Though divorce often becomes a highly emotional process, women should take care to understand their rights under Washington state law and make well-informed, practical decisions. Legal issues in divorce usually involve court procedures, property, spousal maintenance and children. Women who need personalized advice regarding specific rights during dissolution of marriage should consult with a Washington state lawyer or seek assistance from courthouse facilitator's offices located at their local Washington courts (see Resources).
Right to File Response
If a woman's husband files a summons and petition for dissolution of marriage in Washington state, she has the right to respond. The divorce petition will include the filing spouse's version of the facts and preferences for division of property, spousal support and child custody. A wife has the right to present her side of the case within the proper time period by filing a response and counter-petition with the court.
Right to Temporary Orders
A woman can request temporary orders to protect her rights during a pending divorce case in the Washington courts. For example, a temporary order may allow her to continue living in the couple’s family residence or receive spousal support from her husband until the court makes final decisions for the divorce decree. A woman can also request a temporary parenting plan that gives custody of the children to her until the court finalizes a parenting plan at the end of the divorce.
Right to Property Division
Before the court can finalize the couple's dissolution of marriage, the spouses or the court must decide how to divide assets and debts. In Washington state, married couples gain community-property rights to assets acquired during marriage. Though Washington law does not require an exact 50/50 split between the spouses, a wife has the right to a "just and equitable" division of the couple's community property and debt obligations.
Right to Request Spousal Support
Some women may need financial assistance after divorce; they can request a court order for spousal maintenance. Though each spouse has a right to request spousal support, the court has the discretion to deny the request. Washington state divorce laws require that the court consider a number of factors, including each spouse's income and earning ability, financial resources and age, as well as the number of years in the marriage.
Right to Parenting Time
When a mother divorces from the father of her children, she should understand Washington's child custody and visitation laws. Under the Parenting Act of 1987, Washington state policy encourages a relationship between the child and both divorced parents, as long as their parenting plan considers the best interests of the child. Both parents have the right to participate in negotiation of a parenting plan to determine custodial rights and a residential schedule for the child.
Right to Name Change
When a wife files her petition for dissolution of marriage, she has the right to request a name change to restore her maiden name or another former name. The court will grant her request in the couple's divorce decree.