You found out your spouse cheated on you, so you have decided to divorce them and take them to the cleaners. Surely the court will agree you deserve both a divorce and compensation for your spouse’s misconduct, right?
In Washington, the answer is no. Washington only allows no-fault divorce. But what does that mean, and how does it differ from a state that allows divorce for fault?
What is a No-Fault Divorce?
In a no-fault divorce state, your spouse’s conduct (or misconduct) has no bearing on your divorce case. It will neither affect whether the court will grant your divorce nor how the court will divide marital property or allocate support.
To file for divorce in Washington, you need only state that the marriage is “irretrievably broken,” that is, that you and your spouse have irreconcilable differences. Any other allegations are unnecessary for the petition. And once you raise an allegation of irreconcilable differences, your spouse will likely be unable to prevent the divorce.
Your spouse’s actions are also irrelevant with respect to financial issues in divorce. Washington law requires that a judge make decisions about dividing the couples’ assets “without regard to misconduct.” (RCW 26.09.080). There are some situations where a court may consider waste or dissipation of assets during the marriage in determining what a “just and equitable” asset split is. But Washington courts have consistently rejected attempts to recover funds due to misuse during marriage, including when waste was due to claims of excessive gambling or alcoholism.
How Does Fault Divorce Differ?
Fault-based divorce differs from no-fault divorce in several ways.
- Allegations of fault alone are insufficient. Traditionally, fault-based divorces require showings of cruelty, adultery, desertion, lengthy imprisonment, or previously undisclosed sexual inabilities. These grounds must be proven for a court to grant a fault divorce. A party can defeat a request for a fault-based divorce by proving that they are not at fault or that the fault was initiated by or condoned by the spouse seeking the divorce.
- In a fault-based divorce, a court can factor misconduct into monetary awards, including distribution of marital assets and allocation of spousal support. However, in a fault-based jurisdiction, both spouses can allege misconduct by the other. The court must then analyze which party is “more” at fault and how the parties’ comparative fault monetary awards.
At the Law Offices of Molly B. Kenny, we can help you navigate the turbulent waters of divorce. Our legal team serves a diverse range of clients in the Seattle area and have decades of experience with many difficult divorce situations, including high-conflict divorces, domestic violence cases, and high-asset situations.
To arrange a private consultation to talk about your own divorce situation, call us today, or use our online contact form to send an email.