What is fault?
In the divorce context, fault in the emotional sense means the spouse who is responsible for the break up. Fault in the legal sense means that one party has a legal reason to end the marriage. There are two types of divorces: no fault divorces and fault divorces.
Can I get a fault divorce or a no fault divorce in Washington State?
You can only get a no fault divorce. But you are really asking the wrong question. The question you want to ask is whether behavior in a marriage can be a factor in property or custody awards. Before we get to that question, I’ll address fault divorces.
You can not get a fault divorce in Washington State. For legal policy reasons, Washington State Law does not allow you to inject either emotional or legal fault into the divorce. Washington State only allows no fault divorces. This means you can get a divorce for “any reason” or “no reason at all”. No fault divorces allow you to divorce your spouse even if your spouse does not want to get a divorce. No fault allows any spouse to get out of a marriage at any time and for any reason. A person could get out because their spouse had an affair. A husband could get out because they can’t stand the way their wife snores at night. A wife could get out because she can’t stand her husbands children and doesn’t want to be a step mom anymore (it does happen). A husband could get out because he just came out of the closet. A wife can get out because she doesn’t like her husband’s religion. She can also get out because she can’t stand her mother in law. She can get out because she figures she will win the lottery if she is single. A divorce is permitted for any reason whatsoever. And here’s the key: you don’t have to tell your reason for getting a divorce to either the judge or your spouse. Instead, all you have to tell the court is that there are “irreconcilable differences”. And, you don’t have to tell your husband anything, period. That’s it.
Understanding how fault divorces in Washington State work in practice even though they are not permitted.
With all that said in the proceeding paragraph, Judges are people. Although fault in the legal sense is not a factor in divorce, it can be a factor in custody and property awards. So, in the very real sense of how this is going to affect the rest of your life, it can still matter why. There are many times when a divorce trial ends up degrading into exactly whose fault it was that lead them to divorce. King County Family Law Attorneys often try to paint husbands as “abusive” or “argumentative” and that because of those characteristics, the wife had no choice but to get a divorce. We’ve seen other attorneys argue that because a husband is a doctor and earns a high income, he is an absent father and a unsupportive and unresponsive husband. Here’s the tie in: the wife’s attorney will claim that his unresponsiveness was abusive to the wife putting the argument of fault back before the court even though technically it’s not relevant in divorce. If our client is a female entrepreneur, we see these sort of typical male problems for her but magnified by a factor of ten.
Judges don’t really consider whose fault it is, do they?
You’ve got to separate the usage of fault to understand how it can come into play in your divorce case. Yes, Washington is a no fault divorce state. A judge isn’t going to take testimony on when a spouse had an affair or allow a party to submit pictures as “proof” of it. But, like I wrote, Judges are people. The politically correct answer is to tell you it doesn’t matter whose fault it is that you are getting a divorce. I’m not going to tell you that. If I did, I would be doing you a disservice. My job is to represent my client, not try to gain favor with a Commissioner at the next King County Bar Association cocktail party. It’s inherent in human nature that people like to look to someone else to blame because people don’t like to accept responsibility for their own behavior. If a wife can paint a picture of the husband being “more at fault” in a divorce, it can lead to a sympathy factor in judicial property awards. While technically not legal under state law, courts do it all the time and that’s why smart family law attorneys continue to try to re-introduce fault into a marriage when state law says it has no place for being there because it might give their client an edge.
If divorce is starring you in the face and you’re concerned about the implications that your wife might try to claim about you, contact our office to schedule a consultation with one of our Seattle Family Law Attorneys by calling 206-633-2015.