to live or job prospects. Part of being such a great caretaker and loving parent is the safety that your current relationship offers them. If your partner retains a lawyer, that is the exact tack the lawyer will take, and there will be heavy pressure and legal precedent for your partner to get primary custody of the children with you paying child support, since you are capable of doing so and have not done the lion's share of child-rearing.

Also, if I may interject my opinion as a child of divorce, I think you are looking at this wrong-headed if you have concerns about "having to" pay money to your partner post separation. Your partner's ability to parent well is predicated on the safety your partnership and income provides: a roof over their head, food to eat, freedom from want. If they were worried about where they were living, where their next meal was coming from, and how they would pay their bills, they would be too preoccupied to care for your children. Paying them money is money well spent for your family, whether you are romantic partners or not. Your children will benefit.
posted by juniperesque at 3:43 PM on January 12, 2018 [23 favorites]

I would really like to urge you to rethink the entire notion of "eviction." You are dissolving an intimate relationship, not kicking out a roommate. In addition to how the courts will view it, your children, young as they are, will watch this and take note. How you treat your partner is how they will expect to either treat their partners or for their partners to treat them. Please keep their welfare in mind as you proceed.
posted by dancing_angel at 4:09 PM on January 12, 2018 [6 favorites]

They cooked for you. They did your laundry

This isn't in the question. It's possible but doesn't sound likely.

This sounds so strongly gendered (as in, the OP sounds female and the partner sounds male) that I have sympathy for the OP in spite of myself. however, gender biases are wrong and besides, I might be wrong too.

I have one small piece of advice, which is: do not go around saying they're a wonderful parent unless you really and truly believe it. Your kids probably love them, but that's a very different thing. don't ever say something like that in order to feel magnanimous or to ease the guilt of getting rid of them. I hear a lot of people say their ex is a terrific parent and a lot of times it really just means "I'm sorry." or "it was not a bad decision for me to leave my vulnerable children alone in their care all these years and I have nothing to feel guilty about." but once courts start listening to you, be careful of what you concede unless you're certain of it.

so ok, say they're a genuinely good parent. When they're homeless, jobless, and helpless, they will not be able to keep being a good parent. Being eligible for disability is nice but they if they haven't made any moves to file for it in the past decade-plus, how will they become any more capable after being 'divorced?' Unless you suspect they were more capable than they chose to seem, all along. (You've lived together with kids for five years, but they were unemployed for another six or seven years before that; who supported them then? how'd they manage to get and keep $8K in savings all this time? is somebody else, like a parent, standing by to take over support duties once you're out?)

you can separate from this person. you have the right. you may have to move into a new home and let someone else deal with the eviction, which is probably a good idea anyway. but you can't have them continue to parent the kids you want sole legal custody of unless you intend to pay them for it or unless losing their household shocks them into becoming a brand new person. where do you expect to drop them off for visits? what do you expect them to eat while they're there?
posted by queenofbithynia at 4:28 PM on January 12, 2018 [5 favorites]

If they're not able to work, your partner needs to apply for SSI/SSDI like *yesterday.* It can be an incredibly time consuming process. The vast majority of application are auto-denied, meaning they would have to appeal. Even if their case is solid, the waiting list for appeal hearings can be as long as several years.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 7:14 PM on January 12, 2018 [2 favorites]

The cheapest way to separate is to come to an agreement mutually, and have attorneys review it. Sit down at the kitchen table and talk it over, and over and over and over, and consider all the assets you each have (including being available for parenting, being loved by child, earning money, providing health insurance, you name it). Consider all the needs each of you has (each partner, each child). See how the assets and the needs can match up in the most blanket way for each person, without trying to win or lose. The agreement can and should cover housing, transportation, schooling, travel. It should cover everything that's important for your family.

And that's the key - see your partner and your child as your FAMILY and see each person as deserving to come out of it as whole as possible. If you look at your partner as a slacker roommate you're trying to evict, it's going to get ugly. And that's when it gets expensive and damaging to the child.

Kitchen Table Agreement — that's the best for everyone.
posted by Capri at 10:44 PM on January 12, 2018 [1 favorite]

- I assume that a court would grant me full custody given Partner's lack of home/money/job, is that stupid to assume?

I think this is one thing that is liable to cost you a lot of time and money if you keep this assumption.

Remember that child support is for the good of the children, and I would bet you will be required to pay it, and you should, because having a secure sense of home in both homes is essential for your kids. You will not get full custody; you'll probably (I am speaking not from your state) be at least partly financially responsible for providing home/money to your kids in both co-parenting locations. So it's not "the court will of course give custody to me because I have the money," it's "of course the court will give a chunk of my money to my kids, because they will need to live in a decent manner with my co-parent."

I detected this a bit in your statement that the kids were dependents on your taxes. Family court doesn't draw lines this way.

I have friends who have done very inexpensive divorces and friends who have done very expensive divorces. (Very.) The less expensive ones were the ones where the couple focused on a) what's achievable and best for the kids and b) were good at listening what the law was and didn't waste effort nickel-and-diming decisions.
posted by warriorqueen at 5:37 AM on January 13, 2018 [4 favorites]

The secret to "successful" divorces are as follows:

Spouse with higher income / assets just accepts that it's going to be painful, and looks to the future -- you can always make more money.

The aggrieved spouse (mistreated, cheated on, dumped) firmly adopts a "living well is the best revenge" philosophy. Whether or not it should, the law no longer cares who was at fault, you're never going to get a sincere apology, and you're probably never even going to make the bad spouse feel bad about it. Not worth the effort or the free rent in your brain.

Each spouse accepts responsibility for and then forgives himself or herself for the mistake of marrying / staying with the other, and doesn't try to use the divorce to compensate / shift the blame / make up for / get closure on that mistake.

Each spouse not only accepts, but embraces, that the kids can or should have a close, loving relationship with the other spouse, no matter what a terrible spouse s/he was, unless the other spouse is a physical danger to the kids.
posted by MattD at 9:33 AM on January 13, 2018 [6 favorites]

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